A concert of the artist that you’ve been waiting to see live for years – cancelled. The festival that has been a fixture of your summer – about to be cancelled. The match between your favorite football team and its biggest opponent – broadcasted as a ghost game in an empty stadium. All those events, exhibitions and trips that we have been looking forward to or that make for a spontaneous evening with friends are suddenly out of the equation. Corona will, without a doubt, change our life even after this initial crisis is over and the events sector will be one of the most severely affected areas.
To prevent another major spread of the virus in the immediate future, higher hygiene regulations will be implemented everywhere in our daily life. Masks, frequent health checks and a “health ID” might be a part of our life even months after the crisis. We can also expect conditional access regulations for public transport, planes, trains and buildings, where you might need to provide your health ID to prove that you don’t pose an infection risk to others. Moreover, international travel, especially between the EU and the US or Asia will become increasingly difficult, as the various new immigration policies, extra paperwork and health checks will make spontaneous leisure and work trips more complicated or even impossible. What does all of this mean for the future of sports and culture events?
Sports matches, races and international events like the major European football leagues, Formula 1 or the Olympic Games bring together tens of thousands of people. Going to a football match is not just an athletic event, but also a social experience. Thus, even fan clubs might become digital to keep the fan spirit alive and offer membership models to get access to exclusive videos, like Q&As with players. “Ghost games” in empty stadiums will be streamed and the fans at home can choose the commentary based on the team they support. Multi-view streaming is one of the most promising technologies for the future of these events; the user gets to choose between different cameras and is, therefore, able to customize the individual match experience. For example, the fan might choose to just follow a camera that focuses on her favorite player. A major football player might only sign a contract if she gets a “star camera”.
Once sport events with audiences will be possible again, fast mass-health checks at entrances of sporting venues will become mandatory. Temperature checks will be the minimum level of security that needs to be imposed to fulfill the official requirements. However, this crisis will accelerate digitalization and modernization attempts. For example, some stadiums have already become cashless payment zones to decrease long lines during breaks and to increase hygiene as cash is a petri dish for bacteria. Additionally, Corona put those in the spotlight that should have been more celebrated long before – health care workers and everyone in infrastructure-critical jobs. This refocus on which jobs matter in an emergency might trigger a perspective change in our society and put pressure on athletes and their sometimes exorbitantly high salaries.
While sport events already have a history of reaching an audience outside of the sporting venues, culture is still very much at the beginning of its digital journey. This might also be attributed to the fact that the experience of visiting an outdoor festival, concert, opera, theatrical performance and exhibition is difficult to reproduce digitally and most traditional culture institutions have been holding onto this fact up until recently and are now desperate to generate cash flow as soon as possible. Digitalization is no longer a choice but an economic necessity to survive this crisis.
Nevertheless, an analogue culture experience will still be relevant and demanded. Culture institutions will supplement their program with an online offering that enables new culture experiences, not just live streams, for example, also through multi-view technology. Since culture will be increasingly consumed at home, investments in home entertainment technology will be made and manufacturers from Central Europe, as well as technology companies like Dolby will see additional business. Virtual and Augmented Reality might experience a comeback with more advanced entertainment applications to create immersive experiences at home. This development stands in stark contrast to the “Netflix & Chill” generation that only needs a laptop and a streaming service. Cinemas will have to start fighting to re-win customers that enjoy the cinema experience, but restrictions will also apply here. Maybe drive-in cinemas will even become popular again.
Small events with high hygiene regulations will probably still be possible in the immediate future in most places. There are two scenarios of how this might play out; either artists need to perform more often to account for the lower number of people in the audience due to social distancing measures, or the number of performances remain unchanged but ticket prices will increase or are highly dependent on the amount of public subsidies.
The tight relationship between the culture sector and the hospitality industry is currently being seriously jeopardized and weakened. Without festivals or art shows, the hotels and restaurants that earn a big part of their annual revenue during those events will suffer through the absence of the crowds. This creates a need for the hospitality industry in culture hotspots to reinvent itself and focus on different customer groups, like the national population. We can watch carefully and learn from how the famous Salzburg Festival, the city and state of Salzburg in Austria, my home region, will cope with the situation in the coming months.
To stay relevant during and beyond this current digital era, culture events need to digitize themselves very quickly. What this industry needs are not just modern stage technologies, but an innovative distribution strategy and new user experiences, online and at home. For sports, now is the time to make more and faster steps towards a digitalization of the industry that has already been on the right path towards offering great online content and can now serve as a role model for the culture sector. Sufficient public funding for culture is now more important than ever. Digitalization efforts of the sector will be rewarded as online offerings are able to bring more “mature” formats like concerts, operas or jazz music to a younger audience. The Corona crisis might just become a blessing in disguise for traditional culture institutions that can now reach younger individuals, that, in a few years, will be their strongest customer group.