Digital and cultural venues seem a marriage made in heaven.

Cultural venues are usually very visual, and digital does visual very well: Instagram is the fastest growing social media (depending on how growth is measured) and YouTube gets two million views per minute (which is a staggering number!)

And younger cultural enthusiasts tend to be earlier adopters of digital than most.

We’ve seen some excellent digital communications from museums and galleries.

Of course, as we all know, all this activity allows people who can’t easily visit the venues to have some experience of them.

And so all seems well in the world regarding culture and digital.

But we have seen the first signs of something perhaps a bit less welcome recently: digital activity that actively stops people visiting the venue.

Not because it is bad and puts them off, but because it is good!

Increasingly we are finding cultural consumers in focus groups saying that they didn’t visit an exhibition that they would otherwise have visited because the digital communications are so good that they didn’t feel the need to visit the physical exhibition.


A respondent living in east London who was going to visit the Ferrari exhibition at the Design Museum, but who found the digital content so good that he decided he didn’t need to make the journey across town. He even bought the poster. Online.

And another respondent who was going to go to the Winnie the Pooh exhibition at the V&A, but didn’t because the digital content was good enough for her.

Another respondent recently visited New York and found themselves with too many things to do, with too little time, and decided not to visit MOMA because their digital content was good and so it felt less essential to visit than some other venues that they couldn’t experience satisfactorily without visiting.

A venue we are working with is considering putting its entire collection on line. It has a high quality collection but does not have iconic, ‘must see’ exhibits. Respondents in research asked why they would go to the venue if they could see the entire collection online?

Of course this phenomenon won’t apply to people who have a strong interest in the subject. It does appear though, to increasingly apply to people who would once have visited in the absence of alternative ways of experiencing the exhibition. But now there are satisfactory alternatives, they don’t.

Those we have spoken to do acknowledge that the digital experience isn’t as rich as physically visiting, but on balance it is the preferable option for them if the exhibition or venue is not ‘must see’ for them: no crowds or queues, no pain of buying a ticket, no travel.

We don’t for one moment suggest that digital is bad for cultural venues. Far from it. We have no doubt that on balance it will encourage more visits than it discourages, and it does allow those who can’t physically visit to experience the exhibition. But it would be good if digital experiences that discourage physical visits could be limited.

And so we’ve written a short presentation on minimising the negatives of digital based on what we’ve learnt to date. If you’d like to see it, let us know HERE.