How different types of audiences are responding to the digital arts, culture and heritage revolution, spurred on by the pandemic.

July 2021

Key Findings

  • As of July 2021, there is an appetite for continued digital engagement as well as digitally enhanced in-person experiences, especially among younger audiences.
  • Lower engaged audiences expressed about as much interest as higher engaged audiences in digital offerings, which may prove to be an attractive draw.
  • Among audiences that have expressed an interest in digitally enhanced in-person events, half say they are willing to pay more for them.
  • Where audiences had no plans to participate in future digital events, this was due to a lack of interest rather than difficulty gaining access.


Overall, 43% of respondents said they participated in cultural activities online during the pandemic, an increase of just 3% from before. Younger audiences proved much more likely to engage online, with about two in three of those aged 16-34 year doing so compared to less than 30% of those older than 55. At 60%, a majority of existing digital audiences said they were viewing more arts and culture content online than they did before the pandemic.

A third of those who participated online say they were seeking out entertainment, 20% did so to relax while 15% hoped to learn something new. Three quarters of these respondents felt these expectations had been met. Interestingly, older online audiences reported greater satisfaction than younger audiences (approximately 85% of those older than 45 had their expectations met, compared to 70% of those younger).

The most popular activity across all age groups was watching music or performing arts, and younger audiences showed the most interest in virtual tours and workshops (20% of those aged 16-34 vs 5% of those older than 45). Watching music or performing arts and browsing online collections or libraries were the two activities most likely to draw in audiences repeatedly, with around 20% of these audiences engaging 6 or more times. Half of digital audiences say they were engaging in activities provided by an organisation they had attended in-person in the past.

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Looking to the future, 40% of all respondents agreed that they are interested in experiencing arts and culture online as well as in person. Younger audiences are the most open to this, but about one in three people over the age of 55 also showed interest. About 45% of those aged 16-34 strongly agreed or agreed that they would look for digital events presented by the same venues they attend in person, compared to 20% of those aged 55-74. The figures are very similar for those that strongly agreed or agreed that they are interested in how digital could be used to enhance in-person trips to museums or galleries and to watch performing arts.

Respondents showed the most interest in ‘behind the scenes’ footage (39%), exclusive interviews with artists or performers (37%), extra artistic content (36%) and ‘teasers’ building up to an event (34%). The least interest was shown for online discussion among audience members (27%). Though interest was concentrated among younger audiences, 20-30% of respondents over the age of 55 said they were quite or very interested in ‘behind the scenes’ content, and 20-25% of 55-74 year olds expressed an interest in interviews.

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Taking the potential uses of digital further, audiences were asked about their interest in digitally interactive live events, such as those offering the chance to change part of the performance or interact with performers and other audience members. One in three respondents expressed interest, although this interest dropped off dramatically with age.

There is also some interest in virtual reality experiences, with 40% saying they would be interested in exploring these individually and slightly less, 29%, open to a VR experience that involves interacting with other participants. Older audiences were more receptive to the possibility of VR experiences than interactive events, but they may be put off if these are too interactive. About half as many of respondents aged 55-64 and 65-74 said they would be interested in VR that involves interacting with other participants than those that would be interested in experiences they can explore individually. Around two in three people over the age of 65 said they have little to no interest in either digitally interactive events or VR.


Digital content might be a major draw for typically less engaged audiences, who are about as likely as highly engaged audiences to express an interest in digitally enhanced cultural experiences after the pandemic. This may be linked to the fact that less engaged audiences also reported the highest level of participation in online cultural activities during the pandemic, at 46% compared to 43% of higher engaged groups and 36% of medium engaged groups. Of the highly urban Kaleidoscope Creativity group, 55% had participated. When audiences that had participated in a digital activity during the pandemic were asked about continued engagement, lower engaged audiences were the most likely to say they would continue to do these online activities instead of most of their physical visits.

This interest in continued digital participation is particularly pronounced among Facebook Families and Kaleidoscope Creativity, both of which tend to be lower income. One in three lower engaged respondents said they would watch recordings or streams of music or performing arts instead of most in person events, including 44% of the Kaleidoscope Creativity group. 27% of lower engaged groups would take virtual tours of museums or galleries instead of attending, including 30% of Facebook Families and 32% of Kaleidoscope Creativity. This figure was 23% for higher engaged audiences and 16% for medium engaged audiences.

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Respondents were asked to what extent they agreed with a series of statements measuring their interest in digital and digitally enhanced in-person events. Lower engaged audiences tended to strongly agree or agree to more or less the same degree as the highly engaged audiences, and more than medium engaged audiences. For example, 40% are interested in experiencing arts and culture online as well as in person, as are 42% of highly engaged audience and 35% of medium engaged audiences.

Less engaged audiences showed some enthusiasm for a range of digital offerings, for example 37% expressed interest in exclusive ‘teasers’ ahead of an event (cf. 31% for higher engaged and 28% for medium engaged audiences) and 41% were interested in ‘behind the scenes’ footage (cf. 38% of higher engaged and 34% of medium engaged). In terms of in person digital activities, VR experiences are attractive. VR that audiences could explore independently proved interesting to 39% of lower engaged audiences (cf. 33% of higher engaged and 30% of medium engaged).

This particular interest in digital among Kaleidoscope Creativity and Facebook Families may reflect the fact that families with young children have generally shown greater enthusiasm for digitally enhanced events. 30% of respondents with no children under 16 were interested in how digital could enhance in person museum visits compared to 53% of those with children. Similarly, one in three respondents without children under 16 were interested in independent VR experiences, compared to half of those with children.


Of the 50% of respondents who expressed some interest in digitally enhanced in-person events, such as those with ‘behind the scenes’ access, exclusive interviews, ‘teasers’ and extra artistic content, about half have said they are willing to pay more for them. A further 27% said they aren’t sure. Again, age is a key factor here, with younger audiences that are interested much more likely to say they are willing to pay. Over 50% of those younger than 45 were willing compared to a quarter of 65-74 year olds and only 1 in 5 of those over 75.

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Among other factors that appear to affect how willing interested respondents were to pay more for digitally enhanced events, was whether or not they had children younger than 16. Two out of three of these families are willing to pay more compared to 38% of those without children. Urban audiences, who are overall more likely to be interested in digitally enhanced experiences, also show more willingness to pay, with 47% saying they would compared to 38% of rural audiences. 58% of interested respondents from London say they would pay more.


Of audiences who said they were not interested in engaging with any digital or online activities in the near future, their main reasons were ‘I am not really interested in this sort of thing’ (54%) and ‘the online experience is not an attractive alternative to the live event’ (22%). Only a small minority said their lack of participation was due to practical difficulties such as ‘I am not confident in using the technology required’ (2%) or ‘price is an issue for some of these events’ (4%). Almost no respondents said that they found the quality of the events to be the main off-putting factor.

evidence & insights