By Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo
Hybrid setups are the future of live sports and entertainment events, according to experts in the field.
“I think it won’t be a return to the previous live formats… It will be live plus digital. But at the same time, those who attend live, I think we would have discovered new digital ways in which they can also have a great experience even if they are in the same seminar room with hundreds of other people,” said Lionel Yeo, chief executive officer of sports, entertainment and lifestyle hub Singapore Sports Hub, during a September 14 session in the online convention All That Matters.
Various institutions in the industry have already explored unique or alternative ways to hold their events. Following a pause since the outbreak, the National Basketball Association (NBA) resumed live games with a virtual audience. In the Philippines, telco provider Smart partnered with LIVENow, a pay-per-view service, to broadcast a virtual concert by British singer Ellie Goulding’s virtual concert in August.
Live events with middle-sized audiences, which could be anywhere between 200 to a few thousand participants, may also become less popular. Organizers will want to capitalize either on the intimacy of a small group or the charged atmosphere of a large crowd.
“The energy of 10,000 people cheering together is something that you, for the foreseeable future, will not be able to replicate digitally… Who knows where Neuralink [a neurotechnology company developing implantable brain-machine interfaces] and other technology stuff will bring us a few decades? But with the technology we’re talking about right now, those live experiences are unique, they are emotionally special, and are creating a way of history that people even on the screens at home will see it, can relate to, and [are] important actually for all of live entertainment,” said Ralf Reichert, chief executive officer of ESLGaming, an electronic sports (esports) organizer and production company.
COVID-19 caused devastating losses across the live sports and entertainment industry. Professional services firm Deloitte projects, for instance, that the Premier League football clubs in the United Kingdom may suffer a £500 million loss, a huge part of which is from matchday revenue. Pollstar, a live-event trade publication and research firm, calculates that the industry could lose up to $8.9 billion in revenue by the end of the year.
Leagues and clubs across different sports stopped operating with the onset of the pandemic, creating a pent-up fan demand for live sports content. While the gradual resumption of games and innovations in broadcasting production are satisfying fans for now, industry leaders must contemplate on producing new formats to sustain their engagement.
“Some commentators have suggested that fan interest now may need to take precedence… whether more reality TV, whether greater innovations in getting into the fan-content creation space, in order to create that level of interest to tell a story around sports,” Teck Yin Lim, chief executive officer of Sport Singapore, an agency under the Singapore Government that leads the development of a holistic sports culture for the country.
NBA players like JaVale McGee and Matisse Thybulle began vlogging their life during the pandemic, which was met with warm fan reception. Each video garners 200,000 to 2.3 million views and gets thousands of comments.
For this new era of engagement to happen, Mr. Lim believes that the industry first has to shift its perspectives.
“There’s still significant legacy mindsets in the sport industry so that by the end of this year, there will still be a lot of people waiting and wishing for COVID-19 to go away … But I’m optimistic that sport, being what it is, will think about this for longer term in terms of how we build greater resiliency in the industry. Because if this pandemic is anything to go by— and all of the commentators on the pandemic suggest that this is going to come and go—we have to make our shifts,” he said.
Professional video-game tournaments, which can fill 50,000-seat arenas, have migrated to the digital space. Two in-person competitions of the online game Dota 2, which were supposed to be held in the Shrine Auditorium in the United States and the Arena Birmingham in England, took place virtually in March and April. While Mr. Reichert said that 50 to 60% of the production of their events had already been digitized prior to COVID-19, the full transition to digital brought them various benefits.
“If you look… [at] the live sets that we’re having as a studio… they’re a hundred percent green-screen-produced. We can really see how we can produce mind-blowing quality which nearly feels like an event in a world where we actually have to produce with two people in one room, and everyone else is remote. These kinds of things will help us a lot going forward to produce more content and actually lower price points,” he said.
While the world waits for a vaccine to be made, the live sports and entertainment industry may use this time to re-evaluate the purpose of their industries and develop better practices for the future.
“What really are the deep impulses that drive humans to want to get together in a physical space? We can’t do that yet right now in a large scale, but we’re thinking about what does it mean when we can. In the meantime, there’s a lot of people who have been now sort of live to the potential of digital engagement… that’s not necessarily a bad thing because I believe we will then be much out of this pandemic with… a much better playbook for thinking about how do we create meaningful experiences,” said Mr. Yeo.
SIDEBAR | A look at related industries
LIVESTREAMING: GROWTH AND DIVERSIFICATION OF CONTENT
As lockdowns forced people to stay at home, many of them turned to livestreaming platforms for entertainment and a sense of community. According to a report by livestreaming platform Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet, an electronic sports (esports) business intelligence firm, 3.1 million hours watched on Twitch in the first quarter rose to 5 million in the following quarter. For YouTube Gaming, it increased from 1 million hours to 1.5 million hours within the same timeframe.
Twitch expects this growth to continue for the following year with new products and content. They just launched Versus, an end-to-end suite of tools that streamers can use to organize and manage their own tournaments. Ninja and Shroud, two of the industry’s most influential streamers, also recently returned to the platform with exclusive deals.
Non-gaming content on Twitch is also anticipated to grow in the next months. Just Chatting was the most popular category on the platform in December 2019, according to a report by StreamElements, a livestreaming platform, and Arsenal.gg, a video game livestreaming analytics company.
Sunita Kaur, the platform’s senior vice president for APAC (Asia Pacific), also cited the likes of broxh_, a Kiwi woodcarver with 1.2 million followers who was even visited by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a stream. “There’s a lot of communities that are coming together especially in a time like this, and that’s a really nice thing to see,” she said.
MUSIC: LOCAL IS KEY
The music industry had its downs during the pandemic, although it is slowly recovering. In the United States, physical album sales dropped by 27.6% and digital album sales by 12.4%. Pollstar, a live-event trade publication and research firm, projects a loss of up to $8.9 billion in revenue for the concert industry by the end of the year.
However, there has been a growing clamor for local and regional music in Southeast Asia. Acts like Phum Viphurit from Thailand and Niki from Indonesia have gained international fans and performed beyond Asia. Mass media company 88rising, which aims to empower Asian artists, recently partnered with telco provider Globe to launch Paradise Rising, a Filipino music label that houses artists such as Kiana V and Leila Alcasid.
“The response has been a lot more favorable than it would be like two, three years ago when every time you say, ‘We have an artist from Thailand,’ they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, whatever, give me back my Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift.’ Now, they’re more accepting to this new talent coming from within the region. It’s largely related to whether the video quality production from this region has grown, the music production has grown, the talent has actually acquired more capability, and the gap between the quality from the West and the quality from this part of the world is beginning to grow smaller and smaller,” said Calvin Wong, chief executive officer for South East Asia and executive vice president for Asia at the Universal Music Group.
Weaving through different industries and exploring different platforms will play a huge role in the innovation of the music industry. Musicians have been “performing” in video games; for instance, rapper Travis Scott’s April concert in multiplayer game Fortnite brought in a massive 12.3 million viewers. Bang Bang Con: The Live, a paid online concert by South Korean band BTS held in June, raked in 756,600 viewers and between $19 million to $26 million in revenue.
“The key for us in the music industry is, can we evolve, can we react quick enough to really react to the situation? I think we can. As an industry, we have become very agile in terms of accepting new things… we’ve gone through a lot of pain in the last fifteen to twenty years from physical business to digital business,” said Mr. Wong. — Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo