EMCC European Monitoring Centre on Change

The performing arts sector - policy issues and challenges for the future

The first two articles in this series on the performing arts sector introduced and defined the sector, and then reviewed the trends and drivers affecting the sector. This third and last article on the sector presents the major policy issues and challenges facing the sector. The analysis considers the time profile of each policy issue and how it affects regions and companies. Policy issues identified include digitalisation of content leading to an increased number of distribution channels, sources of funding for the live performing arts and the changing skills mix required in the sector.

There are two broad categories in the performing arts sector: audiovisual activities and the live performing arts. Both of these segments are significant in Europe from a cultural and economic perspective. Despite the importance of the performing arts sector, there is little by way of comprehensive or timely data on its size and structure. One reason for this is that it is difficult to isolate data on the performing arts from data on the wider cultural sector. Nevertheless, a number of growing trends can be identified in the sector, for example, the digitalisation of content leading to an increased number of distribution channels, changes in the likely sources of funding for live performing arts and the changing skills mix required by the performing arts sector. While advances in digital technology affect more directly audiovisual activities, the underlying drivers within the two areas of audiovisual activities and live performing arts are closely intertwined. These challenges have to be addressed by the sector if it is to continue enhancing the cultural and economic well-being in Europe.

Major policy issues and challenges

Technological developments

Digitalisation has not only led to an increase in ‘traditional’ distribution channels (e.g. cable and satellite), but also to the growing prevalence of new distribution channels (e.g. viewing content over the Internet in real time). At the same time, digitalisation is a potential driver for content demand, as well as for increased competition among the different forms of content (e.g. sporting events, content bought in from elsewhere). With increasing opportunities for direct delivery of content, control over distribution is beginning to shift from the large media companies that transmit performances, to the producers of the performances, e.g. production companies. The move towards direct transmission is likely to create the same issues that have had to be faced by the music industry, namely, problems related to securing intellectual property rights.

Time profile

While technological development is a continuing trend, the major impact of digitalisation on the performing arts will probably be felt in the medium term. However, once started, the changes are likely to develop very rapidly, mirroring the recent experience with accessing and downloading music directly over the Internet.


The underlying trends will affect all countries, although the trends will be stronger in those countries that have adopted the technology first, e.g. Scandinavian countries, and in those countries that have a large and relatively prosperous population, which can provide sufficient demand to support additional distribution channels (e.g. in the UK, Germany and France).


The trend will be stronger in the audiovisual field than in the live performing arts. It is not clear whether there would be demand for events, such as theatre performances, to be transmitted directly to remote viewers rather than to a direct audience, although the technology could allow this in principle.

Funding of live performing arts

As the second article in this series concluded, the funding prospects for the live performing arts are not good. In most countries, live performing arts are supported, to a great or lesser extent, by state funding. This source of funding is diminishing due to the tightening of overall budget spending, as well as the competing demands of the audiovisual sector. Thus, demand for live performing arts by the audiovisual sector is declining as a share of its overall budget.

The entertainment value of the performing arts is important. This function encompasses a wide range of activities from sports events to films. As a greater proportion of budgets are allocated to broadcasting rights for sporting events, other performing arts are likely to take the shape of less costly entertainment programmes. At the same time, performing arts are increasingly considered as playing an important role in urban regeneration and as a source of employment.

The general implication is that the performing arts sector needs to look more to its customers, the private sector, or non-traditional sources of public funding (e.g. funding allocated for regeneration projects rather than cultural projects) to increase its overall funding levels. This trend is already visible in the way that major financial companies and other companies frequently sponsor ‘high culture’ events, as well as provide funding for television programmes. Such a trend is even more pronounced in the US, where commercial and private sponsors are the financial supporters of public broadcasting.

Time profile

The move from public to private funding is already under way, as shown in the way that major financial and other companies regularly sponsor ‘high culture’ events, and also provide funding for television programmes. Public funding is likely to become less important as a source of financial support.


State support for the live performing arts is likely to become further restricted in all EU countries. The risks are probably less in those countries where there is a strong regional role in public funding and a long-established culture of supporting ‘high culture’, such as in Germany and the Scandinavian countries.


The issue of funding shortages primarily concerns the live performing arts subsector.

Changing skills mix

The overall effect of the major trends and drivers in the sector will be to change, or widen, the range of skills required by companies in the performing arts industry. New pressures in relation to funding will increase the need for companies at all levels (national, regional, local) to draw on skills, such as marketing and public relations. Technological trends will also increase the need for those in the performing arts to draw on the skills of web and graphic designers, among others. To meet these challenges, organisations within the sector may need to become more attractive as a potential employer to people working within these occupations. In many cases, the organisations will be small in size. In such instances, these organisations may be required to engage the support of small business services, which might be more commonly used by companies in other sectors of the economy.

Time profile

The growing demand for new skills is already under way and is likely to persist. Although the trend towards increased technological skills is perhaps more medium-term, it could develop quite rapidly with the general acceptance of new technological possibilities.


The trend of a changing skills mix is pan-European. The relative strength of this trend across Europe will depend on the strength of the drivers of change. In the UK, for example, the underlying trend away from public funding of the performing arts has prompted many organisations in the audiovisual and live performing arts subsectors to incorporate new marketing-related skills within their organisation.


The need to change the skills mix of an organisation will apply both to the audiovisual and live performing arts subsectors, although the balance of the changes in the skills mix will vary, with perhaps a greater focus on technology-related skills in the audiovisual sector. The trends will apply to both large and small organisations. However, larger companies, such as national theatres or major broadcasting companies, are perhaps more likely to have an existing skills base in these areas on which to build and develop.

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