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New Covid-19 data shows audiences slow to return to live events

Gallery interior during lockdown

The latest data from The Audience Agency shows people are still reluctant to return to live arts and cultural activities.

This latest evidence, taken from the Cultural Participation Monitor, a nationwide population research study, shows that audiences are slow to return to live events and wellbeing remains low.

The Cultural Participation Monitor is part of our wider Covid-19 research programme in collaboration with the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and The Audience Agency.

There are also indications that audience behaviour will be different after the pandemic, particularly in relation to more local attendance, greater digital engagement (alongside, and in some cases replacing, live attendance) and openness to changes in event formats from significant minorities of the population (e.g. through blended digital and live events).

Returning to live events

  • Survey respondents were asked: ‘In terms of attending cultural events, as things open up, what best describes how you feel?’ Fewer than a third said that they would be ‘happy to attend’. This is only a 2% increase on the response to an equivalent question asked in late February, despite changes in circumstances such as the rise in vaccination rates and drops in Covid case rates, hospitalisations and deaths.
  • Part of the continued reluctance is linked to continuing concern about health, whether their own or others. 15% strongly agree and 38% agree that they are ‘worried about falling ill with Covid-19’ (cf. 18% and 41% in late February). 21% strongly agree and 42% agree that they are ‘worried about others falling ill with COVID-19’ (cf. 28% and 45%).
  • Two thirds of previous live event attendees (65%) have no plans for attending live events in the immediate future.
  • Respondents were also asked whether they had booked for a live performance in the next two months. Of those who said they had been to live arts and/or music events in the year before Covid-19, 19% said ‘yes, and I expect it to go ahead’ and 14% said ‘yes, but I expect it to be postponed or cancelled’. This is up on February (5% and 11%).

Wellbeing and the role of the arts

  • Wellbeing measures show substantial drops during the pandemic. For example, 36% said they had felt lonely ‘more often than before the pandemic’ (and only 15% ‘less often’). 22% rated their ‘satisfaction with life at the moment’ as four or less out of 10 (and 38% are “less satisfied with their life” compared to the year before the pandemic, with only 18% “more satisfied”)
  • Arts were believed to help improve wellbeing. Respondents were asked about which types of events they had attended during the pandemic and whether they had a positive impact on their
    wellbeing. 68% of ratings for arts activities were ‘yes’ (with only 21% ‘no’) and 79% of ratings for heritage activities were ‘yes’ (with only 12% ‘no’)

Audience behaviour change post-pandemic

Substantial minorities of respondents agreed that they would look to change their arts and cultural engagement after the pandemic, in various ways. For example, 33-40% agreed or agreed strongly that they would stay more local to attend various types of arts and culture. This varied from a total of 8/9% agreeing they would do so for live events and indoor galleries and museums (perhaps because of a combination of less local availability and more specialised content) to 16% for outdoor parks, gardens and heritage spaces, and 23% for film. This suggests that there is a desire to shift to more local engagement.

Similarly, of those who were interested in differing types of online activity over the next couple of months, there were substantial proportions who would use it to replace some, or most, of their in-person engagement, even after the pandemic.

Audiences may change their digital behaviour in other ways. Combinations of digital and physical engagement look to be important in the future and there is also openness to digital enhancement of the live experience. Substantial numbers said that they would also spend more for physical events which are enhanced by digital activity (29% replying ‘yes’, 27% ‘not sure’).

Commenting on these latest findings, Oliver Mantell, Director of Research Policy at The Audience Agency said:

“These new insights give crucial evidence to help the arts and cultural sector understand the impact of the pandemic on audiences. In the short term, they show that the public are still hesitant about attending live events, with little change in attitudes since February. In the longer term, they suggest changes to behaviour beyond the pandemic by substantial minorities of the public, with more local attendance and digital engagement, whether instead of, as well as, or as part of in person engagement. Overall, it suggests that things won’t revert to how they were before either quickly or completely. We will be presenting more detailed reports from this wave of data in the coming weeks.”

Find out more about this data at The Audience Agency’s website.

This data is part of a wider research programme led by the Centre for Cultural Value in collaboration with the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and The Audience Agency. This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through UK Research and Innovation’s COVID-19 rapid rolling call.

Image: The Lowry in lockdown. Photo: Nathan Chandler.

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