Seth Godin recently made a post with a suggestion that runs counter to concept that arts organizations need to broaden their audience. He has made posts throughout the years about attracting the smallest “viable audience” for products, but this time he specifically applies the concept to classical music and documentary films.
His basic premise is that if you focus on pleasing the core fans, the result will be greater audience satisfaction.
The smallest viable audience for certain genres is very clear. That allows the creators of the work to be specific and to deliver on expectations.
The broader you seek to make your offering, the more likely you are to run into people who don’t care, don’t get the joke or are simply not open to being satisfied.
It’s not easy to record a symphony or edit Restrepo. But your work is more likely to pay off in audience satisfaction.
The keyword “viable” is the slippery element in this. It is pretty widely acknowledged that catering to the traditional audiences isn’t sustainable so there does need to be some expansion. But there is also an implication in “viable” that you would stop once the audience was large enough to sustain operations. Or perhaps that you maintain a program focused on renewing people lost to whatever factors are contributing to churn in audiences.
The problem is, there really doesn’t seem to be anyone who has discovered the secret of attracting and maintaining a core sustainable audience. Not to mention that economic factors are constantly expanding the boundaries of what is required to be sustainable.
So perhaps the answer is that there hasn’t been enough work done at expanding audiences yet. And by the way, I am not specifically referring to orchestras or art film houses and producers as mentioned in Godin’s post.
I don’t deny his statement that there is a point beyond which you can not please everyone. I have definitely been in too many meetings where people have said “our market is everyone” and that simply can not be the case.
Arguably, there are probably some arts organizations people can point out that have developed a core audience to sustainable levels. I suspect that these groups fall at either end of the population density spectrum. Either there is a large enough population available to support the organization or the community is so small the organization runs a budget with few expenses.
Pretty much everyone else in between probably needs to work on expanding audiences to the minimally viable size which will likely mean providing programming in which people can feel invested.
But I am curious, does anyone have other thoughts on this? Are there more entities who are maintaining a viable, highly-satisfied core audience which allows creators to focus on a high quality product than I am giving credit for?