Cinema screenings ‘do not cannibalise theatre audiences’

A scene from Phedre starring Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper, which was the first show to be broadcast by NT Live. Photo: Tristram Kenton
A scene from Phedre starring Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper, which was the first show to be broadcast by NT Live. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Cinema screenings of stage productions through National Theatre Live have not resulted in a fall in theatregoing, research has found.

Theatres in England have experienced no decrease in attendances from audience members living near cinemas that screen NT Live shows since NT Live was launched in 2009, data from research charity Nesta and consultancy organisation the Audience Agency has shown.

Meanwhile, London theatres close to cinemas screening NT Live productions – which have included productions such as Phedre, Frankenstein and One Man, Two Guvnors – have seen a 6% average increase in attendances within a year of broadcast.

The results come after fears were raised that NT Live cinema screenings would become a substitute for live theatregoing. In recent months, Stephen Joseph Theatre executive director Stephen Wood and playwright Alan Ayckbourn have expressed concerns that the NT Live initiative could deter audiences from seeing live productions.

Nesta’s research looked at data from all NT Live broadcasts from June 2009 to the end of 2013 – covering 482 cinemas in England. This was compared with the number of tickets sold at 54 nearby performing arts centres.

Hasan Bakhshi, director of creative economy at Nesta, said the findings showed that NT Live was not “cannibalising” theatre audiences as had been suggested.

He said that in the regions, while some theatregoers might be encouraged to see shows live following a broadcast, others might view the screened productions as a substitute for live shows. He claimed these “two opposing forces” could be cancelling one another out, leading to no overall change in the number of people going to live theatre performances.

Bakhshi said the reason for London venues experiencing increased theatre attendance following an NT Live broadcast could be due to the higher density of venues promoting screenings in the capital.

However, more research would be required to establish further audience behaviours around NT Live screenings and the differences between the regions and the capital, he said.

Bakhshi added: “Cinemagoers at NT Live productions are a captive audience for theatres – regional venues should consider how they can convert these into greater ticket sales.”

David Sabel, director of broadcast and digital at the National Theatre, said: “We believe that the more great drama people are able to see, the more they are likely to want to go to the theatre so it’s great to see that Nesta’s latest research confirms that live broadcasts are a valuable complement to the live theatre experience.”

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