Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Exploring sustainable digital relationships with performing arts audiences in the platform society

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


The last decade has seen digital disruption to impact every industry. In the arts and cultural sector, the emergence of digital formats, for example, in music and film have undermined traditional revenue streams and left many artists wondering how to survive in the digital age (Taplin, 2018). Arts organisations feel pressured to adopt digital business models and maintain an active online presence in order to reach geographically dispersed digital audiences. Currently, most digital cultural content is created for, and then consumed and shared on dominant digital platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube.

Critical scholars (e.g. Tufecki, 2017; Morozov, 2018) have referred to these platforms as Big Tech, echoing the negative connotations of other dominant industries, such as Big Tobacco or Big Pharma (Oremus, 2017). The digital platforms form ecosystems that Dijck et al. (2018) define as the platform societies. They act increasingly as gatekeepers of social interaction, where users - knowingly or not - surrender their personal data for an access to an online community and a portfolio of varied digital cultural content (Dijck et al., 2018; Nieborg & Poell, 2018). Within this background, my PhD will explore how the digital relationships between micro, small and medium-sized (SMEs) performing arts organisations and their audiences can be better harnessed with the view of creating value and sustainable routes for the monetisation of their digital cultural content.

Digital platforms are systems of governance, arenas for social interaction and mediators of economic transactions (Andersson Schwartz, 2017). They implement a multi-sided platform (MSP) business model, creating value from interactions with two or more categories of users (Hagiou & Wright, 2015). Although arts organisations now have access to larger, international audiences through digital platforms, direct revenue streams are often non-existent or far from lucrative. For example, YouTube’s Partner Program allows creatives to make on average 1-4$ per 1000 views. As a result, arts organisations are faced with the long-standing dilemma of visibility: while the production of cultural content for the Big Tech platforms can, in theory, increase their brand value by exposure, there is little if any monetary compensation.

Industry partner

The Space is a digital agency, established and funded by Arts Council England and the BBC. This research project will collaborate with The Space to identify the most efficient ways SME performing arts organisations can engage in a dialogue with their audiences and develop sustainable business models for the platform society. It is closely aligned with The Space’s mission to promote digital engagement in the UK arts and cultural sector and help artists and arts organisations to reach new digital audiences.


The research project builds on a multidisciplinary framework of cultural policy publications and academic literature on arts management, audience research, platform economy studies and digital entrepreneurship, and it will adopt a mixed methods approach. This includes semi-structured interviews with policymakers and experts of digital audience development, netnographic research and Big Data analytics of audience data, participatory focus groups with producers of performing arts organisations and semi-structured interviews with audience members.


Andersson Schwarz, J. (2017), Platform Logic: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Platform?Based Economy. Policy & Internet, 9: 374-394. doi:10.1002/poi3.159.

Dijck, J. ., Poell, T., & Waal, M. (2018) The platform society. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hagiu, A. Wright, J. (2015) “Multi-sided platforms”, International Journal of Industrial Organization, Volume 43, 2015, p. 162-174.

Morozov, E. (2018) There is a left-wing way to challenge big tech for our data – here it is. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/19/there-is-a-leftwing-way-to-challenge-big-data-here-it-is?CMP=share_btn_tw (Accessed: Feb, 27th, 2019).

Nieborg, D.B. & Poell, T. (2018) The platformization of cultural production: Theorizing the contingent cultural commodity. New Media & Society, 20(11), pp.4275–4292.

Oremus, W. (2017) How Silicon Valley became Big Tech. Available at: https://slate.com/technology/2017/11/how-silicon-valley-became-big-tech.html (Accessed: Feb, 27th, 2019).

Taplin, J. T. (2018). Move fast and break things: how Facebook, Google, and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy.

Tufekci, Z. (2017). Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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.