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Audience development 2023: Trends to watch

Overview of innovative audience development strategies in Quebec and abroad that are already making waves.

Understanding new needs

Live arts have risen to the challenge during the pandemic crisis: they have reinvented themselves. Web series, live streams, digital rentals, interactive creations—the innovations followed one another in the urgency to maintain contact with audiences. Now that venues have reopened at full capacity, this fervor has receded behind a (legitimate) desire to return to our spaces, our routines, and to resume the conversation with our audiences where we left off in the theater lobby.

However, during the lockdown, audiences learned to choose their artistic activities based on new criteria. We now seek experiences that fit our schedules rather than adapting to a venue's programming. We want to venture out for something grandiose that transcends what's available in our living rooms. We think about our finances differently. We prefer to rely on friends' recommendations. The list of changes in art consumers' behavior is long, becoming one of the major challenges of the current revival (read more about this in our editorial  «Between congestion and agility: our findings on the cultural revival »).

Evolving the Role of Agencies

Knowing that this revival requires special efforts to bring back both old and new audiences to the theaters, audience development strategies must be the next to be reinvented. It is with this mindset that we begin a broad reflection on our role within the cultural ecosystem. By virtue of its privileged position as a facilitator of dialogue between theaters, artists, and audiences, an agency's mandate is called to go beyond mere commercial relationships. Thus, agencies must position themselves as partners to programmers to collaboratively reflect on the best ways to make each programming a success both artistically and commercially.

A major asset of our label (which claims the spirit of agencies): our regular and extensive international contacts, brimming with innovative solutions for filling seats. While 2023 will be a year full of strategic innovation for the label, we won't wait until then to share the trends that seem to be emerging thanks to the ingenuity of our colleagues from here and abroad. Here are some audience development directions to watch for. Spoiler alert: borrowing strategies from other sectors (tourism, entertainment, etc.) pays off!

2023 Trends for developing your audience

Leveraging Data

Attitudes have evolved significantly in recent years regarding data collection. On one hand, the public is less resistant to sharing information about themselves in an online form if they see a measurable benefit. On the other hand, many programmers have realized that starting the customer experience with data collection—rather than waiting until the end—if they truly want to implement a proactive strategy. We are thus seeing the rollout of initiatives such as:

  • A loyalty card offering benefits based on interests expressed in periodic surveys;

  • Discounted or free products (glass of wine, 2-for-1 ticket) in exchange for information: age, location, interests, etc.

A major project for CAPAS in 2023: placing data at the heart of strategies. Because knowing your audience better means reaching them more effectively.

Engaging uudiences through human connection

After months of social distancing, human connections have taken on special significance. We now prefer close, microcosm relationships: receiving advice from someone we trust holds more value than from a faceless institution. That is why many programmers are now turning to various types of influencers to speak to their audiences:

  • Macro influencers who have become references for a community and whose non-institutional voice is widely broadcast.

    • Social media influencers;

    • Public figures.

  • Micro influencers, who have a valued and influential opinion within restricted physical circles.

    • Teachers;

    • Leaders of a friend group;

    • Neighborhood personalities;

    • Community leaders.

These individuals then become unofficial ambassadors for the programmer in exchange for compensation or tickets, so that the audience itself initiates its own development.

Investing in youth

To ensure the sustainability of live arts, it is important tobuild loyalty among young spectators. While age-tiered pricing is already common and has proven relatively effective, other age-focused initiatives are starting to show promise:

  • Pay the exact amount of your age (e.g., 18 years old = $18), to adapt prices according to the means of each age group;

  • Choose an age and offer everyone who is that age a free year, to quickly build loyalty among a specific target audience;

  • Reverse the power dynamic: children invite parents to the theater with a free pass for all under 18.

Certainly, these initiatives may require some sacrifice on profits, but investing in youth is always worthwhile.

Simplifying life for spectators

Now accustomed to consuming art in the controlled environment of their own homes, audiences view traveling to a venue as a complicated step. Offering ancillary services that aim to simplify the audience's journey to their theater seat can become a compelling argument to encourage subscriptions, such as:

  • Low-cost childcare services at the theater during showtimes;

  • Free dog walking service;

  • Valet parking;

  • Express public transport line before and after the show.

Offering an experience beyond the show

Audiences now want to leave their homes when they are assured of experiencing an event that their home cannot replicate. The environment surrounding the performance becomes important to ensure a quality experience from start to finish, encouraging everyone to step out more often:

  • Offering quality or rare products at the bar or restaurant;

  • Selling refreshments in advance and at a discount to encourage attendance;

  • Beyond music, also adapting the scents of the room to the show;

  • Offering a physical souvenir at the theater exit.

CAPAS has notably implemented this year the BILLET+ which offers an interactive digital experience complementary to the performance, to extend the contact with art and, incidentally, with the programmer.

Adapting to new consumption modes

Online services have accustomed audiences to new ways of paying or modifying their purchases that have a loyalty-building objective in their DNA. Some programmers have decided to follow suit:

  • Offering a year-round equal payment package to replace the single major payment subscription model;

  • Allowing seat and date changes to be made online without penalty;

  • Offering tickets with marked benefits: included premium refreshment, additional cushion, artwork ticket to keep.

These formulas can thus reach both small budgets, the indecisive, and more upscale clients alike.

Conclusion: For a new proximity

We often talk about personalized medicine as the next innovation that will revolutionize the health sector in a few years. But personalized culture is already at our doorstep. The public demands and prioritizes it. For live arts to succeed, they must find a way to speak one-on-one with each member of their audience. It is the era of a new proximity, a new intimacy with our audiences. By facilitating dialogue with everyone, we can make it an era of wonder.


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