Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Coming to a device near you - the digital revolution

I was recently reading a column in a magazine (not a musical one) and the columnist, who is somewhat younger than I, was proudly proclaiming that he never used Twitter or Facebook and was too old to do so. Yet many of my correspondents do not fit into the youth category, and many arts organisations are finding digital communications (social media in its widest form) important for communicating not only with the young. 

If you are reading this, then you have some sort of engagement on-line and like many people will probably be used to receiving marketing information via email rather than by post. All arts organisations have entered the digital market in this way. But Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta have commissioned independent research to track the digital usage by Arts organisations over the next two years. And of course, this doesn't just involve emailing people!

The digital revolution is moving on many fronts at the same time. Just think how most of us now take for granted the ability to go to a cinema and see opera live in high definition with good sound. Many organisations are offering their own CD's and DVD's, not to mention streaming things over the web. It has never been easier to access high quality music making and arts. But what about using digital for art works themselves, making digital the message rather than the medium?

According to the preliminary research (a survey of 891 arts and cultural organisations), almost three quarters of arts organisations regard digital as essential to their marketing. Though that does make me worry about the other quarter!

But only 47% are creating work for the digital space and only 32% see digital as essential for distributing and exhibiting work. 8% of organisations introduced simulcast/live performances in the last year (but remember that the research is covering all arts organisations of whatever form). And 12% have introduced stand-alone digital works of art in the last year, with another 11% having digital experiences introduced alongside non-digital. The bigger areas of growth are of course in the introduction of cloud computing (18% in the last year) and accepting donations (15% in the last year).

One of the areas preventing greater growth is the lack of expertise. Since leaving full time employment in IT two years ago, I have done many jobs helping smaller charities and arts organisations and one of the areas where there is still a great room for improvement is the understanding of how IT and digital communications can help. Quite often, you can find that areas which I completely took for granted in my time as a computer programmer, are regarded as new and exotic, with any expertise seen as enabling and useful.

So we've got a long way to go in our digital revolution and it will be interesting to see what the research pulls up. You can read the initial research report on the Digital Culture Research website.

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