Live Entertainment is dead... Long live Live Entertainment!
Updated: Jun 22
Photo by Claire P
As parts of the country start to open, the issue many of us are beginning to tackle is how we start getting back to some level of normal while trying to restart, or in some cases having to completely rethink our business value proposition.
And why rethink and not just restart?
The reality is, there’s no going back to exactly the way it was, either because of policy changes (social distancing, etc.), shifts in consumer behavior (@home a larger point of distribution and consumption), or the new economic considerations of a cash-strapped consumer. And it’s not just a new normal, but a #NextNormal (radical change has happened before and will happen again). My partner Charlie Echeverry wrote a very thoughtful piece about this concept to kick off a series of articles devoted to this theme which you can read here.
One of the industries I’ve been thinking about in the context of this #NextNormal, is Live Entertainment. And by this I don’t mean to define only Entertainment that is primarily consumed “live,” but also entertainment where a live audience is critical to the success of the entertainment product itself. I’ll explain.
In a stay@home world the Live Entertainment industry has been severely hit and for some the blow has been catastrophic. Even as we begin re-opening, the days where 300 people (or 30,000!) can be once again packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a venue seem - at minimum - delayed. As a result the industry has rushed to respond.
The first, and obvious, solution many have taken is to simply shift the product experience online. While I appreciate the scrappiness to find alternate solutions to deliver the entertainment product, this approach has generally fallen flat. Variety recently covered the unique struggles of the Performing Arts community and how digital innovation has yielded very mixed results. But it’s not just theater, it’s also concerts, comedy shows and to some extent sports that are simply not the same online as they are in person (although I’d argue Sports is in the best position to rebound, more below). If you ask the average person to tell you why that sentiment is true, my guess is you’d hear something along the lines of “It’s just not the same as being there in person”. But why exactly is that?
Here’s the key: Live Entertainment is as much about the “Live” as it is about the “Entertainment”. Both functions play critical roles in creating the final product and in this new world they need to be considered independently. When only the distribution of the Entertainment is addressed and the “Live” experience component is ignored, the net result is a half-baked product that feels predictably “not the same as being there in person”.
So how do you solve for a proper Live Entertainment experience in the #NextNormal? Three important considerations:
The communal aspect. Experiencing live entertainment in a group magnifies a feeling of togetherness and enhances the emotional experience of the entertainment. As participants in the experience, we tend to feed on, and play off of, each other’s energy. This in turn has a multiplier effect that benefits the end product.
The live feedback loop. For many types of entertainment, the audience plays a central role in the success of the final product. The best example is comedy and specifically stand-up comedy. Take away the crowd and live comedy is very hard to pull off. Did you see SNL’s at Home Weekend Update episode where they had a “crowd” call in via conference call so they could react? Felt more like a hacked zoom call than a live audience. Painful. Successful ‘Live’ must include a reliable feedback loop to the performer.
The experience cannot be dependent on a “stage.” Successfully decoupling the physical space where a performance happens, from the experience that can be had by its viewers is critical. Creating modalities for the “performance” across a variety of experience scenarios is key.
On the Communal & Feedback front, there have been encouraging recent examples of innovative experiences which have sprung up during Covid, such as The Dojo Experience, an interactive nightclub, or Travis Scott’s Fortnight concert which brought together a community of 12M avatars and seemingly inspired a presidential campaign to follow suit. We’ve also seen the rise of conferencing apps that have become synonymous with @home work and @home parties, in addition to virtual group entertainment tech such as Discord and Netflix Party. These individually and collectively begin to offer a peek into how the communal aspect and feedback loops of next live entertainment will be solved.
On the Experience front, we need to start with an important principle: success is not about trying to replicate the in-person experience, but rather enhancing it for @home consumption. Sports historically has executed on this principle best. A live NFL viewing experience @home is arguably better than the live in-stadium game experience. Part of the reason is that the viewing experience at home has massive production value and gives the viewer content they couldn't access at a stadium. In the end, they make up for “not being there” by providing a more comprehensive viewing experience: analysts, replays, stats, extra content, plus a good dose of stadium atmospherics (crowd noise, announcers, etc). So, whether it's sports, theater or music, solving for the elements that make for unique @home consumption is key to Live.
So where do we go from here?
More intimate performances are going to be the norm, but engagement and co-creation will be the differentiator. As the BBC recently covered, the co-creation sessions (including ideas for music and lyrics) that Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody has been doing on Instagram with his fans, create the ultimate feedback loop and are a sign of things to come. Equally so is the emergence of theater performances that are being built to actively engage ‘zoom’ audiences, making them part of the experience. Leveraging platforms to create intimacy and co-creation experiences unique to digital will make the difference post covid.
In the end, not just in Live Entertainment, but across the spectrum of industries, businesses and brands the time to rethink, rebuild and innovate is now. In chaos there’s always opportunity!