Hybrid happy hour: Could 5G save the events industry?

By Joanna England
As the events industry struggles to survive a global pandemic that’s brought it to its knees, we ask if virtual events could save it from extinction...

The good old days of queuing in line for a stadium-sized concert filled with real, heaving, sweating music fans, are gone, for the foreseeable future, anyway. The same applies for trips to the theatre, the cinema, that popular, crowded comedy club on a Friday night and even school discos. 

COVID-19 has done a marvellous job in separating human beings from doing what they love best; namely socialising and having fun. And according to a recent study carried about by a researcher at the University of Westminster that surveyed 675 respondents in the events industry from 59 countries, 40% of current, global, events industry jobs will no longer be in existence in 2021. 

Virtual events

But although physical meet-ups have been curtailed, for now, socialising in cyberspace has taken on a whole, new dynamic. Indeed, companies have spent millions on digital transformations and storage space in colocation data centres, in part, so that business meetings between co-workers can take place in the event of lockdowns. 

One need only look to Zoom’s uptake in the early months of the pandemic when social distancing took communities by surprise. Use of the firm's software jumped 30-fold in April, as the coronavirus pandemic forced millions to work, learn and socialise remotely. And at its peak, Zoom counted more than 300 million daily participants in virtual meetings, while paying customers more than tripled.

Technology is moving forward, and with it, the chance to offer the drowning events industry a lifeline in the form of virtual events. According to reports, new research indicates that digital platforms offering ‘digital twin’ events, in which a live event and a simultaneous virtual event are held, offering consumers the choice of which to attend, have been received enthusiastically. 

5G, with its super-fast data streaming and capabilities, is poised to revolutionise the events industry, through a range of technologies that can offer more satisfying audience involvement. 

Immersive experiences

A recent study by Verizon Media found that 75% of their 2,000 respondents were keen on the concept of 5G immersive experiences as a digital alternative to traditional, live events, including fashion shows, live sporting events, conferences and cooking classes.  

Augmented and virtual reality offers audiences the interactivity they crave because they successfully simulate a real event, not only visually and audibly, but through sensations and smells too. Gaining in popularity, in part due to COVID-19 circumstances and developments in the technology, AR and VR are concepts that excite 69% of UK consumers. 

Immersive technology is becoming increasingly mainstream too, and with the introduction of 5G networks, there has never been a better time to explore the options on offer.

Gaming is one area where VR is already being given a thorough testing. Fortnite recently allowed the artist Travis Scott to create an otherworldly music venue experience within the gaming environment. This will lead to conferences being set “inside” exotic virtual reality destinations unachievable in the real world.

Hybrid or virtual?

While virtual meetings with loved ones were essential to many during strict lockdowns globally, ‘Zoom burnout’ is a real phenomenon and research shows that 100% virtual events are simply not as satisfying a real, human interaction. 

An increasing number of events companies are looking at hybrid events, to merge the excitement of real-world social connections with the virtual experiences on offer. 

Hybrid events comprise of small groups of people meeting at a venue, where they are then connected virtually to other venues. Corporate conferences before COVID-19 would have brought together hundreds of staff from multiple locations, to one venue. The hybrid event is therefore a good alternative. 

The numbers of people at each location of the hybrid event are capped to ensure social distancing, while technology becomes the conduit that brings everything together. VR and AR can be used to cement the experience. Hybrid events are also useful for trade shows, sales kick-offs and global town halls. 

According to Mark Melling, head of RYOT Studio EMEA, mobile networks will be essential in creating a connected future for the events industry. 5G will bring with it enhanced experiences with virtual settings, no limitations on guest lists and monetisation as brands connect to consumers in unique ways. 

He says, “The world is becoming more virtual by the day and will likely stay that way even as concert halls, event spaces and stadiums eventually re-open. Collective online experiences are poised to further distinguish themselves from traditional events as they become more accessible and offer more customisation and connection. Truly connecting with an audience demands an impactful digital plan, and now is the time to put it in motion.”


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