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Technology and marketing the performing arts: An overview

The Performing Arts in Australia faces considerable competition for audiences from; international productions, high-profile sports and film campaigns, passive forms of entertainment such as television, and an overall decrease in leisure time. In addition, information about entertainment options is more easily accessible than ever before. The Internet is a vast, widely accessible resource that provides quick access to a whole spectrum of entertainment choices. In this information-saturated environment, the quality of the entertainment alone does not ensure success. Establishing a niche in this entertainment market relies on the ability to accurately locate and communicate with your target audience within this vast network. A marketing strategy incorporating digital technology can establish an ongoing public presence and identity at low cost, dramatically expand audience reach, and develop value-added products that increase returns for production efforts.

Recent figures from the Australia Council indicate that many principal performing arts companies are in deficit. This is attributed to declining audiences, due in the most part to competition from other forms of entertainment. Audiences that do attend live performance tend to choose major musicals, live concerts and festivals, over contemporary music, theatre or dance.

Another factor affecting patronage is public image. Some sectors of the community find the performing arts and performing arts venues alienating. A perception exists that live theatre is expensive, formal and inaccessible to the general public - strictly the domain of the white educated middle class.

Declining attendance flows through into the areas of sponsorship, funding and media coverage. Recent figures from the Australia Council show that less than 30% of all sponsorship offered in Australia goes to the Arts. While funding bodies advocate sponsorship development irrespective of the size of the company, low exposure rates simply do not attract as much interest.

For many companies, artistic aims, and often, financial considerations, have primacy over marketing. Most arts organisations do not, according to figures from Marketing the Arts a study published by the Australia Council in 1997, conduct or use regular market research and many do not have a formal marketing and audience campaign. Pressure to produce the work often outweighs the need to produce marketing materials, devise strategies, conduct interviews and photo shoots. The cost of promotional materials alone can amount to a significant slice of estimated revenue. A strong, integrated marketing strategy is however, necessary to effectively address these issues of competition, public image, funding, and exposure.

The application of new technologies could help overcome many of the hurdles to performing arts companies realising strong, competitive, marketing campaigns. Digital technology can offer a time-efficient, low-cost means to create and deliver value- added products and services, extend audience reach, help position and brand a company, service sponsors, and reduce administration costs through electronic communication.

The Web is potentially one of the greatest tools for performing arts companies to present a consistent brand identity to potential and existing audiences. It enables companies to maintain communication outside limited performance seasons, which overcomes the necessity for artists to re-launch themselves every season. An internet Web presence provides a low cost 24-hour 365-days-a-year vehicle for presenting clear and precise brand identity, as well as communicating more practical marketing and promotional information such as session times, venues and online bookings. Companies can allow their audience to journey with them in the creation of a new work. A Website can also provide rapid response to opening performances rather than having to wait for limited newspaper reviews that often appear well into the season.

As the Web continues to expand and mature the performing arts will be able to increase communication with a broader audience at a low cost, given the online presence is incorporated into a sound, integrated marketing plan. Communication tools such as the Web also offer another avenue of communication to potential funding partners and can increase exposure for a work or product. It has the distinct advantage of giving artists control over content.

The products in the PAML Pilot Project represent attempts by performing arts companies to cross promote their work through accessible mediums such as Web, radio, broadcast, film and educational markets. Performance recordings can offer artists and companies access to niche markets and mass media outlets. A mere 30 sec grab from a performance can gain exposure on nightly news. Footage can be recorded digitally and reprocessed to beta cam for distribution to networks. The clip can be shot during a dress run and does not rely on a show being "complete" before being filmed. This exposure allows smaller performing arts companies and artists the ability to compete with larger marketing campaigns employed by major companies or film.

By strengthening marketing campaigns the performing arts can consolidate its position as a viable entertainment option. The PAML Pilot Project offered companies the opportunity to explore ways to expand audience reach using new technologies. Companies leveraged off an investment in a live performance to access new media, and potentially increase the "shelf life" of the production itself. In doing so, they opened new markets and fostered new ways of thinking.