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Arts Council England drops arts and culture research specialists The Audience Agency from sector support role, handing new contract for data insights to global consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Arts Council England (ACE) has appointed global consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to gather data on arts and culture audiences, replacing not-for-profit organisation The Audience Agency which has been delivering the work as part of the National Portfolio since 2018.

As a result of the change, PwC will be required to establish a new online data collection and analysis platform and associated support services.

But concerns have been raised about the potential implications of the change for arts and culture organisations.


The Audience Agency began receiving funding from ACE in 2012 to develop Audience Finder - a free national audience development data-sharing comparing programme that combines audience data from cultural organisations with population information drawn from all UK households.

Then it was funded to create a segmentation model - Audience Spectrum - alongside it that gives the sector a common language to talk to each other about audiences.

In 2018, it joined the National Porfolio as a Sector Support Organisation, receiving £750,000 a year to deliver the work.

Over the decade long period of investment, Arts Professional has found no evidence that the contract was not delivering what was required.

New platform

However, the work will no longer be conducted as part of the National Portfolio. A new contract for data insights work was put out for tender in April worth up to £1.6m over the next three years, with ACE this week revealing that PwC has been selected.

"PricewaterhouseCoopers will deliver a new audience data collection and insights platform," a section on the ACE website detailing resources for NPOs reads. 

"You will be able to gather audience data through surveys and box office connections, and access meaningful insights about who engages with your activities. Automated functionality and a range of insights will be free to access and there will be resources and support to help you make the most of the tool. 

"To simplify the data you submit to us, some audience and activity-related data currently collected through the Annual Survey will be brought into this platform too. You’ll be able to easily upload this information throughout the year and see your audience-related data in one place."

Serious concerns

A variety of sources have told Arts Professional they have concerns about the change, its implications for the sector, and whether the new platform will be ready by April. They question why a valued, expert and specialist not-for-profit has been deselected in favour of a global consultancy firm.

Roger Tomlinson, a former arts consultant specialising in audience development, and a former trustee of The Audience Agency, told Arts Professional he has a number of concerns about the change.

"Given the long development time to create the Audience Finder set of tools in the first place I am astonished that a commercial bidder who clearly wants to make a margin out of this contract is able to come in and bid and say they can have it up and running by the end of March," he said.

"The new NPOs are all expected to be in a position to ensure that their data can go into such a solution by then.

"I'm also very concerned that The Audience Agency has lost its contract [with ACE] for Audience Finder. I thought the Arts Council was very committed to audience development, developing and extending the character of the audience in relation to diversity, but will now lose a tool that every other country I talk to about is hugely jealous of."

Tomlinson add that he is worried about the risk that a commercial organisation is "interested in this solution for commercial exploitation purposes". 

"Yes, the majority of the data is anonymised in the dataset, but it's still a very powerful segmentation tool and the Market Research Society has told us in the past that it is probably the most powerful segmentation tool if you are trying 'Facebook style' to hone your target marketing for all kinds of commercial products," he said.

'Still here to support'

Anne Torreggiani, founder and Chief Executive Office of TAA said that, despite the loss of ACE funding, the organisation is on a firm financial footing and will continue to provide Audience Finder for the sector. They also still continue to hold contracts with Arts Council Wales and Creative Scotland. 

"The Audience Agency will still be here to support," she said.

"Unlike other organisations who won’t get ACE funding, we have at least had time to get over the disappointing news that TAA will no longer be running ACE's funded data service for English NPOs. 

"We found out a while ago that ACE had appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of 'the big four' global consulting firms, to run a new service modelled on the Audience Finder one we’ve run as a Sector Support Organisation since 2018.

"So, we’ve had time to get ready for Plan B and from this perspective it looks as though, for us, not having ACE funding might just make delivering our mission easier and more rewarding. We’ll be able to focus in a more unfettered way on what really matters to our stakeholders - growing their audiences, serving their communities and making a bigger impact."

"The important point is that English organisations will still be able to benefit from this investment [in Audience Finder], and the mission critical insights we offer. ACE has already put out news that they are leaving behind the notion of a single mandated service - organisations will be able to choose the one that works for them - and send data to ACE via their chosen aggregator. 

"Over the next few months, we’ll be talking more with the sector about the intel they most need from us right now and going public with some of our new solutions."

Winning proposal

A spokesperson for ACE said: "The Audience Agency is funded via a Sector Support Organisation grant to deliver the Audience Finder service. 

"It was agreed for the next investment round an audience data service should be delivered as a contract rather than a grant, and subsequently an open procurement process was undertaken. 

"PricewaterhouseCoopers delivered the winning proposal for Arts Council England’s requirements and will develop a comprehensive audience data platform to support Arts Council England and the sector’s needs.

"Organisations have always been able to use whichever service works for them to collect the data, so long as they submit it to the service mandated by Arts Council England. Previously this was Audience Finder, now it will be the new Arts Council England platform.

"We value the contribution The Audience Agency has made, and the support they have offered many organisations in the sector. We anticipate there will still be ways in which The Audience Agency will continue to do this and we hope there will be other opportunities for us to work together in the future."

Arts Professional welcomes readers' opinions. Please ensure your comments observe our policy.


The above article paints a disturbing picture of the forthcoming changes in service provision of the work previously carried by TAA. One would seriously expect the assessment used for the award of the work to PwC would have been carried out using openly accountable criteria such as the practices used by the lottery funders and indeed the Arts Council itself in awarding grants. What was so wrong with the service delivery by TAA that led to the loss of contract to PwC? Have appropriate questions been asked by TAA itself? Have some of them been answered to the TAA's satisfaction? One would expect that the PwC would not bid for a service that they cannot deliver. The TAA has a splendid record of service delivery, but it had the advantage of the first mover in the market. Were the terms and expectations of the new bid so disadvantageous from the point of view of the TAA that they lost the bid? Did they pay a heavy price for its first mover advantage? We will never know but we should know, given that an open and publicly accountable tendering process was in place. You suggest that PwC may not be able to meet some of the deadlines for service delivery. This could be contentious and challenged by PwC. There is a final point. If TAA had access to a large fund that it can still offer some of the services, was it using public money efficiently in the past to the extent that it could build a large reserve? Some people could carelessly accuse the TAA of hoarding public funds! One would need to know the details and commercially sensitive information before such a claim was made.