Has The Time Come For Digital Program Delivery?

When I saw a story on CityLab about restaurants replacing their printed menus with digital ones, I began to read it eagerly. Staff at a couple of venues at which I have worked have long had conversations about the paper waste generated by discard or unused programs. (Even if I printed 200 fewer programs than we had people in attendance, I would inexplicably still have multiple boxes of unused programs left over.)

The trend away from program distribution due to Covid has seemed like a good opportunity to eliminate printed programs in favor of digital delivery by QR code or large lobby screens and by emailing copies to ticket purchasers in advance of a performance.

There is some great opportunity to be proactive with advance distribution of program content to provide additional materials to help people prepare for their experience. If people are inclined to peruse the program book file prior to attendance, they would probably welcome a short, clever explainer video the venue creates to enhance the upcoming experience.

As I read the CityLab piece, it became clearer that digital delivery, like all technology has the potential to be a double-edged sword. I was already aware that there was some psychology involved with pricing and placement on printed menus to direct people to certain dishes. I wasn’t as aware that alcohol distributors had been printing the beer/wine/spirits menus for bars and restaurants and using design tricks to steer people toward their own products. Though obviously that makes sense.

Likewise, digital menus format can be beneficial because you can swap between breakfast/lunch/dinner/brunch menus at the appropriate times while using the same QR code or screens. When you run out of an ingredient or product, it can be removed from the menu so people don’t try to order it only to be told you are out of that food.

On the negative side, digital menus can be adjusted so that people at one table are being charged more than people at the next table based on data compiled about their spending habits and interests. The article also points out that cameras on phones are built in eye tracking sensors which can help the restaurant learn a lot about its customers and what is getting noticed on the menu vs. what is being ordered.

In terms of arts venues, there is already capacity to use the data tracking integrated into ticketing and email software and Google Analytics to discover when people are viewing digital program book content on websites and what devices they are using. With just a little more sophistication in software tools added in, it is entirely possible to gain additional insight into audience interests and habits to assist with decision making. Really well developed tools can reveal a great deal more.

I feel like I am just scraping the surface of what is possible. Anyone see other possibilities?

Actually, it would be interesting to know who many people out there are considering shifting primarily to digital programs, outside of any content you have available for persons with disabilities.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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1 thought on “Has The Time Come For Digital Program Delivery?”

  1. Probably not.

    Remember that your audience is older than you are (if you are doing theater, anyway) and is generally more comfortable reading paper than from tiny screens. I generally read the program while waiting for the show to start and during intermission, and I keep the programs at home for a few years afterwards. For outdoor theater, I can fan myself with the program if the weather gets too warm.

    If you want a more pragmatic justification, paper ads are easier to sell and less objectionable to the audience than digital ads. I generally look at the ads in theater programs, even for services I have no interest in, but I would not tolerate the same level of advertising in a digital program.

    Reply

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