Government-funded theatres ‘aren’t attracting new audiences’

Audiences are being urged to turn off their phones and improve their behaviour. Photo: Pawel Libera
Audiences are being urged to turn off their phones and improve their behaviour. Photo: Pawel Libera
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Venues funded by Arts Council England are failing to attract new theatregoers and are instead relying on a core regular audience, the findings of a new report have shown.

Data collected by theatre analytics company Purple Seven has found audiences attending national portfolio organisation venues and those visiting commercial ones are becoming more polarised.

The document, called A New Perspective of Theatre Going in England, shows that new theatre-goers or those attending a production for the first time in three years were more likely to visit a commercial venue than a funded one.

It highlighted that West End commercial venues were particularly successful at attracting these new audiences – with nearly 42% of total spend from 2012 and 2013 derived from this type of theatregoer. ACE-funded venues in the West End saw only 15% of total ticket sales accounted for by new audiences.

Nearly 57% of spend at NPO-funded venues for the same time period was from regular customers – those who went to the theatre at least six times in three years.

Commercial venues in England saw 37% of their spend over the two-year period come from regular audiences.

The report concluded that popular West End shows are the primary entry points for first-time theatre-goers, while NPO venues serve regular attendees with their diverse range of programming.

Clive Humby, who co-authored the report, said funded venues should look further than lowering ticket prices to attract new theatregoers.

He said: “The regular customers are strongly geographically concentrated – in London, for example, they only come from a few parts of the capital so theatres could think about promoting outside of those areas more strongly as a whole.”

He added that the theatre industry  consisted of many smaller organisations, which could benefit from working together to develop techniques for selling tickets.

“It’s interesting the West End venues have so many first-time visitors. If they don’t come back, we have to ask, ‘Is there something about coming the first time that puts them off?’ We need to think more about what the consumers want from entertainment and how we can give it to them,” said Humby.

He warned that venues selling tickets through third-party agents hid customers and their behaviours from theatres.

“If you want to understand your audience, you have to connect directly so, if you are not selling directly to them, you need to find another way of making contact with them after the show,” he said.

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