What does the short-term future look like for venues?

What can the sector do to stay relevant digitally during these uncertain times?

The coronavirus pandemic has caused hundreds of UK theatres to close their doors indefinitely. Some speculate it will damage organisations irrevocably. But will people’s love for the theatre ever die?

We take a look at how Brits are staying in touch with the arts industry, and what the sector can do to stay relevant digitally while the curtains remain down.

How has lockdown impacted the way people are searching for live entertainment?

We can see that generally searches for theatre and tickets have sharply declines as the pandemic has taken hold. This isn’t great news for theatres, as searches indicate user intent. Not many people out there are looking to purchase tickets for future shows, which perhaps suggests the following:

  • People aren’t looking too far ahead into the future
  • Theatres are too uncertain to begin ploughing money into marketing future shows

However, this hasn’t stopped people eagerly wanting to get their live theatre fix.

The search term ‘national theatre live’ has experienced a 700% increase, with Fleabag boosted by over 500%. People are hunting out new ways to enjoy live entertainment.

The below chart showcases user’s heightened interest in accessing theatre digitally from the comfort of their own homes.

It seems searchers are embracing digital theatre and all it has to offer. People aren’t just discovering live theatre via news sites and social media – they’re actively looking for it.

So what can theatres take away from this?

It’s time to start thinking digitally. Even smaller venues such as 450 capacity Lawrence Batley Theatre have found unusual and interesting ways to target the market. Their online plays have been a great hit amongst theatre lovers. This type of online theatre is achievable for many venues – it does, however, require hunger to diversify and try different things.

Respond to what your customers are searching for

There’s no doubt about it – we all miss live theatre. Digital shows will never be a substitute for that, but they are providing a great way for people to connect with the theatre industry while lockdown continues.

Developing a programme of online events could be a possibility for many theatres.

  • Run online backstage tours or Q&As
  • Gather a group of actors to take part in an online play reading or performance, using technology such as Skype
  • Share previously recorded shows from your venue, so people can relive the enjoyment of live entertainment
  • Hunt out plays with a small cast and invite actors to create a live socially distanced performance for your digital audience

The benefits of online theatre

We understand that digital theatre can never be as profitable as a show attracting thousands of patrons per performance. However, it’s likely you will be able to break even on any investment you make online. We’re all going through challenging times, but theatregoers are still happy to pay for digital performances.

One major advantage of investing in an online theatre programme is visibility. In such challenging times, it’s easy to be forgotten about as people prioritise emerging from lockdown unscathed. Promoting a digital offering reminds customers that you’re still fighting and sharing great theatre with them. Chances are you’ll attract a much wider range of audience members, too, as you won’t just be focussing on a local demographic.

Profitability of outdoor arts

Research suggests that the average ticket price for an outdoor event is £23.48. That’s slightly lower than the £34.07 spent on a ticket to see musical theatre, but roughly the same price as a ticket to see a play.

People tend to attend an outdoor arts event just once a year – but we think this figure is about to rise if event organisers and theatre managers begin to diversify their offering. There is a potentially untapped market when it comes to outdoor events. Obviously British weather makes it tough to predict how popular an event might be – but it’s certainly worth considering. Marquees and other large coverings could make theatre viable outdoors. Or perhaps a drive-in style set-up in which people tune in to the action from the comfort of their cars?

Those normally engaged with outdoor events likely have a range of leisure interests. However, they also attract demographics who may not usually have the funds or the interest to attend physical theatres on a regular basis. Again, now is the time to experiment and enjoy delivering creative work to new audiences. They’ll appreciate your efforts and reward you with brand loyalty when you are able to reopen again.

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