Tibor von Merey
The explosive worldwide growth of Internet users, mobile devices, and social media is profoundly changing how companies in virtually every industry market and sell their products. One prominent exception: the arts sector. Most cultural institutions have been slow to capitalize on the new opportunities that digital technology offers—or think it means just selling tickets online.
And yet the potential benefits are enormous. When theater, music, dance, and art are “digitized,” they can be released from their brick-and-mortar venues. Without the constraints of time and place, culture can become truly mobile, interactive, scalable, and accessible to a far broader audience. This “democratization” of culture makes it available to everyone—not just a luxury for the wealthy. Digital technology can also provide new ways to enhance the cultural experience, increase revenues, and promote consumer engagement.
A handful of cultural organizations have recognized these opportunities and are leading the way. The Berlin Philharmonic broadcasts 30 live concerts per year over the Internet and on smart TV. New York’s Broadway website allows visitors to buy tickets to shows at all Broadway theaters, bringing in 12 million visitors and more than $1 billion in sales per year. The site also has theater-related news, feature stories, and polls. The Google Art Project provides access to more than 178 digitized collections, along with a zoom function for up-close inspection. But these efforts are the exception. Many more cultural institutions are sitting on the sidelines as the digital revolution passes them by.
To learn more about digital opportunities in the arts sector, BCG analyzed more than 80 initiatives at cultural institutions around the world that use digital technology in a range of ways. We then categorized the results. Our analysis showed that digitization can provide a number of benefits. (See the exhibit below.)
These are powerful benefits that can fundamentally change how people appreciate and interact with the arts—especially given current global trends: one-third of the world’s population is now online, mobile devices are growing in popularity, high bandwidths that support HD streaming are increasingly available, and innovations in related technologies continue to emerge. Forward-looking organizations, investors, and policymakers must actively seek ways to capitalize on these opportunities.
To drive success in this new digital world, political leaders in cities and towns must embrace and support it, especially in Europe, where cultural activities are heavily subsidized by public budgets. Moreover, cultural institutions and their leadership teams must recognize that capitalizing on the new technologies will have implications for all aspects of their organizations: strategy, program development, sales and marketing, distribution, fundraising, and recruitment. As such, moving forward on the digital front must be a top-down initiative and a key part of the executive agenda—not just an assignment handed off to younger staff members. Moreover, the executive team must show its commitment by allocating resources to the effort.
For inspiration and support, look outside your organization. Observe what other institutions and companies in other industries are doing, and learn from their best practices. Survey your audiences, members, donors, and website visitors about their needs and the features they’d like to see. Consider approaching other arts organizations, local universities, or the city or town in which you operate to gather knowledge, establish a center of excellence, or develop joint digital initiatives. For instance, New York City provides integrated support and funding for digital projects through its Social Media Advisory and Research Taskforce, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the NYC Digital group.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Analyze your successes and failures, and apply the lessons learned. It may take several attempts before your organization finds the right formula. By setting specific business objectives, testing different digital platforms, and measuring the relative impact of new initiatives, cultural organizations can begin to see which approaches work best with their target audiences and potential donors.