The live events/experience industry was one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic in 2020. But technology came to the industry’s rescue in so many ways.
2020 was the year when virtual events came of age and ‘hybrid’ became a buzzword. Much-delayed events were finally staged, making milestones along the way. Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054 gig broke online livestream records with 5m views; Travis Scott’s tie-in with Fortnite delivered the greatest number of concurrent players ever on the platform.
Technology will continue to underpin events for the foreseeable future, promising to take the industry to a whole new level. So, what can the industry learn from past successes and failures as it faces its most exciting time yet?
A new era of experiential
Some of these technologies have been around for years. Who can forget the livestream (then called a ‘live webcast’) of Madonna’s 2000 Brixton Academy concert, enjoyed by 3,500 in situ, with thousands more logging on to MSN’s servers and an estimated 20 million watching the broadcast post-event?
Fast forward to today and livestreaming is upping the stakes in retail experiences too, creating a crossover between entertainment and commerce. It’s emotional, exciting and immersive, provoking reactions and putting people at the heart of the action. We've seen the likes of Walmart team up with TikTok to host a livestream shopping event on beauty products, while department store Bloomingdale’s hosted a number of fashion-focused livestream shopping programs.
Technology as an enabler
Mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual reality may soon be able to realize their potential, enabled by faster speeds and better connectivity from expanded bandwidth and 5G. For example, the immersive Times Square New Year’s Eve experience – a multi-media experiential technology platform incorporating elements of live broadcast, augmented reality, virtual reality, entertainment and gaming through a dedicated app.
Broadcast screen technology has also taken events to new levels, with experiences becoming interactive and compelling productions, just like the TV shows we love to binge watch. We’re moving from tech for tech’s sake toward tech as an enabler.
5G is potentially a game changer for wearables. The much-hyped Google Glass is a reminder of just how far wearables can go awry. Admittedly, the last year hasn’t gone wearables’ way either, designed as they are for use when people are out and about. But the continued roll-out of 5G could change this, facilitating new data services that will be delivered through wearables. As a taster for what’s to come, Snapchat released details of its AR glasses earlier this year, while Facebook has teamed up with Ray-Ban for its version, which could be used to elevate the shopping experience.
Content is king
Content has always been the basis of any event worth its salt, but with the move to virtual and hybrid events – a trend that will continue – tech can really start to make a difference to content.
Whatever your goals for a virtual event, people and platforms are critical to its success. Much as with a live event, you need to surprise and delight people. Platforms are key to creating such an experience; avoid using video player platforms with unoriginal content tools such as Q&As, polls and surveys. Think more about using a platform that allows access to layers of content, providing a more dynamic and immersive environment. This could mean creating a ‘second screen’ with original streamed content and giveaways. These features can also be used to interact with your audience post-event.
Get in with gaming
By far the biggest recent technological impact on experiences is from the world of gaming. Not all gaming relies in the ways it once did on specific pieces of hardware; in many cases, all you need is a fast connection (hello 5G) and a compelling reason for gamers to sit up and take notice. Fashion brands have been quick off the mark to exploit the link between gaming and experiences. Most recently we’ve seen high-end brands getting in on the act. Balenciaga took fashionistas and gamers on a space-age adventure, launching a video game experience to showcase its fall 2021 collection, while Louis Vuitton created a game paying tribute to the brand’s founder.
Thanks to technology, we’ve never been more connected in our world that can sometimes feel unconnected. While we need to be grateful that we can stay connected, we also need to be mindful of using the right technology for the right reasons.