From working arrangements to food shopping, the pandemic has forced us all to establish different ways of doing things and become familiar with catchy terminologies like the ‘new normal’.
For the cultural sector, among other changes, this meant transitioning otherwise in-person performances to digital platforms.
In the lead up to this year’s Christmas season, discussions about the place of digital offerings in an increasingly in-person setting are ever relevant. The ‘Dreaming of a digital Christmas?’ report looks at the audience responses to our 2020 Christmas Online survey and provides an outline for how organisations could be thinking about similar models for Christmas 2021 and beyond.
Organisations who were putting on digital Christmas shows were invited to take part in the free, Christmas Online survey. They were provided with a survey link to email to audiences after the show and a link to view their own organisation's results in real time. Responses from all seven participating organisations were then combined to create a benchmark data set. Over the two month intake period, over 1500 responses from audience members were received.
The majority of online audiences were previously in-person attenders, with 95% having been to an in-person pantomime or a Christmas show before and 72% identifying as regular attenders.
Over half of the respondents were aged between 35 and 54, with a further 40% over 55 and respondents were predominantly white British.
The majority of respondents were Family Audiences, with 58% saying they watched the online show with their children or grandchildren. 68% of respondents said they had previously attended Christmas shows with children or grandchildren.
Impact of Covid
When asked about how Covid had affected them:
- 20% of respondents would describe themselves as ‘vulnerable’ to Covid-19
- 25% of respondents have seen their income reduced as a result of the pandemic
Their main motivations to watch a digital show were:
- Supporting the organisation promoting it
- Continuing their annual tradition
We know that audiences are loyal to their favourite cultural organisations and traditions. By gaining an understanding of who is annually attending Christmas shows and their relationship to physical and financial Covid vulnerabilities, we can begin to establish the possible benefits of a well-executed digital (or hybrid) approach for both audiences and organisations.
Ratings for digital Christmas experiences
Respondents rated their booking experiences and the value for money very highly at 4.5 out of 5 stars for both. They also generally found it easy to access and watch the show with an average rating of 4 out 5 stars. The majority (96%) opted to watch at home, with 14% watching more than once.
The comfort of watching from home, free from the hassle of travel, queuing and the risk of public temper tantrums really appealed to Family Audiences!
Were there any downsides to online Christmas experiences?
Whilst over a third of respondents said that the ability to see performers up close was better online than in-person, there were two main areas rated less favourably:
- Being able to have a shared experience with other audience members
- Audience interaction and participation
Understandably, a large part of the appeal of pantomimes and Christmas shows is the tradition of social interaction during the festive season. Overall, digital experiences have struggled to replicate this.
How do these findings impact the future of digital Christmas experiences?
Despite the challenges of being able to replicate the more social aspects of an in-person show, audiences were generally positive about their overall online experiences, rating them on average 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Nearly one third would definitely buy another online Christmas show and a further 55% would consider an online show if they couldn’t attend in-person.
The five aspects most enjoyed by respondents were:
- The comfort of watching from home
- Affordability and flexibility of booking
- Increased access for different groups
- A better- close up experience
- Trying something new
Given that such a high percentage of online viewers were families with mixed ages and different levels of Covid vulnerability, digital options provide a combination of comfort, safety, flexibility and accessibility that in-person options might struggle to accommodate.
Recommendations for digital Christmas events
With particular audience segments having a strong interest in access to digital options, here are five key recommendations for organisations planning digital Christmas offerings:
- Capture the essence of live but design for digital: Try to design shows with a digital audience in mind and capture a sense of festive atmosphere
- Remember that different formats suit different audiences: Try to offer a variety of formats to appeal to the range of ways that audiences want to engage with a show, especially considering how many bookers are likely to be watching as part of a family group e.g. the ability to pause, rewind and watch again, the ability to see other audience members etc.
- Focus on accessibility: Try to incorporate a mixed model of accessible performances for differing needs to ensure that everyone can enjoy digital shows
- Don’t underestimate the technical support required: Try to develop good documentation and a ‘technical support’ team to deal with any queries or issues via email or social media
- Don’t forget the cast and creatives: Loyal audiences enjoy seeing some of the same cast every year so try to create inventive ways of encouraging interaction between audiences and performers