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Digital technology in decline in theatre sector, claims report

The Digital Culture 2015 report suggested that 8% of theatres stream live performances of their work. Photo: Shutterstock The Digital Culture 2015 report suggested that only 8% of theatres stream live performances of their work. Photo: Shutterstock
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Theatre companies are using digital technology less than they were two years ago, a new report claims.

The survey of 207 theatres suggests that less than half (45%) see digital as important to the creation of work, a figure that has plummeted from 57% in 2013.

Only a third of theatres surveyed (33%) felt digital distribution of their work mattered, down from nearly half (48%) in 2013.

Arts Council England has expressed disappointment that theatre organisations have reduced their investment in digital innovations.

The Digital Culture 2015 report indicates that stand-alone digital works by theatre companies have fallen “significantly” by eight percentage points over the past two years, with just 8% stating they use digital to create such work.

In addition, theatres are seeing less of an impact from digital technology than the wider arts as a whole – 63% of theatre companies said they had at least a “fairly major” impact, while 72% of the arts sector as a whole said the same.

According to the report, nine out of 10 theatres (92%) surveyed use digital for marketing, but only 8% stream live performances of their work.

The report also shows that 30% of arts organisations use digital to reach an international audience, compared with just 14% of theatre companies, down nine percentage points compared with 2013. Theatre companies said a lack of time and resources was the most significant barrier to digital development.

Since 2013, the biggest advance for theatres in relation to using digital technology is that significantly more companies are now accepting online donations.

Simon Mellor, executive director for arts and culture at ACE, said the report “clearly demonstrates the returns that many arts and cultural organisations are enjoying” as a result of their investment in digital technology.

He added: “However it is also revealing of the many pressures that those organisations are currently experiencing and it is disappointing to see evidence that some organisations are reducing their investment in digital activities.”

Mellor said ACE would continued to support and encourage organisations to invest appropriately in digital innovations, “so that they are able to grow as businesses in the digital economy in which they all operate”.

Nesta, which works on the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts alongside ACE and the Arts and Humanities Research council, said that organisations were stepping away from digital innovations was “a cause for concern”.

Hasan Bakhshi, the company’s director of creative economy, said: “A key finding is that organisations that experiment with technologies – stepping up activities which bear fruit and scaling back on activities which disappoint – are seeing more impact on their performance.”

He continued: “In this context, the suggestion that some organisations are pulling back on experimentation this year should be cause for concern. If nothing else, this reinforces the message that policymakers should continue to prioritise research and development in the arts and culture sector.”

To read the full Digital Culture 2015 report on theatre organisations, click here.


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