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Commercially Exploiting Audience Data

“The Audience Agency has just been sacked by ACE, for undisclosed reasons, and replaced with the far from non-profit PWC, which will be pocketing a sizeable £1.6m for its services. What’s more, the contract allows PWC to “commercially exploit” whatever data is collected for its own use.”


Thus reported Private Eye in the latest edition, as has Arts Professional (here and here).


And I have… questions.


PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC) make a lot of money each year. Let us assume that the fee is, in Arts Council England (ACE) terms, a partial payment, and the rest is in-kind support.


Which means they view sucking up data from every funded organisation as worth… I don’t know how much PWC would usually charge, but £1.6m seems low given the scale of the job. So let’s value that data as at least a million.


Likely more, to an organisation that is unexpectedly moving into a new area of consultancy. Anything less than a million seems too low to be worth it. Let us presume that PWC wants to expand into other arts consultancy jobs, having the data of the UK’s subsidised arts scene might make them very useful to commercial not-entirely-rivals.


ACE is indeed entitled to this data as a condition of the money they give people (even if less of it has been collected in recent years, due to the pandemic stopping paper forms).


I am less sure how funded organisations will articulate “also, we are going to shed this data to one of the world’s largest consultancy firms for commercial exploitation” to their artists and audiences.


Without seeing the contract, let us assume that it provides for that data to be provided in an anonymised form, rather than in a way that PWC can identify people.


It still changes the implied relationship with the audience from “do this, to help the sector you love” to “do this, to help the sector you love and a corporate behemoth.”


It makes it sound like the data leaves funded organisations’ control. If you trust Organisation, you might trust Funder, but why should Organisation throw their credibility away behind giving PWC a large wodge of data?


It seems… a little unfair, as a demand to make in exchange for funding, set in the smallprint.


An old photo of a man standing on the front of a train with a camera.
Here comes the data.

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