Audience 2.0, Part II: Thoughts for the Future

Check out Part I for an overview of the NEA’s recent report Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation While Audience 2.0 gives some useful statistics on technology and media participation in the arts, the report does not provide the answers or the data that I am looking for regarding arts participation and technology.

  • How does arts participation through one technology affect participation in other technologies?  For example, how does participating through television affect web participation?
  • What impact has social media had on arts participation?
  • How do people participate in the arts digitally and online?  What are they doing on the web when they are participating?
  • Has participation in the arts via technology affected online giving to arts organizations?

Audience 2.0 draws into question the timeliness of national arts research, the vehicle being used to conduct this research, and the understanding of where arts audiences are heading in the future. This report was a useful audience analysis for 2008, but the survey upon which Audience 2.0 bases its analysis lacked a sense of forward motion as well as the ability to predict future arts participation through rapidly changing technologies.

The data used in Audience 2.0 was gathered three years ago before many current technologies were available and before many new technology users had invaded the digital market.  In his blog post Back To The Future, on, Marc Kirshner states that:

Since the beginning of the 2007 survey period [for the 2008 report]:

  • Four generations of iPhones have been released [and the Android network has been launched]
  • Facebook’s user base has grown from 20 million to 400 million users
  • The entire book publishing industry has been turned upside down by e-readers, such as the Kindle, Nook and iPad
  • Millions of set-top boxes, Blu-ray DVD and home theater PCs have connected televisions to broadband Internet
  • Hulu launched its online video service to the public
  • More than 300,000 people viewed simulcasts and encores of the Metropolitan Opera’s Carmen
  • The first 3-D network began broadcasting

The three year time gap between data collection and report publication created a lack of focus on many forms of new media and social networking platforms currently leading many technology discussions in the nonprofit arts industry today. Correspondingly, the relevance of the report in our current environment is brought into question, and we must remember that the report represents a snapshot in time more than a study of current habits. Due to the speed with which technology advances and its usage changes, traditional forms of data collection and publication no longer appear as useful for tracking these trends.

The survey asks about participation in the arts through technology, but Audience 2.0 does not provide answers about specific actions and their effects. The survey does not ask participants if electronic and digital media makes them more or less likely to attend a live event, but the report draws based upon a perceived correlation in the participation data. Without causality data, this correlation leaves us with a “chicken or the egg” dilemma.  Does electronic/digital/online participation in the arts lead to an increase in live participation, or are participants in live arts events simply more likely to participate in electronic/digital/online arts events?

I would like to see more direct questions being asked of people who responded that they participated in the arts through electronic and digital media. Obtaining this next level of understanding will provide us with a deeper understanding of the effects of electronic and digital media on arts participation.

Audience 2.0 raises more questions than it provides answers, but it does show a commitment on the federal level to assess the impact of technology on the arts. I am hopeful that future reports will delve deeper into the seemingly symbiotic relationship between technology and arts participation by focusing more specifically on the  digital/online arts participant.