Marketing Monday: Audiences really are shrinking! (But there’s hope)

measuring_audienceRecent reports from the National Endowment for the Arts are both confirming suspicions and upending traditional views with some surprising results.  While traditional attendance is down, the reasons for staying home may be unexpected.  Clearly, price is not the only issue, and we can no longer blame empty seats on the recession that started more than six years ago.  It’s time to rethink what we offer and how we offer it.

Pacific Standard offers an excellent breakdown of the new info, but here are a few highlights:

  • Yes, audiences are shrinking:  As of 2012, only 33% of adults report attending one of the “benchmark” arts (theater, classical music, jazz, opera, ballet or museums/galleries), where the figure in 2002 was 39%.
  • Ticket price, the usual suspect, was less a factor than a sense of a lack of time.  People are busier than ever, and competition for attention is high.
  • Venue accessibility is a big factor, as is fear of going alone.  Making it easy and helping the event appeal to single people could make a big difference.
  • Don’t blame it on the recession: attendance was already dropping in the previous years, and participation has remained steady since then for classical, jazz and dance.  (Non-musical theater is still slipping.)
  • Regional differences count, and may wipe out older preconceptions, e.g. West Coast consumers “had among the highest rates of media consumption for nearly every art form referenced,” the NEA reports. (Yay for us!)
Hang in there -- there's light at the end of that tunnel...
Hang in there — there’s light at the end of that tunnel…

Hope yet

Some of this bodes well for art’s continued potential, and of course, reduced attendance isn’t a new revelation.  Ensembles and orgs have been working for years to find innovative marketing ploys to attract new fans and build new audiences.  One of the most recent examples is from Long Beach Opera, who just last week announced a new pricing scheme to create ultra-affordable tickets for students.  Artists and performing groups have experimented with various models, including Pasadena Master Chorale‘s pay-what-you-want tix; LA Opera‘s La Traviata simulcast last fall; Eric Whitacre‘s “madly viral” TED-featured Virtual Choir; and the upcoming mobile opera from The Industry, whose Hopscotch will be performed and streamed from eighteen cyber-connected cars.  And that’s just the tip of the innovation iceberg.

What’s clear is that boundaries are changing, consumers’ attention is shifting to new media and other entertainment options, and all artists need to take their own relevance seriously.  Expectations and goals will need to evolve as well, and few of the coming changes will be boring.  But in the end, those who survive (and some who don’t) will have some extraordinary work to show for the struggle.  Hang in there, people.  In the meantime, here are a few resources for inspiration:

Arts & Economic Prosperity IV

A series of studies from Americans for the Arts

With more than 100,000 arts and culture organizations across the US, the arts work as economic drivers, just like other industries — creating jobs and opportunities, enriching lives, driving tourism and generating government revenue.  See details of national, regional and local findings and be proud of the quantifiable impact the arts have on the nation.  Where do you fit in?

Learn more about being part of the next study
AEP5 is in the works!

Standing Room Only: Marketing Insights for Engaging Performing Arts Audiences

by Joanne Scheff Bernstein (Author)

Available in hardcover and Kindle edition



NAMP, from Americans for the Arts

Tons of resources and news; an annual conference; a great place to start.



3 thoughts on “Marketing Monday: Audiences really are shrinking! (But there’s hope)”

  1. More good stuff! San Diego Opera is bringing back their free Opera on the Concourse program after several years, offering free lunchtime performances for the community. Nice work, SDO!

    And here’s the skinny on the Met’s new pricing plan

    And The Independent looks at classical music’s constant “re-invention”:

  2. Here’s another one: how about a concert for a single red cent? (Pennies are still copper in the UK, right?) An orchestra in Sheffield is trying this approach to attract audiences from all sectors in this industrial city. Read more via Signore Lebrecht.


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