Swaroop Banerjee
Guest Article

Is the live entertainment industry ready for the ‘new normal’?

The short (worse) term is over. There will be a mid-term, with virtual and socially distanced models. For the long term ‘new normal’, we should all suit up.

Our ways of consuming entertainment – be it in the theatres, live arenas, stadiums, or grand prix events – will all see a mammoth change post the Coronavirus pandemic. The $1 trillion global game of live entertainment came to an unexpected halt a couple of months ago.

But honestly, I’m a little overwhelmed with this constant tell-tale of the slowdown in the entertainment industry. Music and sports festivals have been postponed, or stalled, conferences and product launches have been deferred indefinitely. The predictions have gone to the lengths of renaming mass gatherings as ‘masked’ gatherings.

Around March 2 this year, we had to cancel our ‘Supermoon Holi’ gig scheduled for the 10th of the month. This was (done) keeping in mind the safety of our audiences, artistes, and crew members, as positive cases of COVID-19 started to appear in Mumbai and Delhi. Many other scheduled events followed suit.

The situation for all operations that were halted in early March seems grim, until October-November, at least. Even if every precautionary and sanitation protocols are strictly adhered to, the spirit of live events will not be the same anymore. Let’s face it, live entertainment is an act that is alive! We pack (in) the stadiums, we hug each other, we jump with joy, cry with ecstasy, and laugh boisterously when our favourite teams score, or our favourite tracks are played on stage.

But with the world developing a ‘new normal’, we should, too.

Upgraded technology, and constant innovation are not just choices anymore. We have had the technology (with us) for years. It’s just that the virus has forced us to reinvent whatever it is that we can do, using the technology.

OTT subscriptions to every possible platform, films being launched on digital, and increasing number of average monthly users on every conceivable social media platform. These are real time indicators that tell us how ‘Live to Home’ has become the ‘new normal’. Online is where everyone lives now.

The way SuperM did for the first edition of Beyond Live. Or, other gigs that made themselves digitally relevant, like Supermoon, Global Citizen, or my personal favourite iForIndia, with every superstar featuring in it, are just a few examples of the ones that got it right.

All our favourite celebrities are now engaging with their fans online. From (former South African cricketer) Jonty Rhodes and (Bollywood actress) Shilpa Shetty teaching us how to be fit, to Shalmali keeping her fans entertained with her music. Consumers have (almost) never felt so close to their demigods. And that, too, without having to buy a ticket, in most cases.

From a brand engagement viewpoint, it is amazing to see how the ‘essentials’ have cashed in, and have used every influencer ‘worth their salt’ (quite literally) to promote the brands. The most popular segments of this new form of entertainment have been fitness, mental health, music, food, kids, and education.

Independent musicians, especially, have innovated because they now share this turf with their playback counterparts. All are grappling with no releases. The digital space is open for all to play. The excellent ones of the lot are even hosting their masterclasses to train novices. Brands are constantly looking for innovative influencers.

So, I would say, that all is not lost. For every avenue that has closed, newer ones are opening, even as we speak.

Coming to the glaring reality of revenues, this landscape will need to see a paradigm shift. The first three quarters of this financial year will see an 85 per cent, or more, decline in revenues as planned from on-ground gigs. Corporates will take the lead in showing the world that they can launch products, and host conferences online, which may lead to lower revenues for event agencies.

As for live IP players, while the last quarter and the first quarter of the new FY will bring hope, it will also take costs up dramatically. Venues will allow lesser seats and, therefore, lesser money from ticket sales. Higher investments will be required, keeping in mind sanitation and social distancing budgets.

The organised segment will lead the ‘new normal’ with the ability to invest. Global talent that was the headline act of 2019, will only be available virtually. Live entertainment owners seldom remember that they also produce live original content. That content, and their digital innovations will keep them afloat.Governments can prove to be a large saving grace for an industry that employs over 60 million people, directly, or indirectly. Ten million livelihoods have already been affected, and in just over two months, over ₹3,000 crore has been wiped out. I appreciate the Event Management Association of India (EEMA) for having articulated this in its request to the government...

Denmark, the UAE, and a lot of countries have started drive-ins. The German Bundesliga is going spectator-less, if that is any telling of what the Indian Premier League (IPL) might look like.

For each student writing to me, and the new startups asking for advice on the job market in the live entertainment industry, my honest answer is - the short (worse) term is over. There will be a mid-term with virtual and socially distanced models. The long term ‘new normal’ for this field will start arriving in the last quarter, and for that, we should all suit up. In the meantime, upskill, upgrade, rebuild.

The author of this article Swaroop Banerjee is the COO and business head, Zee Live