January 25, 2021Jennifer Sowinski
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Should we continue offering digital options once our venue reopens for in-person events?
If your organization has the means to continue offering digital options once you resume in-person operations, we strongly encourage you to do so. The growing collective knowledge of experience and research in the digital realm suggests that digital performances, galleries, content, and events can (and should) continue, even once venues reopen.
Digital performances remove many of the barriers-to-entry that potential audience members face with in-person performances. To watch a digital performance, audiences don’t have to fret over what to wear or how to behave; they don’t have to figure out how to get there, or find parking at the venue, or even physically be in the same city as the performance; and they are typically able to pay less than they would in person. In fact, our research found that two out of every five (2 of 5) attendees to a digital performance during the first six months of the pandemic had never attended that organization in person. Whatever barriers those audience members faced for in-person performances pre-pandemic, were overcome with a digital option.
Delivering art inside people’s homes also provides organizations, and entire art forms, the opportunity to create and energize more fans who may eventually want to attend in person. We can look to the history of American football as an example here. Football didn’t become a mainstay in American culture until it was readily available on television. TV broadcasts helped audiences view and understand the game in a way many didn’t before. This led to larger fan bases, a higher demand for in-person tickets, larger stadiums, and higher profits.
The arts have something to learn here about providing low-barrier access to art in order to expand audiences, reach new people, and increase the “fan” base. A common concern we’ve heard from organizations regarding the future of digital performances is that audience members would choose digital options instead of attending in person. There’s a fear that audiences will choose the less expensive digital option, leaving empty halls and shrunken revenue. However, there is research that shows there can be simultaneous demand for both options, and that exposure to digital art may actually increase a person’s interest in attending in person.
A recent Culture Restart report asked survey respondents about their attitude towards engaging with online cultural experiences once they begin attending live performances in person again. More than 20% of those surveyed said that they would also engage with and pay for events online, and more than 60% said that they would consider online events that they wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to see live. This finding lends further support to the idea that digital events provide an opportunity to expand an organization’s audience beyond in-person limitations.
Audiences don’t want to replace the in-person experience with a digital one, but digital platforms allow audience members who would not have the opportunity to attend in-person the chance to experience the performance, gallery, content, or event from their homes. Digital content has the ability to expand an organization’s audience, broaden its community, and increase opportunities to engage with its patrons.
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