UK Performing Arts Survey 2

The latest research from Purple Seven and Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (MHM) released this week (10/1/22) shows that the majority of theatre audiences are not confident that life will return to ‘normal’ with no Covid restrictions in 2022. 

From 884 responses received between 29 November 2021 – 3 January 2022, 45% of the respondents stated that they were ‘Pessimistic’ or ‘Very Pessimistic’ about life returning to normal, while only 28% stated they were ‘Optimistic’ or ‘Very Optimistic’. 

Audience pessimism increased over Christmas period

In the first week of the five weeks of polling, 41% of respondents gave a pessimistic response. By the third and fourth week, this had increased to 54%. 

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. 

Younger demographic more confident restrictions will be removed

Further analysis from the study showed that younger respondents were more likely to be optimistic about the removal of Covid restrictions in 2022.

Almost twice the proportion of respondents under the age of 40 were ‘Optimistic’ or ‘Very Optimistic’ (38%) compared to those aged 70 and over (21%).

Respondents whose activities are limited because of a health problem or disability were also less likely to give an optimistic response (21%) while those who had children under the age of 15 living at home were more likely (37%). 

Pessimism highest in Essence, Stimulation most likely to return

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.

There were significant differences in the outlooks of the Essence and Expression segments (two key audience segments) with 59% of Essence being pessimistic about a return to ‘normal’ compared to only 33% of Expression.

Despite the general pessimism about the year ahead, the majority (62%) expected their attendances at performances to return to, or exceed pre-pandemic levels, with Stimulation (81%) and Expression (72%) being the most likely to do so. 

Domestic tourist visitors even more important for ticket sales

The survey also asked respondents about their plans for the year ahead. 

While 71% of respondents stated they had attended an indoor performance at a theatre, music venue or cinema since the start of the pandemic, 84% stated they plan to do so in 2022. 

Respondents expected that their trips and holidays within the UK would be close to pre-pandemic levels, but both visits from relatives from abroad and going on holiday abroad were still well below pre-COVID norms. 

Medwen Roberts, Director at MHM, commented: “This is data suggest UK venues of all forms need to be considering their domestic tourist audiences. We saw with wildlife attractions in summer 2021 that they benefitted from a marked increase in visits from domestic tourists compared to pre-pandemic summers. If appropriately marketed, theatres and other performing arts venues, could see a similar domestic upturn this year.” 

This survey polled audiences over five weeks of great change for the sector and the UK as a whole, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. 

David Brownlee, Managing Director of Purple Seven, noted: “Purple Seven tracks ticket sales and revenue coming into the box offices of hundreds of venues around the UK. Right up until the middle of December we saw a strong recovery in the sector, with sales around 90% of what was achieved in 2019. 

“The last few weeks in the year proved extremely challenging throughout the UK with performances being cancelled because of Covid in cast and crew. As we start 2022 the picture is very different in the different nations. If trading can return to normal there are grounds for optimism as advance sales for the early months of the year are reasonable and there is clearly strong demand to attend, including from many who have yet to return.”


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 art 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. 

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

UK performing arts audience survey

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Culture Segments and Covid Audience Mindsets