Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Sustainable business models for performing arts in the digital economy

  Kadja Manninen (2018 cohort)   www.linkedin.com/in/kadjam

Until recently, the digital replication of a live performance was considered somewhat unattractive, technologically challenging and lacking the essence of a live event. Consequently, most performing arts organisations showed little interest in the digital capture of performance, and were slow to explore the opportunities of digital entrepreneurship. However, the recent rapid changes forced on the arts and cultural sector by the Covid-19 outbreak, such as the closure of cultural venues and strict regulations on social distancing, present a considerable challenge for the industry at large. The current crisis also acts as a driver of digital transformation, accelerating organisational decision-making and encouraging experimentation with novel and innovative business models. Since the introduction of video streaming by Netflix in 2007, audiences’ habits of cultural consumption have been revolutionised, and the rise of various video streaming platforms has increased the competition over audiences’ time and attention (Lotz, 2017). While the global dominance of streaming and social media platforms has created a plethora of opportunities for digital entrepreneurship, arts organisations often lack resources and expertise to adopt digital business models and engage in business model innovation.

While some scholars (e.g. Zagalo and Branco, 2015) have praised digital platforms for their emancipatory and creative features that allow users to better express, collaborate and participate on a global scale, recent times have seen an amplification of critical voices, particularly in academia, over data privacy, political manipulation and insufficient content moderation (Tufekci, 2017; Gillespie, 2018; Morozov, 2018). Digital platforms form ecosystems that Van Dijck and colleagues (2018) refer to as platform societies, where platforms act increasingly as gatekeepers to social and financial interaction. Even though arts organisations now have access to larger, international audiences on digital platforms, revenue streams are often meagre and far from lucrative. Meanwhile, policymakers across Europe are urging arts producers to engage in innovative business planning and explore alternative income generation methods to traditional public funding (ACE, 2015; TEH, 2015). Artists and arts organisations have been persuaded by their funders to become more entrepreneurial in transforming audiences into customers. Nevertheless, in the platform economy, arts organisations struggle to embrace digital entrepreneurship, to focus on their audiences’ needs and establish sustainable revenue streams that justify the resources spent in producing their digital content.  

This PhD investigates how performing arts organisations can pivot their operations to digital and create sustainable business models for the digital economy.  Drawing on a theoretical framework of management studies and digital entrepreneurship, the PhD explores the business model construct through an interdisciplinary, transformative theoretical lens using a pragmatic mixed-methods methodology. By combining semi-structured interviews with netnographic research, big data analytics and audience surveys, the PhD aims to identify and analyse the existing and potential digital business models for SME performing arts organisations in the UK.   


ACE (2020) LET’S CREATE - Strategy for 2020-2030, Arts Council England. Available at: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/Strategy 2020_2030 Arts Council England.pdf (Accessed: 3 March 2020).

Gillespie, T. (2018) Custodians of the internet: Platforms, content moderation, and the hidden decisions that shape social media, Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327186182 (Accessed: 13 October 2020)

Lotz, A. D. (2017) Portals: A Treatise on Internet-Distributed Television, Portals: A Treatise on Internet-Distributed Television. Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library. doi: 10.3998/mpub.9699689.

Morozov, E. (2011) The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York: PublicAffairs.

TEH - Trans Europe Halles (2015) Creative Business Models: Insights into the Business Models of Cultural Centers in Trans Europe Halles. Lund.

Tufekci, Z. (2017) Zeynep Tufekci Twitter and Tear Gas. Available at: https://www.twitterandteargas.org/downloads/twitter-and-tear-gas-by-zeynep-tufekci.pdf (Accessed: 28 March 2019).

Van Dijck, J., Poell, T. and Waal, M. de (2018) The platform society : public values in a connective world. New York: Oxford University Press.

Zagalo, N. and Branco, P. (2015) ‘The creative revolution that is changing the world’, in Springer Series on Cultural Computing. Springer, pp. 3–15. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4471-6681-8_1.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and The Space.