The Future of Live Events

By Sashi Nair, Senior Strategy Manager at Havas Media Group

Steam radiators – a common feature in most older buildings in the northern U.S., were purposefully designed during the 1918 pandemic to keep apartments warm during winter with the windows wide open to ensure plenty of ventilation indoors.

Over a century later, we still see the impact of this nifty solution from history.

2020 marked a trying time for us all. As we inch closer to the pandemic’s end, can we look back and call out the inspiring moments associated with it too?

I, for one, look forward to the future applications of the advancements made in the world of live experiences, some of which continue to make live experiences smarter and more meaningful even beyond 2021.

Key areas to watch include:

1) Hub-and-Spoke Hybrid Programs

As in-person components start making a comeback, over a year of social distancing will have an immediate impact on our comfort levels with real-life interactions.

Hub-and-spoke hybrid programs can play a really important role in the near future.

Imagine an event that uses multiple smaller venues throughout the country, with a virtual platform – all of which are connected and interacting as part of the entire spectacle. The main event gets run and filmed through a central hub, with speakers, organizers, attendees, and production crew physically present at this location.

Then, smaller, regional satellite events will pop up at different locations, allowing guests to come together in a more intimate setting. Plus, as user adoption of platforms like Clubhouse continues to proliferate, wider audiences can enjoy event content from the comfort of their own homes long after the pandemic winds to a close.

ATD (Association for Talent Development) 2021 exemplifies this new hybrid approach. Alongside the in-person conference, it will have regional events and a virtual component to give the community an opportunity to attend the world’s largest talent development conference.

With an expanded reach, more sponsorship opportunities, increased exposure, and new tiers of pricing, we can expect to see an uptake of brands and event organizers embrace this flexible approach.

2) Virtually Accessible: An Experience in and of Itself

Virtual is here to stay, but how we use it will change in the immediate future. Event organizers will shift away from using virtual as a broadcast medium or to mimic live events that might have been better to experience in person.

Travis Scott’s now record-setting Fortnite concert marks the tip of the iceberg of its massive potential.

Not only do virtual events allow millions to enjoy an experience beyond geographies – enabling artists and brands to reach new audiences at scale, they also offer limitless, out-of-this-world creative possibilities for participation and engagement.

As attention spans get shorter and shorter, distraction sits just a click away. Whether part of a hybrid solution or a standalone event, virtual will get designed to compel audiences at every moment. In the very near future, virtual experiences will become an invitation for guests to experience entirely new perspectives and emotions. In turn, a number of industries – ranging from advertising to entertainment to tech – will have the opportunity to reach wider audiences in a more meaningful way through the format’s added scale and engagement.

3) VR: A New Future for Older Technology

VR has the opportunity to finally shed its clunky, head-inducing past and live up to its long-awaited potentially. In 2016, only five million units of VR headsets sold globally. Last year, that number ballooned to over 68 million. As VR becomes more widely accepted and commonplace, coupled with the boost in connectivity provided by 5G, we can expect to see more live experiences capitalizing on this to access a wider, immersive world.

In March, SXSW XR (cross-reality) offered a glimpse into the future of live experiences. With a VR headset and computer on hand, attendees could experience the festival inside virtual representations of familiar Austin locations. This longshot experiment gave audiences an opportunity to experience the potential of XR, a feature that likely will become a staple in the coming years.

4) On-Demand Content

One of the best aspects of virtual events? All the content gets stored somewhere.

Live experiences now have the opportunity to extend beyond a set series of dates, with conference sessions, musical performances and film showcase available to registrants via on-demand content long after the event concludes.

This year, CES, arguably the most influential tech event in the world, made its entire library of content available on-demand beyond the four-day event. Now, attendees will have the opportunity to live and re-live these experiences and content at their own leisure.

On-demand content also has commercial benefits in the way it could be repurposed and maximized, further extending its shelf life.

Now, with this resource library, brands and event organizers could look at ways to remarket the content for other purposes across a variety of touchpoints – articles, podcasts, newsletters, social media and so much more, allowing them to stay in constant communication with their audience.

What’s Next? The Era of Options

Time and time again, necessity proves the mother of invention. Certain pivots we have witnessed in the event space have the potential to remain in play long after live experiences return.

People have always enjoyed in-person engagements and will continue to in the future. However, the pandemic has established new ways of interacting. Even as we return to in-person events, attendees will expect options. Brands, marketers, and event organizers must deliver on that expectation by staying close and connected to the trends and activations in the space as it evolves.

While the executions will differ, like the hissy steam radiator near your window, the four principles highlighted will continue to have a meaningful, long-term impact beyond the immediate post-pandemic era.