In 2017, the UK Government launched the UK Digital Strategy with the aim to develop skills for individuals, organisations and government. In the same year, the then Department of Culture, Media and Sport was renamed the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This change not only reflects the Department’s increased responsibilities in the digital sectors, such as data protection and cyber safety, but is also indicative of the importance that digital has assumed in recent years.
Digitisation has had a noticeable impact on the arts and culture sectors in England and Wales and has provided new opportunities for arts organisations. In 2017, DCMS launched the Digital Culture Project with the #CultureisDigital online consultation with the aim of exploring how partnerships between technology and culture can benefit both the cultural and tech sectors. The consultation attracted contributions from more than 150 organisations from both the cultural and tech sectors and resulted in the 2018 Culture is Digital Report, which sheds light on the opportunities as well as the challenges presented by digital technology, but also sets a vision for the use of digital technology and the arts and cultural sectors.
The report further outlines a government policy commitment around three key themes. The first theme, audience engagement, centres on the myriad ways in which technology can be used to engage audiences, not only to increase engagement with existing audiences, but also to reach demographics with traditionally low cultural engagement and give valuable insight about existing audiences through analysis of audience data. Key theme number two is concerned with skills and capability in cultural organisations and shows that digital technology has the most impact in organisations where digital strategy is embedded in the overall strategy. However, it also highlights that many organisations lack the expertise to fully exploit the opportunities offered by digital technology. The third key theme is unleashing the creative potential of technology itself.
In response to the issues highlighted by the report, Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund commissioned Digital Audit, a digital self-evaluation tool and best practice model, from The Audience Agency. The Audit helps organisations review their existing digital platforms and evaluate their impact. Another initiative, the Digital Culture Network, set up by ACEenables arts organisations it supports to access training sessions, events, one-to-one surgeries and online resources through the help of nine digital specialists with different areas of expertise, the so-called “tech champions”. Furthermore, the Network provides opportunities to develop partnerships between arts organisations and the tech sector. The Space is a digital agency which helps support artists and arts organisations in finding new audiences and producing high-quality art through digital technology. ACEalso published From Live-to-Digital: Understanding the Impact of Digital Developments on Theatre on Audiences, Production and Distribution. This was commissioned in conjunction with UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre to better understand how live-to-digital work affects the way theatre is produced, exhibited and distributed.
A major annual digital-related event, REMIX, brings together leading figures from culture, technology and entrepreneurship to explore and visualise the future of the creative industries.
It is evident that digital technology is rapidly changing the way culture and entertainment is consumed, perhaps nowhere more so than in streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, which have c20 million subscribers in the UK.