By Ruth Zamoyta
In 2006, two years before the recession hit, the Met’s new general manager Peter Gelb detected a big problem. In 2000 the average age of a Met attendee was 60, and 5 years later it was 65. What’s more, there had been sinking ticket sales and a trend toward more single-ticket purchases. Gelb implemented a daring outreach program intended to “lift the veil of elitism” and attract a bigger and younger audience. The most successful element of Gelb’s outreach campaign has been The Met: Live in HD—the high-definition live broadcasts of performances in movie theaters, in classrooms, and on the Web—which has effectively broken through the historical tension between PR and classical art forms. The Met has pleased opera buffs and supporters by adhering to the highest standards of artistry while creating a whole new service.
But although one of the objectives of The Met: Live in HD was to introduce younger people to opera, the program has largely unearthed more experienced opera lovers over the age of 60. My study explores the various forces of competition within the opera industry and identifies a target audience—“young cultural omnivores”—and ways in which to reach and persuade them to give opera a try.
The survey Culture Track 2011, which involved about 4,000 respondents and focused on participation in performing and visual arts events, concluded that although the percentage of attendees of cultural events dropped from 31% in 2007 to 22% in 2011, 73% of the young-cultural-omnivores class increased or maintained their level of attendance during the recession. Studies show that young cultural omnivores make many of their cultural-event decisions online, through the influence of friends and authorities. My paper gives recommendations as to how the Met can engage social-media influencers and members of its own online community, to deliver the message of the wonders of opera.
Keeping in mind that young cultural omnivores are inclined to attend and support different artistic and cultural genres, the Met should look beyond opera fans and cross-promote with influencers and organizations concerned with the literary arts, cinema, theater, the visual arts, dance, and even the culinary arts, travel, and design.
But friends are the greatest influencers. Culture Track 2011 states: “Consistently, three of the top five influencers for participation reflect the importance of social or personal factors. While friends’ recommendations (24%) are less influential than economic concerns, they are still almost five times as important as critics’ recommendations.” The Met has started to pull its fan base closer. For example, it has encouraged fans to upload photos into an album on its Facebook page. The Met should consider engaging its community more deeply through holding online or real-life social events for its Facebook fans, and through asking questions and holding contests. My paper lists several examples of effective social media campaigns launched by other opera companies and theaters that can be used as prototypes.