The insights in this section are based on three main sources:
- Experience. First, of course, is the experience of our consultancy team.
- Data. The two main sources of data are our Cultural Participation Monitor* (a survey of the whole population, including their digital engagement) and our Digital Audience Survey (used by cultural organisations on their sites, to understand audiences for their digital content).
- Collaboration. These are supplemented by understanding of venues’ core audiences, from our analysis of Indigo’s Act Two and Culture Restart surveys, in which we focused on digital engagement.
Browse the summary reports:
Nearly half of people engaged with arts and culture digitally during the pandemic, particularly streamed performing arts.
Overall, 45% of people said they had taken part in an online cultural activity during the pandemic.
- This is much higher in the 16-24 age category, as well as for Metroculturals.
- Those with some specific types of disability were also more likely to engage online than the overall average, such as those who are visually impaired and those with depression or anxiety.
The types of activity with the most online engagement are watching a performance/event, following by a virtual tour/online exhibition.
- More niche categories like immersive/virtual reality digital art or online creative workshops see 5-10% of respondents taking part.
- It should be noted that across nearly all online activities, the same percentages of respondents said they were doing this before the pandemic.
- Watching a live or recorded performance online is the exception, increasing from 23% to 28%.
The majority of people engaging with arts and culture online are those who have been missing in-person attendance.
With the pandemic, we’ve seen a large-scale shift to digital rather than in person audiences. There’s been a range of innovation by organisations and acceleration of trends already taking place towards more digital distribution and digital-first content. However, although a much higher proportion of activity has been online, there’s reason to doubt that translates to wider reach overall, with previously high in-person arts engagers also dominating online audiences.
What does seem to have happened is increased frequency among a core audience and greater differentiation between audience types:
- Segments with already high digital engagement (such as Metroculturals, Experience Seekers and Kaleidoscope Creativity) are engaging relatively more and expecting to do so into the future as well.
- On the other hand, Commuterland Culturebuffs and Home and Heritage have fallen back.
Notably, the profile of audiences who are engaging enthusiastically with digital content is strikingly similar to those expressing the most willingness to return to in person events. Although causes differ (e.g. openness to digital channels vs concerns about safety), the result could be that these two divides reinforce each other.
These differences within digital engagement are key. There is a range of evidence in these reports that suggests ways in which digital activity can be differentiated and targeted, since different groups want different things in different formats and digital can’t be one-size-fits-all.
During the peak of the pandemic, we've seen high proportions of survey respondents saying that they are engaging with digital cultural content to ‘boost mood’ or ‘reduce anxiety’. So it is well worth considering that audiences are looking to online culture to support mental health and well-being when designing your digital content strategy.
Cultural Participation Monitor Digital Report does show significant proportions engaging with VR/AR in the 12 months before lockdown:
- 7% of the population overall,
- but 15% of families with children, 16-24s, 25-34s
- and 13% of Londoners.
This suggests that this could be a technology whose time has come, but only with an offer designed for specific audiences.