Audience Outlook Monitor Snapshot Report — October 2022

This report reflects data collected nationwide in September 2022 as part of the Audience Outlook Monitor study of arts audiences, in collaboration with WolfBrown.

Photo by alevision.co on Unsplash

Comfort levels continue to climb as health and safety protocol expectations drop to record lows, current attendance holds steady, and purchase rates grow

Sentiments about current attendance have held steady at about 3 in 4 throughout the summer and into early autumn: in September, 78% reported that they are currently attending, the same as in August. Though overall rates of current attendance have risen, the oldest patrons are still more cautious when compared to other age cohorts: compared to 91% of those under age 35, 72% over age 65 are already attending in-person programs. 28% of those over age 65 are still waiting to attend, including 9% who say they will wait into 2023. September brought increased current attendance among Black patrons, with 84% reporting that they are currently attending (more than at any other point in the study for the demographic).

Comfort levels in both indoor and outdoor venues continue to climb above summer figures. As of September, 72% say they would feel ‘very comfortable’ at an outdoor festival or concert, and 44% say the same of a large theatre or concert hall; this represents a 10% increase in comfort outdoors, and a 7% increase in comfort indoors, relative to August figures. Preference for outdoor venues continues to soften: only 37% say they would ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly’ prefer outdoor venues in this moment (compare to 48% in July and 40% in August), and 45% currently have no preference.

Those expecting health and safety policies for indoor attendance dropped below 50% for the first time, and a rising 48% in September say they will attend indoors under any circumstances, compared to 44% in August. Meanwhile, 49% still expect some safety regulation to be in place in order to attend indoors (at least masks). Mask wearing is increasingly discretionary for patrons; when masks are optional, 34% of patrons now say they will always wear a mask, compared to 41% in July. An additional 50% say they may or may not wear a mask, depending on the circumstances.

Purchases are on the climb, with 55% of respondents having purchased tickets or subscriptions in late September. In September, 58% of audiences with a self-reported ‘strong’ organizational bond made purchases, versus 49% with a weak bond. Notably more inclined to buy, 61% of Asian patrons made ticket or subscription purchase in September. Still more than half of all patrons who bought single tickets in September purchased them more than a month in advance of the event date.

For those who have yet to return to the theater, COVID concerns were less prominent September. Meanwhile, program interest is a dominant, growing barrier to attendance:

56% have not yet found a program they want to attend. This figure has remained strong throughout the summer and grown in the fall, and is pronounced among those with a weaker bond: while 41% with a ‘strong’ bond report that they have not found a program of interest, 70% with a weak bond say the same.

Only 32% report concerns about contracting or transmitting COVID-19 in September, compared to 36% in August; this is less of a barrier than at any other point in 2022.

26% say making plans in advance is more difficult than it used to be, and 23% cite budget limitations

Photo by Zeynep Sümer on Unsplash

Current readiness to attend is higher than at any other point post-pandemic

September sees continued growth in vaccinated patrons ready to attend. 86% will attend now, which is a higher rate of current readiness to attend than at any other point during the study (since the beginning of the pandemic). Only 11% are still waiting for infection rates to drop.

Comfort levels with current attendance experiences are at their highest since before summer 2022: now, 59% of respondents who have attended report that they were ‘very comfortable’ with their in-person experience, and an additional 39% report that they were ‘comfortable’ or ‘somewhat comfortable’.

For those who were less than ‘comfortable’ at a performance in September, the concerns are centered around both conditions and enforcement, but most patrons say that organizations are doing everything they can:

“Require masks in both theaters and lobby.”

“Some people pull their mask down when the lights go off and one hopes it is not adjacent to the seat I’m in.”

“I truly believe [organization] has done all it can under the circumstances.”

“Nothing will make me totally comfortable until the virus is under control.”

Selectivity around in-person entertainment remains significant for certain demographics, and competition with at-home options is considerable

Photo by Danny Howe on Unsplash

Inflation continues its outsized impact on younger, non-white audiences. Overall, 43% of patrons say that they are more selective about their spending on live entertainment due to economic conditions, while the remaining 56% say they are no more or less selective. Younger patrons tend to be more selective, limited by inflation impacts: 54% under the age of 35 are more selective with entertainment options now, compared to only 42% or less over age 55. Also, white patrons are less inclined to be selective due to economic impacts (41%), while 60% of Hispanic or Latinx audiences say they are more selective.

Overall, 77% of patrons say they watch programs on name-brand streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, etc.) at least once per week (27% watch daily), and 52% say they are watching film and television at home more frequently than before the pandemic. Meanwhile, only 13% subscribe to any arts and culture specific streaming services like BroadwayHD, National Theatre at Home, Carnegie Hall +, or Ovation. Younger patrons continue to report frequent streaming viewership: 84% under age 35 watch more than once per week, compared to only 53% over age 65. Also, more than one third of Asian and Hispanic patrons watch major streaming content daily (compared to 24% of Black patrons and 27% of White patrons).

Those patrons who are attending events have specifically been engaging in outdoor music and dance: more than 10% say they have attended outdoor arts and cultural events more often, and an additional 64% say that their frequency at these events is about the same as before the pandemic.

Audience experience factors which mitigate COVID exposure and offer a preferred experience have maintained a positive impact for most patrons. Audience experience factors with the greatest positive bearing on attendance include access to excellent seats at the last minute, the ability to select specific types of seats, and stricter health safety protocols. 70% of audiences consider the ‘opportunity to buy excellent seats at the last minute’ a positive factor, and 58% say that stricter health safety policies are a positive factor. Audiences continue to be divided on the concept of allowing drinks in the auditorium, with about one third considering this a negative factor, and another third considering this a positive factor.

Meanwhile, 63% say that they consider it a negative if a venue has ‘no health safety protocols’. ‘Longer intermissions’ and ‘opportunities for audience to socialize or interact’ are also negative factors for a third or more of patrons.

About one third of audiences consistently express interest in immersive experiences: 30% say they have attended an ‘immersive experience’ or site-specific installation in the past year, and 38% express a high level of interest in attending similar experiences in the future.

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Jordan Gross-Richmond

Jordan Gross-Richmond

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Chief Product Officer, Technologist, Live Performance Enthusiast, Musician, Work in Progress