The global pandemic has forced each of us to consider new norms that we never expected to face. Major sports entertainment like racing, hockey, and basketball now play within protected bubbles without fans. Music concerts are now streamed online with the occasional watch party event. And on-demand streaming of recorded programs has occupied much more of our free time than previously. But these are not the only entertainment events being forced to adapt to a post-COVID world. And the rise of the virtual convention reflects these shifts.
Naturally, sporting events and music concerts comprise a substantial portion of entertainment dollars generated each year. However, a significant portion of global entertainment revenues also come from conventions and festivals designed to attract thousands. These entertainment events range from large gatherings of enthusiasts to various types of collectors. These events account for a notable portion of the $8.9 billion the entertainment industry is expected to lose in 2020. And like other entertainment venues, these events hope a virtual shift might allow them to survive.
“There’s a great deal of business that occurs the weekend of Comic-Con in San Diego. It’s different, but we’re trying to bring some of the stuff online. It’s a new experience for us, but we hope it’ll be as fun but in a virtual format.” – David Glanzer, the spokesperson for Comic-Con
Comic-Con and the Virtual Convention
One of the most notable entertainment events each year is Comic-Con held in various cities. Millions attend each year dressed in crazy costumes and eager to engage with other comic enthusiasts. In Sand Diego alone, roughly $149 million in revenues are generated for the city each year with this event. But this year, the 130,000 fans won’t be attending in person. Instead, Comic-Con will exist as a virtual convention free to all. Panels, presentations, watch parties and more will all be available online for anyone wishing to attend.
The virtual convention experience is one that is certainly unique. In New York, ReedPOP is responsible for providing the virtual platform for the Comic-Con event. It’s Metaverse platform, in collaboration with YouTube, offers attendees an online connection experience. In addition to livestreamed panel discussions, live chat options will exist. Also, for a fee, a 3-minute meet-and-greet sessions can be arranged with select presenters. While the experience isn’t the same as attending in person, ReedPOP believes its potential for attendee engagement is tremendous. And it also hopes it will evolve into a new venue for entertainment events of all kinds.
“Collector conventions are traditionally a great way for us to interact directly with our fans. But the impossibility of meeting in-person this year created an opportunity for our portfolio of apps to shine, and for us to engage digitally with our fans in this unique way for the first time.” – Tobin Lent, VP & Global General Manager of Digital, The Topps Company
Other Digital Entertainment Events
Certainly, Comic-Con is well known among entertainment events throughout the world. But many other types of enthusiasts attend conventions on an annual basis. In addition to boat shows and home/garden expos, avid collectors make up a sizable number of convention patrons. In this regard, Topps, the leader in collectible sports cards and memorabilia, has embraced a virtual convention as well. Using a digicast on its own Twitch channel, Topps offers a variety of digital apps for attending this year’s venue.
Like Comic-Con, Topps is offering panel discussions, watch parties, question-and-answer sessions, and livestreamed content on its platform. But its virtual convention will also allow patrons to view collectibles digitally as well. In addition, Topps will have a number of sports and digital celebrities on hand for specific presentations. Though attendance nor revenues will be the same, Topps looks forward to showcasing its digital interface with its fans. And likewise, they hope to embrace the opportunity to advance these platforms to increase fan engagement in the future.
“Virtual worlds are part of an evolution of human communication. It’s a natural process, and people shouldn’t feel scared about it… In a virtual galaxy, the only limitation is your imagination.” – Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian Billionaire and Founder of Sensorium Corporation
Envisioning the Virtual Convention of Tomorrow
The examples of the virtual convention of today is one where attendance is available for all. Naturally, this has some advantages, but this model is hardly sustainable. Understanding this, some companies are exploring how such entertainment events can attract patrons while also generating revenues. Coolwaters Productions, for example, is hosting InHouse-Con, a Star Trek convention with the cast of “Discovery.” While online attendance is only $4.95 for general admission, packages go up to $425 for upgrades. These upgrades include 20-minute Zoom meetings with panelists, signed memorabilia, and other swag. It’s unclear if such an approach is viable long term however.
Even more innovative is Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s company Sensorium Corporation. This company is advancing artificial intelligence and virtual reality as a means to boost virtual entertainment events. Sensorium already owns over a quarter stake in L.A.-based startup Redpill VR. Likewise, it has partnered with Epic Games in order to utilize its 3D creative tools. The hope is that this new imaginative platform will usher in the entertainment events of the future. This not only includes music concerts and festivals but also virtual conventions as well.
The Virtual Convention Does Have Advantages
While most would prefer to attend in-person entertainment events, a virtual convention isn’t all bad. For one, there’s no lines or crowds that one has to maneuver. Likewise, the cost of attending an event is notably less, especially if hotels and travel are involved. Despite this, it’s unlikely that virtual events will replace live ones. But that doesn’t mean they may not secure a sizable portion of the entertainment market. The learning curve is steep, and both producers and patrons are adjusting. As the new entertainment culture adapts, most expect virtual events to appeal to a sizable number of individuals moving forward.
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