Image of Walter Benjamin by Daniele Prati

We’re proud to introduce you to Becky Schutt of AEA Consulting who, at the UK Theatre Touring Symposium 2016 introduced an exciting new piece of research that has just been commissioned: Live To Digital. I’ll let her tell you more about it:


Arts Council England (@ace_national) , UK Theatre (@UK_theatre) and the Society of London Theatre (SOLT – @O_L_T)) have commissioned research to understand how arts organisations, producers, presenters, distributors, exhibitors and members of England’s general public are being impacted by the digital distribution of live theatre, including but certainly not limited to Event Cinema.My colleagues and I at AEA Consulting are undertaking this large-scale research project, focusing on the following types of distribution of theatre, referred to here as “live-to-digital”:

• Event cinema  (e.g. NT Live, RSC, Bolshoi Ballet, Kenneth Branagh)
• Live and on-demand TV broadcast
• Live and on-demand online viewing  (e.g. Canvas, YouTube)
• Digital screenings in alternative venues such as libraries, galleries, and pubs


This research has been provoked by the need to better understand
  • How to support smaller players wishing to enter the market
  • Whether ‘displacement’ from attending live theatre and/or independent cinema is taking place
  • What the impact ‘Live-to-Digital’ is having on touring patterns
  • Strategies for developing new audiences
  • The support the distribution chain may require
These important questions sit within the wider, increasingly complex and shifting context for culture, changes driven by changing patterns of leisure time and its use; increased competition for the discretionary pound, and a shift in cultural consumption from passive observer to active creator. The digital revolution has resulted in extraordinary new opportunities for artists of all types to engage with their fans in new ways, and in the process are creating totally new ways to experience art.

In 2003, always the trailblazer, the late David Bowie launched his album, Reality, to 50,000 fans in 88 cinemas in 22 European cities from London’s Riverside studios live via satellite.  The unprecedented success of this event, orchestrated by New York-based BY Experience, inspired the Metropolitan Opera to develop Live in HD in collaboration with the same distributor. Launched in 2006, the pioneering scheme has to date welcomed over eleven million audience members to cinemas around the world, has generated a ‘halo effect’ in other strands of the Met’s business , and is generating a healthy seven-figure profit.

Close on its heels was the UK’s National Theatre, whose NT Live scheme, launched in 2009, has scored an international success in attracting audiences to cinema-screened live performances of plays. Today NT Live is engaging with loyal audiences around the world, impressing the critics, and sustaining its first mover advantage in the theatre sector through leveraging its carefully constructed distribution network.  Crucially the National has found a new way of delivering on its core objective to make theatre as accessible as possible to the geographically dispersed UK public. Other major UK arts organisations – notably, all household brands – quickly followed suit and increased their virtual capacity at the cinema, and increasingly in new ways online – these included the Royal Opera House, The Royal Ballet, BBC Proms, Glyndebourne Opera and the National Gallery. The majority of these superbrands have capitalized on this Event Cinema market.

Indeed, the market for Event Cinema (or Alternative Content) is forecast to increase significantly with growing acceptance of the genre and more content opportunities, with the most recent IHS report highlighting a 32.1% year-on-year growth in 2014, and a global gross of $277.2million.  As the media consultancy MTM London has argued, such figures are not without difficulties, as the live-to-digital arts market itself is poorly defined, making it a challenge to gather comparable data and ensure a lack of duplication. However, continuing at this pace and notwithstanding the complications in definition, within one year the market is set to reach £60-80million in revenues in the UK  and $1billion worldwide.


The results of this study, which includes interviews, focus groups, and a survey of organisations and audiences, will be used to inform policy and investment, and more broadly to provide evidence for the sector about the marketplace – both supply and demand, opportunities and challenges. Findings will be published this summer.

The announcement of the study was a nice reminder to revisit the seminal essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, authored by the German philosopher Walter Benjamin in 1935/7. Questioning if and how art has fundamentally changed in the era of reproductions (writing in the midst of the early golden age of photography and cinema), Benjamin argued that original works of art benefit from their own unique ‘aura’ (authentic, original, of a moment). What happens to that aura when you reproduce a work, he wondered?

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”

The questions Benjamin raised about 20th c art are even more relevant for 21st century works of art –  the digital world opens up infinitely more possibilities for reproduction, manipulation and access – we are excited to be exploring how.

If you are an organisation working in this market, we would love to hear your views – a short survey can be found here:

And if you are an audience member, we would love to hear your views too:

Both surveys should take no more than 10 minutes to complete; and respondents will be entered into a prize draw to win £100.

Please note the surveys close on 1 May 2016.

Thank you

(c) 2016 Becky Schutt, AEA Consulting

You can follow this report through the the #theatrenews hashtag and @aea_consulting

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