“The last best experience that anyone has anywhere, becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere.”
Bridget van Kranlingen
Bridget van Karnlingen made this brilliant observation back in 2014. But it is a perfect reflection of today’s great convergence. Just as work and home are more blended than ever, the line is blurred between business and personal experiences. Business experiences aren’t just competing with other companies. This is particularly true now that so much has gone virtual. Customers are judging content (even if it’s subconsciously) against everything else they’re seeing. Ms. Van Kranlingen’s quote warns us to constantly up our game. It’s also a great reminder that inspiration can be found everywhere.
Audience expectations for online events keep to evolving as they become savvier and more jaded. So we continue to rethink and refresh our approach. At the same time, we are looking ahead to what hybrid and post-COVID in-person events will look like. Here are some of the places we’re drawing inspiration:
The holy grail of virtual events is audience participation. It is the one thing that comes so naturally in a face-to-face experience and so hard to replicate online. The NBA took a giant step forward by using Microsoft Teams’ Together to project fans on in-arena video boards. It’s a boost of energy for both players and the fans. In a New York Times article, the experience was described this way: “Select fans who are viewing the games from home are being livestreamed onto three video boards that extend along each baseline and one sideline. There are 10 sections in all, each with 32 seats, helping produce the vague appearance of bleachers…” The article also quoted Sara Zuckert, the NBA’s head of Next Gen Telecast “We wanted to create something that would bring our fans to the players. “It’s also a way to give fans the opportunity to feel like they’re interacting while enhancing the broadcast for everyone else at home.”
The hard-hit music industry took the lead in starting to bring people to live experiences. Their innovative approaches to seating give the entire event industry a blue print for bringing smaller in-person groups together, complemented by the virtual experience. Back in May, we began to see the use of drive-ins as a way of keeping people separate but together. The English National Opera (ENO) hosted a drive-in opera, at the Alexandra Palace in north London. Clapping was replaced by horn honking and flashing lights. Concerts have gone from cars to fan pod seating. At one of the first socially-distant shows, tickets for country rocker Travis McCready were available in pods of two to 12 seats, which were spaced apart to avoid mingling. At a pop-up venue in the U.K. concert-goers were seated on individual platforms. The virtual Red Rocks Unpaused show featured real-time audience audio – the artists could hear fans cheers via microphone interaction. They used polling to let the fans determine the final song of the night.
Many large museums were already digitizing their collections to provide a virtual experience. But like so many other experiences, nothing beats in-person, not the least of which is revenue from admission fees. So these institutions are anxious to bring people back. There are lessons to be learned about crowd flow and environments. Some are simple, like the ARoS Museum of Art in Aarhus, Denmark that put new acrylic barriers at the info desk into carved gold frames to maintain the right aesthetic. Others are logistical – the Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, Denmark has installed traffic lights to assist with physical distancing. And still others leverage technology. The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience has reimagined a popular hands-on exhibit using body and gesture technology allowing visitors to hover their hands over a piece of virtual clay, that reacts as users mold it into a piece of virtual pottery.
Moving forward, we have the opportunity to rewrite the rules of events. This is especially true of hybrid events. At Cramer, we’re looking beyond how physical and virtual live side by side – we’re crafting how they integrate to become a new experience. So stay open to the possibilities. Inspiration is everywhere. Keep your eyes and ears open and we will too.