UK Performing Arts Survey 3

The latest research from Purple Seven and Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (MHM) released yesterday (21/2/22) shows that feelings of optimism among theatre audiences improved dramatically during the first five weeks of 2022.

Audience optimism doubles in the post-Christmas period

During Christmas week 2021, just 25% of respondents expressed some optimism that life will return to ‘normal’ with no Covid restrictions in 2022. By the end of January this had doubled to 52%.

This data comes from the UK Performing Arts Audience Survey, a rolling poll of audiences at 40 participating performing arts venues around the UK. It was established in March 2021 by Purple Seven and MHM with the DCMS to track the recovery in audience confidence.

Optimism growth highest in Essence and Stimulation, Release and Enrichment least likely to return soon

The survey includes questions that allow categorisation of respondents by their Culture Segment, a powerful psychographic segmentation tool designed to increase understanding and engagement of cultural consumers. 

An encouraging finding in the latest data is that the largest positive shifts in optimism during January have come from the Essence and Stimulation segments, with 38% of the ‘art-essential’ Essence now optimistic about a return to normal compared to just 17% at the start of the year. 

Two segments, Release (23%) and Enrichment (26%), were most likely to have decided not to return, while two-thirds of Essence (67%) and Stimulation (67%) had already returned, reflective of the importance of culture in their lives, particularly Essence, and also potentially their increased optimism during January.

Covid passports and potential barriers

As audiences become more optimistic about a return to normal, they are less inclined to feel that Covid passports at performances should be compulsory. During week commencing 20 December 2021, 49% of respondents ‘definitely agreed’ that Covid passports should be compulsory for people attending theatre performances, while a further 30% ‘tended to agree’. By the end of January, the ‘definitely agree’ response had fallen to 30% while ‘tended to agree’ response remained at 30%.

Whilst the majority of audiences agree on compulsory Covid passports, the strength of feeling differs across segments, with the conscientious Affirmation (70% agree) being significantly more likely to want Covid passports than the more independent-minded Perspective (57% agree).

Further analysis from the study reveals that almost one in five respondents will not return until they are ‘confident there are no negative effects of re-opening’ (13%) or 'until Covid-19 is under complete control’ (5%). Those who stated they had 'already visited’ a theatre (60%) were, on average, seven years younger than those waiting for evidence of no negative effects and six years younger than those waiting until Covid-19 is under complete control.

The proportion of respondents who stated their day-to-day activities were limited because of a long-term health problem or disability who were choosing not to return was slightly higher than the average as a whole (21%).

Medwen Roberts, Director at MHM, commented: “The upturn in confidence we have witnessed in January has been quite remarkable. From an increasingly pessimistic picture in December, it has been heartening to see such a swift revival in optimism for the majority of respondents. Despite this positivity, performing arts audiences still remain keener than UK governments to implement mandatory vaccine passports. Venues would be wise to continue to demonstrate how seriously they take the safety of their customers."

David Brownlee, Managing Director of Purple Seven, noted: “It remains a worry that a substantial minority of previous theatre attenders still do not feel confident to return. The data shows these are not just older audiences but include previous customers from all generations. Arts organisations need to consider how best to encourage these customers back to their venue or how best to continue to serve them through digital content.”


Technical note

The data in this study comes from the UK Performing Arts Audience Survey, a rolling poll of audiences at 40 participating performing arts venues around the UK. 

It was established in March 2021 by Purple Seven and MHM with the DCMS to track the recovery in audience confidence. Every week 5,000 previous customers of the forty participating venues who have attended in the last three years are emailed inviting them to take the survey.

Purple Seven is able to anonymously track key characteristics of those who are invited to take part and the proportion that respond (usually between 5% and 7%). Respondents on average have attended more and last attended more recently than the average of all those who were invited.

Purple Seven and MHM asked specific questions about optimism and plans for 2022 for ten weeks from 29 November 2021. During this period there were 2,480 respondents.

Data Director Medwen has overall responsibility for the quality of the quantitative data that Morris...

UK Performing Arts Survey 2

UK performing arts audience survey