“Who knew?”, as my American friends are fond of saying. We often make informed guesses about the state of play about how potential theatre audiences think or behave, but how much do we actually know about who they are and what they actually think and how they actually behave?
Rushing to the rescue yesterday was the release of a new report called State of Play: Theatre UK, commissioned and compiled by Ticketmaster, that surveyed nearly 1,500 theatregoers – 1000 from the UK, the rest from America, Australia, Ireland and Germany.
The Stage has reported its main findings here,but the biggest surprise, to me at least, is the finding that younger theatregoers – those aged 16-19 – are more likely to attend the theatre than any other age group. No wonder tastes are changing, too: other findings suggest that audiences want to see new shows (36%) and relatively established ones (43%) over long-runners that have been running for more two years (21%). And over a third of audiences (39%) love interactive theatre.
The good news, if all of this is true, is that theatre is here to stay; for all our fears about the future, there remains an appetite for theatre amongst a younger generation. But that appetite is changing. And so, to, is the behaviour associated with feeding that appetite.
Cost remains the biggest barrier to entry, which is hardly a surprise; but the biggest encouragement to how audiences find out about shows comes from word of mouth (28%). Newspapers and magazines account for only 13%, so goodbye (sooner or later) old media; interestingly, advertising by poster (8%) and TV commercial or programme (7%) is even less persuasive. Neither is the encouragement of a ticketing company (8%), which is an interesting irony, of course, given that the report was published by one.
Facebook, blogs and twitter account for 1% or less of how audiences find out about shows; but once they find out about them, of course, and actually see them, those become major channels for continuing their discussion of them. Nearly a quarter (24%) tweet about the performance they are about to see or have already seen. Among 16 to 19-year olds this rises to nearly half (47%). And around one in five theatregoers are using social media to write reviews about what they have seen.
It’s long been said that everyone’s a critic now; and so it proves. And those critics aren’t always well behaved at the theatre either. On the one hand, checking one’s mobile phone during a performance is considered the least acceptable behaviour, though more than one in four have done it at least once. Theatregoers between the ages of 25-34 are most guilty of checking their phones during a performance.
We have hitherto had to rely on mostly anecdotal evidence about such changes, but now we have it in black and white (though there are, of course, plenty of shades of grey in all of this, too).
However, as theatres and ticket agencies alike are now able to collect and harvest information about their customers as never before, we could see big changes ahead in the way shows are marketed and sold. Who needs to spend vast advertising budgets to reach the audience now that you know who they are and where to find them?
The future of the world may turn out to be data, not advertising.