The On-Demand Society

Consumers don’t want to be locked into long-term deals, and that’s a real problem for arts institutions.


When today’s consumers want to watch a TV show, they can watch it when they want on Netflix. When they want to buy household goods, they can order them from Amazon, even when the stores are all closed. And when they want a car, they can just book a Zipcar or hail an Uber, without owning a car.

This is what Deborah Borda, the president and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, called the “on-demand society” at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and ​The Atlantic. And it’s a “major challenge” to arts institutions, she said.

“In the old days, my parents would buy 10 Tuesday nights to the New York Philharmonic and they would go,” Borda said. “People don’t subscribe anymore. It’s an on-demand society. It’s a society where … we decide I want to do this right now, I’m going to get the best bargain I can get, I’m going to have the most flexibility.”

Besides the financial problems the on-demand society presents to arts institutions that rely on subscribers, Borda said there are programmatic challenges as well, particularly for musical institutions.

“When you go to a museum, you can walk through a museum at your own pace, you can dress however you want to dress. When you go to a concert, it’s a much more ... confining experience,” she explained. “This is one of the major challenges that arts institutions face, but especially musical institutions. Because so much of what we do takes away some freedom, because we do choose the programs.”