Missing Audiences in Northern Ireland - Wave 1 Findings

We have partnered with the Insights Alliance (Indigo Ltd, Baker Richards, One Further) to deliver the Missing Audiences survey in Northern Ireland at a time of reopening and optimism, and almost a year after the last time we ran thrive’s own audience research Culture Beyond Covid. We wanted NI organisations to get the same insights into audience behaviours and be able to compare them with the rest of the UK. How did the ever-changing restrictions and numerous lockdowns from the past year have impacted audiences’ motivations and behaviours?

Moreover, we also heard from numerous NI organisations who have been struggling to bring their previously loyal audiences back into their venues since May 2021. Why? What can NI organisations do to entice them back?

The first wave of results was gathered from previous audience members by 7 NI arts, culture and heritage organisations from 13 September – 25 October 2021.

The Missing Audiences survey is designed to find out:

  • What has been holding some audiences and visitors back from attending cultural venues
  • What other social and leisure activities cultural audiences have felt comfortable doing since restrictions lifted
  • How different groups are feeling about safety measures and whether they would encourage audiences to return
  • What the current appetite is for digital content from audiences who have returned and those who have not

You can watch our webinar below, download the full report or download the webinar slides. We’ve also summarised the main findings - scroll down to read:


It is not because indoor venues have reopened that previously loyal audiences are coming back

  • Audiences who haven’t returned aren’t necessarily people who didn’t attend often pre-Covid. 18% said they used to go to arts and culture venues or events 10 or more times a year.
  • 63% of audiences who haven’t returned predict they will visit arts and culture venues or events less often in the next 12 months.
  • For audiences who have already returned, nearly 40% said they will be attending less often.
  • 71% of people who haven’t returned have not made any future bookings.

Reasons audiences aren’t coming back are mostly linked to Covid

  • 55% of respondents said they were avoiding interacting with crowds and 49% were worried about the behaviour of others.
  • · 56% prefer to wait before booking until the risk for Covid is lower.
  • Additional comments were split between people who are still being careful about Covid and others who felt there were too many restrictions. Although the latter group is in minority, it is important for organisations to plan how they will respond to criticism about their restrictions.
  • The majority of respondents said they would be much less likely to attend a venue where there wasn’t any restriction in place or there wasn’t a requirement to wear a mask.

Some people’s priorities have changed

  • Audiences who haven’t returned generally do less than those who have returned. They’re less frequent attenders and don’t go to a variety of art forms. While they haven’t returned to arts and culture events, they spent more time seeing friends and family (outdoors and indoors alike) and going into work.
  • Those who haven’t returned are happy to risk indoors to be with friends and family, but not so much to see a show. This shows arts and culture are not as high on their priority list anymore.

Communicating about safety measures is a must to motivate non-returners to come back, but not only

  • Other elements audiences who haven’t yet returned will consider first when booking tickets are the programme and the date and time of the event. Offering them something that matches their interest and suits their schedule has become more important.
  • Music was non-returners’ preferred art form. From those who have booked tickets for future events, music was also the most booked option.

Digital is here to stay. Venues’ reopening hasn’t resulted in a lack of interest for a digital offering, on the contrary

  • 46% of people who have returned are continuing to watch cultural content online, with 53% who strongly agree they will enjoy engaging in a mixture of in-person and online cultural experiences.
  • For people who haven’t returned, 38% strongly agree they’re engaging online because they don’t feel confident returning in-person yet.

The first wave of Missing Audiences has now ended - we are taking registrations for wave 2 which will take place in January/February 2022. To sign up, please fill in this participation form.

You can also take part in the Experience Survey. It is a short post-visit survey that captures audience and visitor sentiment after attending an in-person event. It will help assess the success of safety measures in place, measure audience confidence levels and give you vital data about who is returning. To sign up, please fill in this participant information form.

For more information about Missing Audiences, visit our news page.


Missing Audiences is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.


Discover the insights from the Missing Audiences for Northern Ireland - Wave 1 survey.

Missing Audiences NI Wave 1 Report

Download report
(PDF 2,421KB)

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