British Orchestras – Bigger Audiences For Less Money

British orchestras report an increase in attendees – a 16 percent increase no less – over an earlier three-year period:

A survey by the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) has found attendances at concerts and performances between 2012 and 2013 were up 16 per cent on those  three years earlier. More than 4.5 million people a year now see orchestras play live in the UK.

But earned income is down substantially: of growth in attendance has not translated into huge returns at the box office, as income from ticket sales and contract hires has fallen 11 per cent over the same period, according to the survey. And added to this a 14 per cent decline, in real terms, in public funding.

Add the numbers and you have more people attending orchestra concerts at significantly cheaper prices. And presumably, one might suppose that the audience for orchestras has increased even more because of digital access. So more people, less money. That sounds like the situation for pretty much any creative industry these days as they grapple with changes in audience behavior brought about by the internet.

The question is, given the subsidy model that orchestras operate in: what is the tolerable rate of subsidy? Fifty percent? 60? 90? Whatever it is, it’s not keeping up with covering costs – even with an increase in audience – paying lower prices. This isn’t just happening for orchestras or the arts. Pop musicians are having to change the subsidy model for their work too.

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  1. says

    Something doesn’t add up with these British numbers – or at least something seems strange. UK orchestras are averaging 4.5 million visitors per year. Germany has 132 state owned and operated orchestras. In the 2011/2012 season German orchestras had 4,290,886 “visitors” – about 200,000 less. For the attendance stats in Germany see:

    This leads to some interesting questions:

    + Why would the UK, with far few orchestras per capita, and only about 3/4ths the population have more people attending concerts than Germany?
    + Why would more people attend concerts in the UK when orchestras have historically been much more deeply rooted in German culture?
    + Why would more people attend in the UK when government subsides for German orchestras are much higher? The German government pays for 60% of every orchestra ticket sold. For the stats see:

    When we note that earned income for UK orchestras is down 11% while attendance is up 16% something here too seems odd. Has the BOA shuffled the numbers to make a case for more subsidies? It would certainly have the incentive. Or is something far more complex going on that would account for these odd discrepancies between the UK and Germany?

    –William Osborne

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