Family audiences: welcoming back after Covid-19

Family audiences: welcoming back after Covid-19

By Family Arts Campaign


The Family Arts Campaign and Indigo have worked together to look at how families feel about returning to live events after Covid-19. Many family audiences have much in common with other regular culture-goers. However, there are a few significant areas where they differ significantly and which might hold some clues for venues, producing organisations and those creating digital content.

Research summary

Five key areas to consider when welcoming back family audiences:

1. The panto effect

55% of upcoming family audience bookings were for events in November and December      Only 16% of family audiences expected upcomg events to be postponed or cancelled

It is clear from the data that most of the families in our survey had already booked for Christmas shows, or other events around November and December.

Astonishingly, even in July, 80% of these bookers expected these events to go ahead – albeit with some element of social distancing – but very few expected the shows to be postponed or cancelled.

“Visiting the theatre at Christmas has become a part of our family tradition. It would be a shame to lose it.”

There are two challenges facing our sector relating to Christmas events:

  1. How do we ensure we are communicating any changes clearly and responsibly for families?
  2. How do we maintain the relationship with these audiences, if our Christmas events are postponed or cancelled?

We know that many family audiences visit our theatres and venues once a year – regularly and religiously – but still only once a year. Although we try to entice them back again to attend further family shows, this can have limited success.

Once these families have broken the habit of coming to panto or the annual Christmas show – probably with grandparents and an extended family group – how will we get them back again in the future? More pressingly, what can we offer them in the meantime?

2. Price sensitivity

32% of family audiences have seen a reduction in their income due to Covid-19     Family audiences are more likely to book a live event if there is a refund or a credit note

The data shows that this audience segment, whilst the least likely to be vulnerable in health terms to Covid-19, is the most affected by a reduction in income as a result of the pandemic.

“I want to try and support theatres and live events as much as possible because I enjoy these and so does my little boy and I want them to survive but I will need to be careful with money as my partner has no work and our income has dropped at present.”

Unsurprisingly then, this group is less likely than general respondents to have made donations and more likely to place importance on refunds and exchanges when looking to book tickets for future events.

They are however, happy to continue paying full price for activities offered virtually and remotely, with families being more willing than other segments to pay a similar price for an online experience as an in-person one.

3. Indoor social distancing doesn’t work for Family Audiences

In general, families seem less willing to attend venues with social distancing measures in place – not because of safety concerns, but simply because adhering to set rules could add a further level of ‘stress’ to what they already consider to be quite a palaver.

Trying to ensure that children ‘socially distance’ whilst sitting in seats and then having to queue longer for toilets, is possibly a step too far for a lot of parents.

“Keeping them in a seat is hard enough work at the best of times!”

Others felt uncomfortable about their children seeing an auditorium of people wearing masks, or being subjected to health checks on arrival. With face masks now being mandatory for visitors to indoor settings, this could prove difficult when welcoming different age groups into a cultural space.

“The current system of social distancing and people following you around cleaning is very stressful and therefore I would prefer to wait until the situation settles down rather than having to either subject myself or my child to all of this.”

4. Digital content for Family Audiences

Less than 1/2 of family audiences have tried culture online

If families will be reluctant to come back to venues quickly, what about digital content? At first glance it seems that families are less of a market for digital content, with less than half having engaged with online culture, compared with 62% for all respondents.

However, what is clear is that families are looking to fulfil a very different need when it comes to online culture. Whilst fewer had watched a full length production online, almost half had taken part in a creative or participatory activity via virtual means.

“I have really enjoyed watching theatre performances online with my primary aged children. They have enjoyed making tickets and posters beforehand and we have used some of the education packs when available. We have seen plays we would not have been able to afford to go to as a family if at the theatre.”

Comments illustrate that families value online experiences they can do as a family if they are participatory in nature, and ideally involve some level of recognition or interaction.

“Online events I think need to be interactive in some way… I am looking for something where there is feedback / presenter is acknowledging me and my presence. That for me is why I would pay for gym classes rather than get free ones or do certain kid’s classes.”

Innovation, testing, and assuming some sense of trial and error will be crucial in ensuring that organisations and artists maintain that sense of connection that comes from an in-person cultural experience.

The Family Arts Campaign recently delivered a webinar discussing important access points to consider when developing digital content for young children and will be producing more resources around this area in future.

5. Families are comfortable outdoors

Families are 9% less likely to have attended outdoor arts

Family audiences were much more likely than any others to embrace the widest possible range of outdoor arts activity, finding the full range of outdoor styles and formats appealing (unlike more classic audiences, who were looking to replicate their ‘in-venue’ experience as closely as possible).

“I feel that outdoor events would be great - and I would have total confidence in coming especially for children.”

Whilst they have concerns about toilet facilities being readily available, families were much less concerned about the British weather or having to stand up for any length of time.

“I would love to see some outdoor, family-oriented, socially distanced daytime performances in the coming few months, I’d be happy to pay the same as for an indoor performance... we are fed up with screen time.”


A willing and important audience segment at risk of exclusion

Uniquely, family audiences recognise the sense of urgency in providing cultural experiences for children, whose creative development is vitally important to them.

“[Children are] missing out on seeing these live performances at a stage of their development when they can gain a great deal of inspiration and enrichment from them”

They are worried that family groups won’t be top of the list when organisations are making plans for reopening.

“Our main concern in returning is that there will be more performances directed at adults.”

Cultural organisations have an opportunity to develop interesting and interactive experiences for families, particularly around digital and outdoor activity.

The data suggests families are more interested than ever in arts and cultural experiences – they are actively looking for things to do in person and online, and they are prepared to pay.

Download the full report 

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Audience Behaviour
Resource type: Research | Published: 2020