Oversupply, increased price sensitivity or maybe they just don’t like the program? Audience research casts a new light on a worrying trend.
Why ticket sales are declining….
Performing arts ticket sales are in decline with 56% of regular attendees and 36% of occasional ticket buyers reporting they go to performing arts less often than they did five years ago.
Performing Arts Audiences Research commissioned by Arts Victoria has identified three key reasons for the decline: time and money pressures, programming decisions and being overwhelmed by too much choice.The research by Quantum Market researched included a quantitative survey of more than 1,500 people who have attended arts events in the past three years and interviews with arts organisations and audience members.
It identified two different streams of audiences: regulars and occasional ticket buyers. Regulars are likely to be older (55-64), free of family responsibilities, better off (earn $150,000 or more) and live in Melbourne while the casuals are younger, with children, lower incomes and may live in regional Victoria. Both are affected by the key themes driving down ticket sales, but they respond to different pressures in different ways.
Time and money
Time and money pressures affect both regulars and occasional attendees but they have a stronger effect on the casual ticket buyers. For this group a decline in income or available time was the most common reason given for declining attendance.
According to the AustraliaScan data, 52% of Australians say they are going out less and 46% say they are cutting down on luxuries as a result of economic pressures.
‘What this means for Arts Victoria is that consumers are more selective about their purchase choices… there is an increasing need to present and communicate a compelling value/quality (in terms of experiential) proposition to its consumers.’The researchers said performing arts providers also needed to review the practice of discounting last minute tickets because this was putting people off early purchase. As one research participant from a Melbourne venue commented, ‘Really the practice of discounting tickets last minute has shot the industry in the foot. People know that if they wait long enough they are likely to get a great deal.’ The researchers said there was an opportunity to drive attendance through availability of better value ticketing in early bird specials, which would also help organisations address the trend of late tickets purchase. Regulars are less likely to be driven by financial or time considerations. Partly this is because they are wealthier and less time-poor but it is also because they are more likely to describe themselves as passionate about the arts. An impressive 78% described the performing arts as ‘very important’ or ‘extremely important’ in their lives, compared to 39% of occasionals. Without the knowledge that comes with this passion, occasional arts-attendees were inclined to feel they were risking money when buying performing arts tickets. ‘This audience felt less knowledgeable or passionate about the performing arts. As such there is a greater risk in attending an event – particularly given that money is more of an issue for them.’The researchers noted there was a need to make this audience feel more comfortable to ‘help them better justify the expense.’
For the more committed and discriminating regulars and subscribers, on the other hand, programming seems to be an important factor in declining attendances. Of the regular attendees who said their attendance levels had declined, 40% identified lack of appealing programming as the reason.Armed with knowledge of – or belief in their knowledge of – performing arts, this group is more likely to be critical of programming and will drop their subscriptions if they have a few unsatisfactory experiences. Occasionals are less likely to be critical of programming but more likely to be put off by unfamiliarity. Programming that works from a familiar element, such as well-known music or a celebrity performer, is a form or risk minimisation for this audience.
Too much choice
Both regulars and casuals are also affected by the increased number of activities over the past five years, effectively ‘splitting the vote’ for individual arts organisations.‘Essentially organisations are now being forced to compete for the same attendees (time and money) and there is only so much that people can justify spending on performing arts,’ the researchers reported.Art forms are competition with one another, with local bands and major music artists suffering in comparison with plays, classical music and musicals. Opera seems to have experienced a slight increase, particularly from occasional attendees.