I've heard this many times over and over again; in-person, at conferences, quarantine Zoom virtual roundtables, and pretty much everywhere else. Though this comes from people I respect, who have earned their stripes, and have been in the industry for as long (or even longer) than me, I wholeheartedly disagree with the sentiment.
Nobody will go to virtual events if they can go to a real one.
Festival organizers, artists and artist management teams have long rallied around that opinion. It’s a short-sighted take, one made apparently wrong in the wake of Covid-19. In quarantine, there are practically no events to attend, and everyone now scrambles to put a virtual band-aid on a sudden wound.
At Festival Advisor, it’s our opinion that virtual reality is the future, no matter what, and organizers, artists and teams should look at this moment not as a passing craze, but as a window into a lucrative, viable and sustainable market option.
The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated many VR platforms into a product phase. Instead of looking to 2023 when VR goggle tech becomes more ubiquitous, companies are launching their services for web and mobile devices. They’re not alone. Facebook launched its developmental gaming tech early, too, making it available for content creator monetization.
Everything has changed, but my opinion hasn't. VR is not here to compete with physical concerts or festivals. It’s here to open up a whole other World of experience for the fans and opportunities for the Artists, and organizers. It’s an alternative, not a replacement.
Why would anybody go to a VR event, festival or concert if they can go to a real one? They wouldn't. A better question is, how much can the festival brand, the event brand, or the artist grow with a VR platform? A digital space enables fans to participate who may be sick or live too far away. Maybe they can’t afford a full festival ticket, but they can surely afford the discounted digital pass and may pay gladly. What happens if someone is just 15 but loves the music and can't enter the venue if the event is not all ages?
Carl Cox plays digital Glastonbury festival hosted by Sansar
All those fans can enjoy a proper VR experience - and "experience" is the key word, because it truly is. I didn't know how amazing this technology could be until I tried Goggles on with a company called Sansar at the end of last year. It literally felt like I was in a different world. Glastonbury threw a festival using their technology back in July, and the fan response was extremely positive. Another huge Global brand is planning their VR edition on Sansar’s platform in October (we will announce this as soon as it becomes public info). Tomorrowland and Burning Man, two brands from totally different Worlds but connected by the fact both are pioneers and leaders in their respective communities, have already come out with their first VR versions. Ibiza’s bigger players like ELROW and Hi Ibiza / Ushuaia have now confirmed that they are too planning on creating proper VR experiences.
This is a great opportunity for sponsorship branding. Instead of reaching festival goers who walk by activations on foot, commercial logos can be placed in the corner of a screen or prominently on a digital structure, like a DJ Booth / stage, reaching potentially millions of viewers in the comfort of their homes.
A digital ticket to a VR event will be 10 to 20 times cheaper than its Live counterpart, and once VR tech becomes a part of our normal lives, you can bet virtual attendance will scale 10 to 20 or even 50 times that of physical capacities. Even at a lower price point, those higher attendance will increase the event revenue. It's not impossible that merch can be sold more successfully in VR as 1-click transaction is much easier than a long line at the festival to get yourself a cool hoodie. There is also digital merch - a crazy-awesome virtual apparel to make sure that your avatar is styled right. Virtual Meet & Greets and other activations will help generate more revenue. Add the fact that sponsorship profits will be significantly higher while the cost of producing the show will be lower, and all of a sudden we are looking at real potentials to add extra zeros to the event P&Ls.
Connection is a huge part of any event, and while this is certainly different in the virtual world, it’s still a big piece of the experience. Fans from all over the world will find themselves next to like-minded people, united by their love for the music. I have no doubt strong connections and friendships will grow out of these virtual concerts and festivals - just as they do in real life. The same exact way as social media creates new connections, VR events will connect would-be friends on a larger scale. People can talk to each other as they do on socials and messaging apps - nothing new or different there.
That’s just between attendees, but what about Artist-to-Fan relationships? Those, too, will grow. The more fans listen to an artist’s music, the more meaningful the artist’s following becomes. Digital events are an opportunity to grow that following in broad strokes. Think about the one-on-one opportunities for the artists and event brand organizers. You can easily set up meet-and-greets (another way to monetize VR events). Sure, it's not a physical interaction, but it is live. You really are having that conversation, and you can ask the DJ any question you want. These are all extremely valuable things that can be done in digital and VR settings at a scale live events could never reach.
The level of production a virtual reality platform offers today is insane, and the technology will continue to grow. To brush off the experience is a setback. To those festival organizers, artists and artists management teams who may have doubts - put on a pair of goggles and see for yourself. Have an open mind. Talk to others that have done it.
VR is the future, and there's nothing anyone can do to change this course. Everyone should be preparing, every manager, festival owner and brand manager should be developing relationships with different platforms, understanding the capabilities of their production, and learning the landscape of VR events. Understand how each platform is currently positioned. Is the experience viable with goggles, or is it also available via laptops and mobile phones? If not, when is that going to be available? Speak to different platforms about their monetization opportunities. How does their ticketing system work? How do they incorporate sponsorship activation? Think about all the potential add-ons, such as meet-and-greet packages or digital and physical merch.
Let’s not compare virtual or digital events with real events! It's not meant to be compared. Instead, ask yourself, "How can I improve, enhance and prepare my brand, my artist or my festival for the future?” Focus on it. Stay connected to the experts. Speak to your team, and position yourself to be ready to unleash the power of VR. The opportunities are truly endless.