Theatre in Wales

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Audiences & Audience Research- Unconvincing (part 2)

Theatre: the Talk in England

Consultants , Theatre Conference 2016 , December-28-16
Theatre: the Talk in England by Consultants Arts commentators often seem at sea with the most basic of numbers. The Pareto Principle rules everything. It is not known why. It is just the way the universe works. Thus a market research finding that “the three groups engaging most highly with the arts represent 60% of theatre audiences, but just 22% of the population” is noteworthy. But it is notable for its 60-22 ratio as most Pareto ratios are 90 to 10.

“By 2026, if we're not careful, we could be feeling really confident because we'll see an increase with the frequency in which people are coming to the theatre, we'll probably see an increase in how much some people are willing to pay for it, but it also looks as though our audience will be getting older and not necessarily being replenished. There's a danger that theatre audiences could look very healthy in 2026 without us noticing that we are increasingly failing to engage that younger audience, who are engaging with culture in a different way at the moment." This does not stand up because it has no longitudinal data for comparison purposes.

The first reaction is that the scope is far too big. The diversity of theatre is so large that meaningful conclusions that apply are hazardous. The segmentation that is made is threefold: classic, popular and new. If there were genre segmentation the research might be more convincing. But there isn't. Most of all it is tainted with faddish drivel. They make claim to “big data” patterns emerging. “What if” asks the question “we could predict what sort of an audience we might get for a show? We could predict best approach to reaching non-attenders?” If anyone could crack that she would be going to the same parties as Brin and Zuckerberg.

There is an audience segmentation on offer. Based on a mixed socio-geographical split the segments are highly engaged groups “Metroculturals, Commuterland Culturebuffs, Experience Seekers.” Three are medium engaged: “Dormitory Dependables, Trips & Treats, Home & Heritage.” Four less engaged groups are termed “Up Our Street”, “Facebook Families” , Kaleidoscope Creativity, Heydays.” These profiles are linked to household and postcode.

“If the profiles of the top three theatre-going groups stay the same then the average age of theatre audiences will increase considerably.” But this has three errors. Firstly it ignores the concept of ceteris paribus- that all other conditions remain the same, which they do not. Secondly the average age of the population is rising and only held down by immigration. Half the population in fifteen years time will be fifty and over.

But most all it confuses cause and effect. Birmingham Repertory Theatre reopened after a year of rebuilding. The programming was an Alan Bennett (reviewed here September 2013), one of few authors who can reliably sell for a three week run. If good marketing is matching product to audience then the counters may well be muddling cause and effect. Product is being tailored to cater for an older audience.

When it comes to “Generation Z”, those of the millennium, their characteristics are “super-visual and “tech innate”. They need a cause and hard-working realists. Maybe. They are “makers not consumers” and “born collaborators” for whom “passive forms have little traction.” To say that they assume “content to be free” that is valid for the small screen. They pay, and handsomely, for cinema and festival. The whole deadly jargon “congregational, authentic, immersive, creative/expressive opportunity” looks like the purveyors selling to their payers what they want to hear.

Decent consultancy delivers workable actions. The recommendations to programmers here are: “Winners will be audience-focused: adapt anything, Assume nothing: be in dialogue + use data, Offer everything: variety of channels and experience, Be committed, Belong: take an active lead in their community, Be distinctive, opinionated, Create immersive experiences: with you not for you. “

That looks mightily like sectional lobbying. Good, blistering, hard-crafted stories sell to audiences. “Black Watch” went worldwide because that was what it was. This smells powerfully like propaganda, all funded by the Lottery and Arts Council England.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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