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The New Entertainment Culture of COVID – Virtual and Social Worlds Collide

A dude wearing VR goggles at some event

During the first several weeks of the pandemic, people all over the world suddenly found themselves in lockdown. Restaurants were limited to takeout, and trips to the grocery store became the new social outing. Live, in-person concerts and movie theatres were no longer an option. And even with many cities reopening, these types of venues have remained quite scarce. But people need live concerts and entertainment, even if it means adapting to a new norm. And where there’s a demand, eventually someone will find a way to meet expectations.

Now several months into a pandemic, it’s becoming clear that many are adjusting to a new entertainment culture. What began as lonely musicians sitting in their living room managing subpar equipment has gradually changed. Major virtual events are now being promoted with many offering social encounters for viewing. In essence, a virtual culture is evolving right before our eyes, and things may never be the same. In fact, we may just be seeing the beginning of something that is truly spectacular.

(COVID-19 has certainly presented the world with a challenge. For more on how some have turned challenges into opportunities, check out Ed Kopko’s book, PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.)

Going Backwards to Look Ahead – The Classic Drive-In Theaters

The first drive-in theatre opened in 1933 in Camden, NJ. Richard Hollingshead realized the combination of film with Americans’ passion for their cars was a perfect match. Outdoor films were already common at the beach for silent films. So, he believed his idea of creating a ramped parking lot and movie screen offered a new entertainment culture. To some extent, he was right. For the next 25 years, the drive-in theatre gradually increased in popularity. In 1958, over 4,000 drive-ins were speckled across the country.

As technologies advanced, drive-ins became less and less popular. But with COVID, a slight resurgence of these outdoor gems, and for obvious reasons. First, drive-ins offer automatic social distancing given the dimensions of most cars. They also offer open air entertainment, which also reduced risks. And you naturally enjoy your own seats and likely your own snacks. They may not be the most social events. But they offer a nice change from a virtual culture that consists of a Zoom platform and a computer screen.

“Drive-ins started to really take off in the ‘50s. They offered family entertainment. People could sit in their cars, they could bring their babies, they could smoke. Drive-ins offered more flexibility than indoor theaters.” – Jim Kopp, United Drive-in Theatre Owners Association

Fast-Forward to Today – An Emerging Virtual Culture

Even before COVID made its appearance, a virtual culture of entertainment was already developing. Virtual gaming has accelerated in its appeal in recent years, and virtual sports venues are increasing in popularity. COVID has naturally given these attractions a boost as they are progressively being considered part of the new entertainment culture. But things were slowly to change other entertainment areas like music, theatre, and performance art. For a while, it wasn’t clear why anyone would really want to tune into to a virtual concert. But those days are over.

Though large events with liver performances are still not permitted in most places, things are evolving. Many large stages and recording studios are inviting entertainers to perform live for remote broadcast events. While viewers may watch at home, promoters are increasingly offering open-air destinations to watch these events. Large screens are provided, and guests are able to engage with one another in a socially distanced and safe setting. This is the new entertainment culture that COVID has ushered into the world. And it’s a virtual culture with lots of future possibilities.

“If there is a way for artists to monetize [online performances], I’m sure we will see that happening. Any opportunity to reach a larger audience is something I’m sure any artist might consider.” – Gena Greher, Professor of Music, University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Big Names, Big Destinations, Big Expectations

Early in the pandemic, several big-name musicians banded together to offer live streaming concerts to fans. Examples include John legend, Chris Martin, and Keith Urban. These and other artists were among the first to embrace a new entertainment culture. Gradually, others are now following as well. This not only involves the changing virtual culture of musical shows but also theatre and comedy. The same even applies to some spoken word and cabaret performances. As COVID continues to affect communities globally, both entertainers and audiences alike are seeing the opportunities with these events.

There are several examples of these events comprising the virtual culture of today. For example, the Metropolitan Opera is offering several virtual live concerts from different locations. Joyce DiDonato is playing from Barcelona, and Roberto Alagna is scheduled to perform in Eze, France with Aleksandra Kurzak. Likewise, over 100 Alternative Fringe events are available for viewing involving a variety of entertainment types. And places like the Sun Valley Music Festival in Idaho has arranged 14 lawn concerts for guest throughout the summer. These events will stream live concerts from artists in 43 different cities.

“If (someone can) go to a show (they) always will. But for all of the limiting factors as to why people can’t get to live shows, be it geographical restrictions, age restrictions, or cost … we realized there might be an opportunity to smash all those barriers and truly globalize music.” – Scott Buchholz, Emerging Tech Research Director, Deloitte

What Does Tomorrow’s New Entertainment Culture Look Like?

Today’s virtual culture of entertainment is basically just getting its feet wet. A number of tools exist at the industry’s disposal that could create a perpetually changing new entertainment culture for years. Augmented reality, the Internet-of-Things, and 5G networks are just a few. Likewise, the number of streaming platforms has grown tremendously. This not only includes Instagram Live, Twitch and Facebook Live. But major players like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and NBC Universal’s Peacock will likely be a presence as well. This won’t keep fans from going to live performances and concerts in a post-COVID world. But it will provide millions incredible alternatives. Thus, the new entertainment culture is one that is both scaling in scope and advancing in options. And ironically, we may have COVID to thank for it.

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