The number of people in the UK who are watching theatre online is growing as the coronavirus pandemic continues, new research has found, with one in five of those accessing digital arts content during lockdown doing so for the first time.
Nearly 20% of adults are now watching theatre, dance or music performances digitally, a nationwide audience survey has revealed.
The Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre is tracking digital engagement by the UK population over a six-week period, asking people to share details of their film, TV and music consumption as well as encounters with other online content such as streamed performances, e-sports and social media broadcasts.
In addition to notable increases in film and TV engagement, the study, which began last month, found that the way the people engage with culture is changing as they embrace different types of online content while at home during the crisis.
From a 1,000-strong nationally representative sample, 17% of consumers watched theatre, dance or music performances online during the first week of data gathering, growing to 19% in week two.
Of those who are engaging with theatre this way, 27% were doing so for the first time and had never experienced streamed theatre shows before the lockdown.
More than half (51%) of people reported watching more theatre digitally than they had before the pandemic.
Theatres ranging from some of the UK’s largest, such as the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, to smaller independent companies and regional producing venues are streaming archive productions online, often free of charge. Opera and dance companies including the Royal Opera House and Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures are also broadcasting shows.
Hasan Bakhshi, director of the Policy and Evidence Centre, which is led by Nesta, said the results demonstrate the importance of theatre’s role during lockdown.
He said: “Our data shows that the public is embracing a range of non-traditional digital content since the Covid-19 crisis started. Almost one in five adults appear to be watching filmed performances of theatre, concerts and/or dance shows online. Furthermore, of these individuals, half are doing so more frequently or for the first time – a greater share than any other form of non-traditional cultural content. This is important, as it shows that the arts are playing a crucial role in keeping people engaged and well at home.”
Of the total number of people watching filmed theatre, 38% said they are engaging a similar amount to previously, with 11% estimating that they are now watching less.
The study also found a large proportion of people engaging for the first time with other forms of non-traditional online content, such as fitness classes, conferences and art exhibitions.
The research has been commissioned by the PEC and the Intellectual Property Office, with research being carried out by AudienceNet.
Further data from the six-week study is being released weekly.