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Research into the behaviour of new arts audiences post-pandemic found the retention rate of new bookers in 2023 was higher than it has been since 2016.

Audience cheering
Caiaimage/Martin Barraud

New analysis of aggregated ticketing data from across 340 arts organisations found the retention rate of first-time visitors in 2023 improved year-on-year for the first time in seven years.

The research forms part of the Tomorrow's Audience report by audience consultancy Indigo Ltd and ticketing solution providers Spektrix, published today (5 March), on the behaviour of new arts audiences post-Covid lockdown.

Spektrix’s analysis of a decade of ticket sales found that 19.5% of new visitors to an arts organisation in 2022 visited again in 2023, a rate of reattendance among new bookers not seen since 2016. The report said the finding represents “green shoots of hope for arts audience growth”.


The audience retention rate across all bookers in 2023 remained in line with pre-Covid figures at around one-third. If the retention rate for new bookers had also remained at pre-Covid levels, it would have hit around 15%, leading Spektrix’s analysis to suggest that the 19.5% retention rate was “particularly exciting” for the sector.

“The post-lockdown bump in first-time booker retention could offer a route out of a prolonged period of decline, in which audiences embrace the unique experience of live performance in a digital age, and organisations adapt traditional practices to meet their changing needs,” the report says.

Overall, audience retention rates improved for both large and small organisations, but at a slightly faster and higher level in large organisations. The retention rate was more pronounced in organisations outside of London, with more than 20% of first-time bookers returning outside the capital.

Spektrix’s analysis of aggregated ticketing data also found more than half (54%) of audiences in 2023 were first-time bookers. This is up from 50% of ticket sales being first-time bookers in 2019 and close to a high of 55% from 2013.


Indigo and Spektrix’s research, dubbed the first of its kind to quantify the opportunity presented by new arts audiences post-lockdown, combined ticketing data with a survey from October 2023 that received 32,600 responses from across 72 performing arts organisations.

The analysis of survey responses found that 20% of audiences booking at the organisation for the first time in 2023 had never or rarely attended the performing arts pre-Covid. Theatres and arts centres attracted the highest proportion of audiences completely new to the arts.

“We’ve learned that there’s a real opportunity to develop new audiences,” said Liv Nilssen, Spektrix Director of Sector Strategy.

“This unique consortium has brought together technology and consultancy with leading arts organisations to create a truly connected view of audience behaviours and to understand how arts organisations can revitalise connections with their visitors.”

Engagement strategies

Spektrix’s analysis also found overall ticket sales were higher than they’ve ever been in 2023, up 1.6% on total sales from 2019. The report says the result marks a “remarkable recovery”, considering sales in January 2023 stood at 92.4% of the same month in 2019.

In response, the report says, “Strategies to engage first-timers, retain them for a second visit, and capitalise on their interest will lie at the heart of many organisations’ plans to build the audiences of tomorrow”.

Audience members who visited arts venues for the first time last year most commonly said they had done so because they were encouraged or recommended by family or friends, were familiar with the work they were going to see, or were attending to celebrate a special occasion.

Barriers to entry 

The main barriers to attending for the first time were cited as practical issues, including travel and show run times, value for money, stress-related issues such as overcrowded spaces, and a live performance not being “on the radar” of the potential ticket buyer.

Indigo and Spektrix’s report offers arts organisations a series of recommendations to help influence first-time visitors to rebook, including adopting referral schemes, harnessing email and social media automation tools or targeting the growing number of bookings audiences make to celebrate special events.

Further recommendations include promoting value rather than price and creating research plans to focus on feedback from new audiences.

“Despite the challenges of recovery from the pandemic, our UK arts organisations are not only bouncing back but managing to attract significant numbers of new attenders – many of whom have discovered the performing arts for the first time,” said Kerry Radden, Associate Director at Indigo.

“Armed with the insight we have uncovered together, we’re confident that the sector can build these new attenders into the audiences of tomorrow and beyond.”