New analysis of Indigo’s After The Interval Act II survey highlights that while 82 per cent of respondents would consider engaging with culture via digital means, its revenues cannot replace lost ticket income.

Cultural audiences indicated that they remain unsure of the quality of digital culture, which is holding them back in their willingness to pay. Fewer than one in five (18%) are willing to pay the same for a digital event as they would for a ticket to a live in-person event, with 52 per cent willing to pay a reduced amount.

The study revealed that just 12 per cent of respondents had already paid to take part in culture online, while the lockdown drove a large proportion of audience members (38%) to try digital content for the first time.

Meanwhile, of those who say they are not interested in digital culture, 84 per cent claim it is because the online experience is not an attractive alternative to an in-person event.

In the analysis of the research, The Audience Agency, which helps cultural organisations and policymakers to plan and deliver audience and engagement strategies, looks at how audiences engaged with digital content during lockdown, as international provider of consulting services and software for the cultural sector Baker Richards delved into the willingness of fans to pay for such events.

The tracker survey has reached over 130,000 regular cultural attenders in the UK, and to date remains the largest indicator of audience sentiment since the COVID-19 Pandemic began.

Katie Moffat, head of digital at The Audience Agency, said: “Digital offers can’t be all things to all people: as with in-person events, when engaging online, different audiences want different things. With more than 80% of audiences willing to engage digitally in the future, our hope is that there are increasing opportunities for everyone to experience, and learn how to develop, audience centred digital experiences.”

The analyses also found that only 25 per cent of frequent attenders had engaged with culture online before lockdown, rising to 59 per cent by July. Most watched a professional stream of a production, or home-made content from performers/artists.

It also showed that engagement with digital declined with age as audiences aged 15-24 were most likely to engage online, and most willing to pay (albeit a reduced amount when compared to a full-price in-person ticket).

Meanwhile, respondents with higher levels of safety concern about returning to live theatre expressed a greater interest in digital (88%) than those with no safety concerns (60%), and accordingly a greater willingness to pay.

David Reece, deputy chief executive of Baker Richards said: “The good news is that while only a minority of loyal arts audiences are currently paying to consume digital, there is a general willingness to pay in future. However, as most people expect to pay less than they would for a live experience, without substantial audience growth digital revenues cannot be relied on to sustain the UK’s existing arts infrastructure.

“Shifting away from the abundance of free content, a laudable response in a global crisis, to a paid model will be a challenge. A perception has been created that digital culture is free to access – this will take some time to overcome.”

In addition, interest in archive recordings is giving way to demand for events specifically created for online, or for streams of live, in-person performances. There is a greater willingness to pay for live events than for view-on-demand, suggesting a need for a more experimentation and active support for those testing new ways of working.

Katy Raines, co-founder and partner of Indigo, said: “These surveys continue to give insights into what audiences are really thinking – the evidence is unfettered and clearly points to possibilities for digital now and in the future.

“Audiences are saying that they expect a digital experience to be of lesser quality – it is in the hands of the industry to change that perception over time. Organisations have found insights from After the Interval and Act II to be invaluable in planning. We will shortly announce details of our plans to continue to provide this insight in the future.”