Live events: Predicting the post-COVID future

Since the middle of March, live entertainment organizations have put time into creatively keeping their brands alive in the minds of consumers by recreating aspects of their experience in the digital domain. Facebook Live events, living room concerts and YouTube streams of plays, musicals and dance events all captured the attention of the public in the early weeks of the pandemic. But as the months passed, the virtual experience bloom faded. No matter how good the quality of these digital events, they cannot capture the excitement of the in-person experience.

Now, in early July, entertainment organizations are estimating what the entertainment landscape will look like once live events resume, and how they will need to alter the in-person experience. Will consumers return in pre-COVID numbers, and if so, when? Under what conditions? Research companies have conducted surveys in the hope of providing the answers.

The challenge is that we’re in uncharted territory. Until March of this year, no one knew how the public would respond to a global pandemic, or how their attitudes would change over the subsequent months. The same is true of the post-pandemic world: live entertainment organizations can attempt to predict how consumers will respond when events, concerts, sports and performing arts ramp up again, but at this point it’s all conjecture. It’s difficult to accurately predict consumer response, because we’ve never been in this situation before.

A case in point: the US firm Enigma Research recently released the results of an April 2020 survey to gauge the public’s interest in returning to live events. The results were inconclusive and often contradictory. As the report stated, “event goers are very divided on the subject”.

On the one hand, three quarters of respondents said they were either extremely or very likely to return once large gatherings resume. Half said they would return within a week or two, while one in five said they would wait more than three months.

On the other hand, half of all respondents said they wouldn’t attend, or weren’t sure if they would attend, until there was a vaccine.

Some respondents said they would be more likely to attend if there were sanitation precautions, contactless systems, body temperature checks and social distancing protocols. However, just as many said that they were less likely to return if they were required to wear masks or socially distance.

There are so many factors that will impact how the public responds to the return of live events – government policies, the state of the outbreak at that point in time, the media response, the success of the first trial events, the influence of friends and family – that we can’t accurately predict what the response will be.

One thing is certain: nothing can replace the shared experience of live events, and the longer the pandemic lasts, the more consumers will miss the days when they could attend large social gatherings with comfort and ease. The question isn’t so much if we’ll return to live events, but when and how we’ll return. Only time can answer those questions.

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