Amidst the economic nightmare of the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been featuring articles from a number of guest contributors. Stefan Weiland is a long term resident of Dubai and established member of the events community. In our latest guest post, he shares his thoughts about the ongoing crisis and its effect on the events industry.
The future of Live Events – is the past!
By Stefan Wieland.
Since the 9th of March 2020, the industry I have worked in and for, has come to a complete standstill. That is what all the frightened members of the different industry streams think, because they all think THEY are THE industry.
Our industry consists of many silo’s: venues, creatives including stage talent; AV rental companies; infrastructure rental companies; crewing & security companies; catering companies; bus, trucking and travel companies; stage & set building companies; wardrobe, styling & design companies; touring, booking and production companies and thousands of freelancers – we all produce live events. But instead of raising our voice as one, as THE EVENTS INDUSTRY, our silos are organizing their own fight that leads to nothing. The analogy of the single stick and the bunch of sticks also applies to us:
WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER. WE ARE EVENTS.
Without a doubt, the “Events Industry” has been hit hard: no exhibitions, no government events, no sports games, no conventions, no theatre’s, no spectacles – nothing. But, there are still streams of the industry that are still working: TV is still running, as they need to produce under the new circumstances and seem to be doing well; everything was already before working online and is still working well – and 2nd line suppliers immediately took a turn and changed their offerings.
But the core industry has been held in awe and shock and could or would not move.
As a matter of fact, it’s the ‘supplier’ backbone of the “live events industry” has been hit the most, and most (more none) of these suppliers never thought something bad would happen to the industry – maybe the occasional new HSE laws, maybe some regional restrictions, but that’s about it.
So there’s no stacked up cash hidden somewhere, everything is invested in the latest technology and staff, to make events look, sound and visually appealing. This has also had an impact on the supply chain, as this goes right down to the manufacturers of the said investments, including the distributors who sold the equipment – both are the biggest losers: they have to cut their production and workforce as there will be no money for investments within the next 18 month and the markets will be flooded with 2nd hand gear of bankrupt rental companies. This will lead to the inevitable loss of R&D engineers and skilled labour and it’s mostly the small manufacturers that will be wiped out – resulting in a massive drop in the technology drive.
But what has absolutely shocked me, is the fact, that after 70 days of burying their heads in sand, all those big players in different parts of the supply chain have only aimed in ONE direction: “We have to make it virtual!” They’ve put all their energy into a very short term goal but completely lost sight of what the audience/customers and the artists want – a shared live events EXPERIENCE.
All the guys in these companies think about is how to rescue their company or keep shareholders happy, betting on a solution that ultimately reduces their own work. Instead of working TOGETHER with clients, competitors and their industry bodies, everyone gears towards virtual technology. No one works on strategies how to overcome this scenario and how to help to get back to the past.
Punters, concertgoers, theatre guests, convention attendees, etc., – they all have ONE GOAL: to be immersed in an experience.
Just 12 months ago everyone was talking about how to engage customers in experiences and now you want to put exactly that customer (whose behavior you researched with significant investment) in front of a tv screen with bad speakers and stream events without any soul – and try to monetize this as part of your strategy. The problem is, that your target audience still knows how it feels going to concerts, exhibitions, theatre’s, opera, fairs, festivals, shows and entertainment parks – and THEY want it back.
Are Drive In Concerts a success? Has anyone measured the success of such events? (if you watch the news, listen carefully what these concertgoers say AFTER the show). And also listen to the artists who play in front of running cars. Wait, what about the environmental impact of these events? Only 6 months ago we discussed how we can make events greener, now we are totally negligent towards that issue because we need to save “our jobs”….Think about it for a minute.
I must admit, our industry has lived over the edge for years and it was a matter of “something” to put that right. But nobody ever imagined that a virus (and the worldwide responding measures) would be that “thing”. This has taught us a lesson – a hard one. But, it also helped to find new formats, to invent new forms of communication and certainly to a new work style. With the opulence and frequency we have brought entertainment to arenas in the world, we have asked the customer to consume more and more and more – and it worked.
But this is also turning into an anchor point for the live industry now – because people want that feeling: the glitzy lights, the pumping sound and the larger than life video content – they want the atmosphere of a SHARED EXPERIENCE. The artists want shared experiences. We, the creatives, technicians, all the backstage staff, the manufacturers – we want that feeling back that gives us goosebumps and the satisfaction of having done something meaningful; as most of us do this job out of passion, not for the money. There is no rich LD, no rich Creative Director, no rich Tour Manager, no rich performer or band musician, no rich electrician, no rich wardrobe or catering personnel.
Although I was part of some very big spectacle shows, I was always a fan of an intimate club concert, the lower the ceiling, the dirtier the corners; the better the experience…. I strongly believe that we will go back towards smaller events when it comes to performances, however, sports and mass celebrations will happen again over time.
Going virtual is NOT the “new normal” – it is an addition to the live industry, and if you think and analyze closely, we have had this since the introduction of PAY-PER-VIEW in paid television. And it worked greatly because you watched an American football game because of the spectacle and the feelings of the audience. You paid for a boxing match, because you love the boxing (and could not afford the ticket) and the cheer of the audience. You paid for live broadcast from the Scala in Milano because of the artist and the overall atmosphere with an audience. Shows with zero audience do not have soul.
I worked a lot during the 90s on TV recordings for music shows like TOTP – with a very limited audience and artists who never could get into the live mode, so we changed that and had success with “The Dome”, where we had thousands of guests and 20 artists within 2 hours of broadcast time. The same is true for exhibitions and conventions, the industry networks live on the personal interaction over products and dinners. Virtual exhibition booths cannot replicate the personal experience and it will just be a very dry product presentation. I have taken the time and watched the live stream premieres of new car models after the Geneva Auto Salon was cancelled. Although the production value was extremely high, it completely missed out to transport the goosebumps and cheers. It was as cold as ice. Next thing you experience when you watch most of the live streams, people’s attention at starring on a screen is about 20 minutes – or even less. Most of the show programs I worked on are 60 minutes or longer. How do you explain an artist he is only on for a 20 minutes concert? That is the time when they are just starting to let out their stage personality…
To recap: in my opinion, virtual events are an extension to the event industry and yes, now it is the right time to establish them – BUT it will never replace the shared experiences as long as people can remember how it was to be engaged in a live, shared experience. When the last festival punter has left the earth, you will get the 100 percent virtual events world. But, let us all work on solutions how to make shared live experiences happen again. At the latest with a vaccine and medication we will go back to normal.
So don’t let this industry die – it is needed for many and the future!
#weAREevents #SaveTheEventsIndustry #WeWillBeBackAgain