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Quality Fears And Abundance Of Free Content Are Holding Back Audiences' Willingness To Switch To Digital Culture

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A study found that only 25% of frequent attenders had engaged with culture online before lockdown, rising to 59% by July.

Quality Fears And Abundance Of Free Content Are Holding Back Audiences' Willingness To Switch To Digital Culture

New analyses of Indigo's After The Interval Act II survey, conducted by The Audience Agency and Baker Richards, shows that there is significant potential for innovation in digital culture, though revenues cannot possibly replace lost ticket income.

Indigo's After The Interval sentiment tracker survey has reached over 130,000 regular cultural attenders in the UK, and to date remains the largest indicator of audience sentiment since the COVID 19 Pandemic began. Indigo has worked with The Audience Agency to analyse what the data says about digital engagement with culture; and with Baker Richards to report on audiences' willingness to pay for digital culture.

The analyses found:

  • Only 25% of frequent attenders had engaged with culture online before lockdown, rising to 59% by July. Most watched a professional stream of a production, or home-made content from performers/artists.
  • 82% of respondents would possibly or definitely consider engaging with digital culture in the future.
  • Overall, engagement with digital declined with age. Audiences aged 15-24 were most likely to engage online, and most willing to pay (albeit a reduced amount when compared to a full-price in-person ticket).
  • Respondents with higher levels of safety concern about returning to live theatre expressed a greater interest in digital (88%) than those with no safety concerns (60%), and accordingly a greater willingness to pay.
  • Just 12% of respondents had paid to take part in culture online.
  • Audiences are unsure of the quality of digital culture - this holds back willingness to pay. Fewer than one in five (18%) are willing to pay the same for a digital event as they would for a ticket to a live in-person event, with 52% willing to pay a reduced amount. 84% of those who say they are not interested in digital culture say it is because the online experience isn't an attractive alternative to an in-person event.
  • Interest in archive recordings is giving way to demand for events specifically created for online, or for streams of live, in-person performances. There is a greater willingness to pay for live events than for view-on-demand, suggesting a need for a more experimentation and active support for those testing new ways of working.

The reports are published on the websites of The Audience Agency and Baker Richards, and are based on fieldwork conducted between 1 June and 15 July, the period in which lockdown began to ease with the concept of bubbling being introduced, non-essential shops reopening, and the Premier League restarting without audiences. Museums and Galleries began to reopen from 4 July.

Katie Moffat, Head of Digital at The Audience Agency said:

"Digital offers can't be all things to all people: as with in-person events, when engaging online, different audiences want different things. With more than 80% of audiences willing to engage digitally in the future, our hope is that there are increasing opportunities for everyone to experience, and learn how to develop, audience centred digital experiences."

David Reece, Deputy CEO of Baker Richards said:

"The good news is that while only a minority of loyal arts audiences are currently paying to consume digital, there is a general willingness to pay in future. However, as most people expect to pay less than they would for a live experience, without substantial audience growth digital revenues cannot be relied on to sustain the UK's existing arts infrastructure.

Shifting away from the abundance of free content, a laudable response in a global crisis, to a paid model will be a challenge. A perception has been created that digital culture is free to access - this will take some time to overcome."

Katy Raines, Co-Founder and Partner of Indigo Ltd said:

"These surveys continue to give insights into what audiences are really thinking - the evidence is unfettered and clearly points to possibilities for digital now and in the future. Audiences are saying that they expect a digital experience to be of lesser quality - it is in the hands of the industry to change that perception over time.

Organisations have found insights from After the Interval and Act II to be invaluable in planning. We will shortly announce details of our plans to continue to provide this insight in the future."

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