Events industry will have to evolve and adapt to cope with the new normal, post-pandemic

MUMBAI: On October 11, 2020, YouTube’s biggest and most popular annual on-ground property,FenFest, went digital. The first ever virtual FanFest featured over 150 creators and artists from across the Asia-Pacific region with special appearances from global YouTube stars.

Earlier in April,, the live events arm of Indian entertainment major Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEE), took its, Arth, online on YouTube, while, which is known for IPs like NH7 Weekender and Circuit Comedy, moved the comedy festival online.

Not just these two but a bunch of other event organisers too have pivoted to virtual events after the industry shuddered into a long limbo due to the Covid-19 crisis.

While the situation is improving slightly, with the government allowing events with 50% capacity or 100 people, organisers are being forced to ask the big question like everyone else. What does all of this mean? What will the events industry evolve from here on?

Experts are unanimous that the live events industry will have to ready itself for a long haul to recovery in a post-pandemic world and will require players to adapt to the new normal—or simply reimagine the industry.

Roshan Abbas, president of the Event & Entertainment Management Association (EEMA), said the industry has suffered a blow to the tune of Rs 60,000 crore and shrunk at least 30% in terms of the manpower during the pandemic.

“The events industry is already in the ICU. It will take at least Q2 of 2021 for some normalcy to return, if there is a vaccine,” said Abbas, who is also founder and MD of experiential marketing agency Encompass (now Geometry Encompass).

However, Abbas added that with some changes in the business models and use of technology, all is not lost.

The silver lining is in digital and, industry honchos said.

And many have adapted fast.

Between BookMyShow and Paytm Insider, the two have organised almost 2,000 digital events in the midst of the pandemic.

“The moment the lockdown was imposed, we moved digital,” said Gunjan Arya, CEO of media and entertainment company, OML Entertainment. “We are doing festivals for US audiences sitting in India. Yes, the value and experience will not be the same as of the on-ground, but given the nature of unlock, things will start opening up and a hybrid model will evolve.’

While online events can be organised at the fraction of the cost, the experience remains a challenge.

“Any event that cost crores, can now be done is a few lakhs, but the experience is not there… the intangible human emotion of being with people, the serendipity of bumping into someone will be missing,” added Abbas.

The latest latest guidelines from(MHA) only allows 100 people to attend any event with proper social distancing and safety norms in place, which makes organisers’ life that much more difficult.

“We were the first to call off on-ground and do online events,” said Swaroop Banerjee, COO at Zee Live. “We have organised a literature festival and a virtual Supermoon House Party. The problem is that you can get reach but the experience is nowhere close. Also, you can’t charge what you used to.”

On-ground, digital or hybrid?
Doing online shows might be the new norm, but even artistes are missing the human connection.

Stand-up comic Sumit Saurav said that hosting a show online is quite different from a live event because apart from the script one has to take care of technical backend stuff as well. “You are not just a host but also line producer, technical head and artiste coordinator. It requires a different skills and multitasking approach to pull off online shows,” he said.

Though he has received a good response on YouTube with between 2,000-3,000 viewers tuning in, Saurav said that he would “prefer a live audience with 100 people any day over an online show.”

The online experience is skewed because the response is on a screen and the energy isn’t there in the room, said another stand-up comic, Shankar Chugani. “It’s there for me to help survive the lockdown, but it’s not like a live show at all. There’s no comparison. I’d love a live show every day of the week andon a Sunday.”

‘The answer was staring us in our face for the longest time – live sports. If you can have IPL in empty stadiums and people can enjoy at their homes, so can events’

— Roshan Abbas, President, EEMA

Slowly, things are moving on-ground too, though experts feel that the models have to evolve with changing times.
EEMA, for instance, organised a bike rally on October 2 across 20 locations in 17 cities, with each rally having 100 bikers. Similarly, Zee Live released a new Bollywood film, ‘Khaali Peeli’ in a drive-in theatre in Gurugram under its new property Supermoon Drive-in, which was completely sold out.

“I always felt that there is no reason for conferences to happen at a single location. You can use the internet and broadcast technology as the backbone and beam it to multiple locations,” Abbas said

OML Entertainment’s Arya agreed that events, as a business, is not going anywhere but hybrid models will emerge going forward, both in terms of customer experience and business models.

“It’s entirely possible to have 50 or 100 people in a room experiencing live performance and others joining through streaming…it has worked really well for sports,” she said, cautioning, though, that the hybrid model will not work for more personal events, like weddings.

Financial viability
One major challenge which all the experts anticipate is the economic viability of large events.

“Because of all the new standard operating protocols (SOP), the costs have gone up by almost 28-30% for the events, while the revenues are not increasing proportionately,” said Banerjee.

The bottom line is that organisers will have to figure out and adapt to the new business models, and ask themselves if they have been running a non-viable model as going forward, concerts which used to house 40,000 plus people, will not be able to host more than 5,000 or 10,000 at most.

So it’s time to go back to the drawing board and do a feasibility test for each and every event as people pay for experience and not just the artist.