It’s time to consider what this word really means.
Research shows that entertainment value is the single biggest contributor to overall satisfaction for someone who visits a cultural organization – think museum, zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, or performing arts entity. According to visitors, the entertainment quotient of an experience accounts for about 20% of overall satisfaction, while education value contributes about 5%.
Upon learning this news, some organizations may look the other direction in anger, or hang their heads in despair. “We are all about education,” they may insist. “We are not an amusement park!”
This said, it’s time that we pause and consider what “entertainment” and “education” really mean to visitors. I’m going to go where no Know Your Own Bone article (or any market research that I’ve seen) has gone before:
The entertainment value of memorial sites
Do I have your attention?
Between leaders within the cultural industry, “entertainment” seems to be synonymous with vapid, silly, sophomoric, empty…or even simply joyful. If this definition is correct in terms of how people view entertainment, then can you think of anything less “entertaining” than a visit to the Arlington National Cemetery or The National September 11 Memorial?
IMPACTS tracks perceptions regarding 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US. Those entities run the gamut from aquariums, to science centers, to history museums, to symphonies. Memorial sites include organizations/locations such as USS Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbor, HI), Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington, VA), Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Washington, DC), and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (New York, NY), to name but a few examples.
Here are the mean entertainment values for several different types of cultural organizations in the US. This information has been quantified on a 1-100 scale whereby the higher the value, the more highly “entertaining” the visitor perceives the experience.
Notice anything interesting about memorial sites? Considered as a collective, they are generally viewed as entertaining! People find these sites relevant and meaningful – and thus find them entertaining. This is the opposite of what some internal industry leaders believe “entertaining” to mean!
In general, cultural organizations are seen as entertaining entities. That’s great news because entertainment value motivates visitation while education value tends to justify a visit. Moreover – as we’ve discussed – entertainment value is the single biggest contributor to overall visitor satisfaction.
Let’s take this a step further with a more direct inquiry, shall we? As usual, the data below comes from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. To date, the survey includes over 124,000 participants. (For those of you keeping track, we are pleased to have updated it with over 20,000 new respondents in the past year.) Below is a measure of how entertaining visitors perceive various organizations to be, shown alongside their similar perceptions of the educational experience offered by the same organization types. For context, a value over 64 indicates agreement with the statement.
Memorial sites are perceived as both educational and entertaining, again challenging the notion that “entertainment” is necessarily vapid, empty, or meaningless.
So what might we be really talking about when we call a cultural organization “entertaining?”
1) “Entertainment” means engaging
A synonym of “entertainment” is “engaging.” The opposite of “entertainment” is disengagement. Why would cultural organizations be disappointed to learn that they are not disengaging? I posit it’s because we’ve created and promulgated the baseless cognitive bias within our industry that entertainment and education are opposing forces, and that one comes at the expense of the other. In reality, they must work together to lead a successful cultural organization.
Consider this: Films strive to be entertaining – but comedy is just one genre. Documentaries, tear-jerkers, and other dramas exist, too, and can be just as entertaining even though they do not make you laugh. Like memorial sites, they’re connecting with their viewers through meaning-making and relevance. These films can inspire us, help us to think in new ways, and move us emotionally. There can be amusement in connection, whether that amusement makes us laugh, cry, or think.
And isn’t this type of meaning-making what cultural organizations are striving to achieve as well?
In reality, “entertainment” can be closer to “connective” and “meaningful” for cultural organization visitors than it is to simply “fun” or (especially) “vapid.”
2) “Entertainment” is not the opposite of “education”
As shown above, cultural organizations are generally seen as both educational and entertaining! An idea that one value necessarily comes at the expense of another is generally unfounded. If it were true, these numbers could not both be high at the same time – and yet they are!
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do on either the “entertainment” or the “education” fronts. Far from it! It means that we may work diligently to keep our education perception superpower while working hard to make our offerings, programs, shows, and collections relevant and engaging.
Not everything entertaining is necessarily educational, of course. Angry Birds can be entertaining. But education value may need entertainment value in order to inspire, spark, or stick. Providing “education” alone may be less helpful to organizations than providing engaging opportunities for informal learning.
While entertainment value is important for motivating visitation and satisfying visitors, education value is an important metric as well. Striving to be solely entertaining (by our industry’s internal definition/perception of the word) may jeopardize our perception as trusted sources of information, and places that provide benefits to both ourselves and our loved ones.
Entertainment value and education value are not the same thing, but their relationship much more closely resembles that of partners than of enemies. They may benefit by being considered individually at times, but they do not necessarily function independently.
Simply put, we have an opportunity to use entertainment value to help us fulfill our educational missions.
Let’s use it that way.