The future of virtual experiences...

Published on 24th April 2020.

From heading to a music festival online to enjoying a theatre show from the comfort of your living room, virtual experiences are currently delivering entertainment to locked-down audiences around the world, allowing people to connent with communities while disconnecting from the current global crisis.

On 20 March, with the lockdown looming, music label Defected Records was one of the first to spring into action, hosting its virtual festival live from Ministry of Sound. Since then, the rules around social distancing have changed, but the parties have continued.

Defected is about to host its fifth event and chief business officer James Kirkham believes that the thirst for these is growing.

"Fans demanded it after the first week. The Friday slot is typically when people would go out, so we were providing them with their break and respite. We have been able to unite and unify people on a global level and from parents with their children to those waking up in different time zones, it is a chance to be involved."

From the team at family-friendly Camp Bestival running an Easter "living room sleepover" to Desperados partnering Elrow, virtual events are gaining popularity, with organisers and brands rushing to entertain the locked-down masses. And the scale and broadcast options are evolving – Pepsi partnered Global Citizen for One World Together At Home, which was broadcast in the UK on BBC One, while last night (Thursday) more than 12.3 million players participated in Travis Scott's concert, broadcast live from within online video game Fortnite.

Post-production house Cherryduck has been producing live online events for a number of brands. The major benefit of these events has been to allow the brand to interact with the audience, collect relevant data and establish a two-way communication path.

Phil Medway, head of production, said: "Live virtual events allow you to connect with your audience, creating a sense of community. It gives you the opportunity to interact with them in real time, through questions and polls, giving you instant feedback."

But while these virtual iterations have provided a valuable revenue pipeline for brand experience agencies during lockdown, what is their future in a post-pandemic world? Amplify’s Head of Strategy Sophy Vanner Critoph believes the return to "normal" will be slow and an upside of deeper knowledge of virtual experiences will be a heightened awareness around inclusivity through easing accessibility issues for the vulnerable, housebound and less able-bodied.

"Once we do begin to return to more traditional forms of in-situ entertainment, there’s still incredible value to be had by integrating virtual elements. For attendees, it can add another dimension; and for those unable to join in person, it can facilitate participation. Either way, you’re reaching new audiences in new ways."

And for Kirkham, eliminating location and capacity barriers remains an alluring way to reach vast audiences. "Every event has its limitation, based on venue size and location. Even a large London venue can accommodate a tiny amount of eyeballs in comparison to our virtual reach, which has topped two million live views, with people watching from 142 countries."

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