A look at NEA’s Audience 2.0 report: technology and arts participation

Just published: an interesting study from the National Endowment for the Arts called “Audience 2.0: how Technology Influences Arts Participation.” I wanted to give a quick, initial overview with some quick, initial comments.

One would think that with the opening up of the Internet, with the increased accessibility, arts participation through electronic media has risen significantly. But unfortunately, we can’t find that out through this report. It does note that arts participation through electronic media declined by almost 20 percent from 1992 to 2002.

But first, let’s see what the NEA defines as electronic media: radio, audio recordings, television, video recordings, Internet, and portable media. Only the first three media were polled in 1982, video recordings were added in 1992, the Internet in 2002, and portable media in 2008.

So when we see this decline in participation rate in electronic media arts participation, we probably have to take into account that this was before the Internet truly provided more access and this was while radio and television stations were cutting arts performances and CD sales were going down.

Unfortunately, as the authors write in a note “the format of the questions in the 2008 SPPA having to do with arts participation through media differed substantially from those in the 1982, 1992, and 2002 SPPAs, making it difficult to compare arts participation rates between the 2008 SPPA and prior years.”

In the current report, however, the findings “suggest that adults who have access to the Internet are substantially more likely than those without Internet access to participate in the arts through any form of electronic media.”

I would love to see a report focused primarily on the Internet and portable media, without the effects of CDs and DVDs, radio broadcasts and television programs.

But there are some things we can learn from the new report, especially when compared to the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts:

The Internet audience and age

  • Around 75% of those who saw an arts performance online, or those who created art online, were ages 18-44; however, people who look up art information tend to be a little older, only 63% were 18-44. In the arts participation survey of 2008, 50% of those attending the arts were ages 18-44.

The Internet audience and education

  • Nearly 38% of those who saw an arts performance online, and nearly 44% of those who create art online, were at least a college graduate. In the arts participation survey of 2008, 48% of those attending the arts were at least a college graduate.

The Internet audience and income

  • 33% of those who saw an arts performance online, or those who create art online, made less than $50K. In the arts participation survey of 2008, 30% of those attending the arts made less than $50K.

So we can clearly see that the age of those who experience art online is much younger than those who attend live art. A higher education, perhaps connected to younger age, is not as important for Internet participation as for attending live performances. And income seems not to be a major factor in difference, perhaps due to a higher distribution of Internet access among more wealthy families.

Another interesting finding from the Audience 2.0 report is that nearly twice as many respondents reported having participated in classical music through electronic media than through live attendance (18% versus 9%). The smaller sample of opera sees the same story with 5% versus 2%. This is perhaps not entirely surprising, as listening to a recording of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony is easier, in many aspects, than attending it in performance.

Causation and correlation

But the question on everyone’s mind, of course, is if participation in the arts through electronic media leads to participation through other means, or in other words, live performances?

Interestingly, the report used some statistical models that predicted frequency and breadth of live arts attendance from arts participation through electronic media. Participation through electronic media was related to an increase in both frequency and breadth, second only to higher education levels.

But just like a recent study by a marketing agency, “Facebook Fans Spend More Money,” which found that a fan of a brand on Facebook spends more money on that brand than non-fans, was seen by many as causation, rather than correlation, we have to be careful with electronic media leading to other participation, vice versa, or the two even reinforcing each other. The NEA study states that “determining the causal nature of those relationships requires more research.”

The good news is that the study suggests that “using electronic media to view or listen to the arts does not ‘replace’ live arts attendance” and seeing the clear relationship between participating in the arts through electronic media and participating in the arts through attendance, performance, and creation, “encouraging arts participation through electronic media may lead to greater interest in the arts overall.”

What to do with this information?

Sure, more research is needed to determine the causal nature, but there is much useful information in just the fact that people who participate in arts online, are much more likely to go to a performance or create art themselves. The study found that the likelihood for media arts participants to attend a live performance was nearly 30% greater than non-participants and the likelihood to create art was 27% greater.

As an arts organization, you can find the places where people participate in arts online. Better yet, you can create such a place. You can gather and collect their demographic information, of course, and base your marketing and your outreach on education and income statistics, but what is perhaps more important is their behavior and the subsequent financial value of that behavior.

In the general population, half of the people do not attend live performances nor participate in art through media. About 13% of the people only attend live performances and a slightly larger number, 15%, only participates through media. But 22% both attend live performances and participate.

One question undeniably is why do those who only participate through media not attend live performances? It seems that education and income are related factors. It’s perhaps quite logical: media consumption has fewer barriers than live consumption.

Another point, seeing that participation through electronic media was related to an increase in both frequency and breadth of live attendance, is how can we persuade those who only attend live performances to participate through media?

So arts organizations should provide the opportunities for their attendees to keep being engaged with the art through media consumption: 1) it provides fewer barriers, increasing the diversity of the audience (age, economical, education, ethnicity) and fulfilling part of your mission statement of bringing art to the community (because who says it can only happen through live performances?); and 2) it echoes my Take A Friend To the Orchestra contribution on flipping the traditional marketing funnel: keep them more engaged and they will attend more.

And how do we keep attendees more engaged through media? Well, social media anyone?