Alerts on the news, across our phones and over the radio have announced the postponement of events, festivals and conferences worldwide. The first to announce the changes were festival heavyweights like Coachella, followed by Glastonbury, where the protection of thousands of people gathering in close proximity was paramount. Next sporting fixtures could no longer take place and the Euro’s and now Olympics have been rescheduled to 2021. The Government has taken stricter measures, reiterating the importance of staying in and limiting public interaction, resulting in no physical events taking place until further notice.

It’s been predicted there will be multi-million-pound losses for the experiential events industry following Covid-19 as brands review spend during this time. Understandably, it’s easy to feel apprehensive about what the future holds but where there is change or disruption, there is space for innovation and in the case of Covid-19, it’s no different. So, what does the future hold for the events industry?

Stage one – the immediate reaction

In the first instance, while restrictions are in place, digital will lead the way stepping into the space left by physical events, such as Formula 1’s virtual Grand Prix which attracted just under 300,000 viewers in the first week. Formula 1 has committed to running a virtual Grand Prix each race weekend and the opportunity for brands to get involved is surely inevitable. As viewers grow, this captive audience offers a chance to existing fans to enjoy the sport they love and the potential for new fans to be won, using a new channel to engage with them gives the chance to showcase the sport from every angle.

And it’s not just the sporting industry that’s taken a hit during these unprecedented times – the once lucrative live music industry is also in jeopardy. Although music artists have always been tech fans, understanding the power it holds to connect with audiences since the days of Lily Allen and MySpace. Now technology, predominantly social media so far with a focus on Instagram, is keeping music alive with new releases being shared and gigs streamed live by artists such as Coldplay and John Legend.

Stage two – short term impact

Up until now it’s been accepted by many people for brands simply to modernise and start using technology in a relatively basic manner, especially when it comes to connecting with the customer or audience. By being able to have a focus on the physical event, a number of brands have seen using social media, for example, as adequate to appear current or even ‘on-trend’. Results from Global Web Index in 2019 found that there had been a 47% increase since 2016 of people watching or following sports events as a main motivation for going on social media and therefore covering off this channel had been seen as simply enough until now.

However, as we all start to adjust to our new way of living, we’ll see content being digitised and specifically created by brands to offer consumers much needed escapism, positive experiences and a sense of a new normality. Brands will be forced to actually become digital rather than just modernised. This enforced disruption of the physical events industry will see a growth in creative ideas and brands adopting digital options to ensure connection with consumers is maintained, and for a time, will lead the way as other options are restricted.

Stage three – long term impact

As the current situation ends (which hopefully will be as soon as possible) there is no doubt Covid-19 will leave its mark on how we enjoy events moving forward. We’ll see industries such as music festivals selling two types of tickets – physical and digital. It’s likely a digital ticket will provide an access code for people to enjoy streamed music, additional content, and for those who have VR headsets, an immersive experience through using services such as Melody VR. As VR opportunities increase, the demand for a headset will too, hopefully reducing the main barrier to entry for consumers which currently is cost.

We’ve already seen brands, such as Verizon, use the recent Superbowl to start breaking the boundaries between technology and sport when it gave us a glimpse into the potential of 5G in transforming the way we consume and enjoy sports. Verizon subscribers with 5G-capable devices were able to access a new multi-camera-angle streaming feature, allowing fans to stream action from five different camera angles that were on the sidelines. Fans could switch between views, rewind and play instant replays from any of these angles. As well as this, through the use of AR, fan could see real-time stats as they’re watching the video streams from any of the five camera angles. Verizon’s super dome fan experience was built on a new scale to any previous incarnations and looked to inspire both fans, families, its partners and the sport itself to the possibilities of tech led sport experiences.

People are bound to be nervous for health reasons once the need for social distancing is no more, so the growth of physical events could be slow at the beginning meaning event companies and brands must diversify. This is a time where we can showcase our skillset, engage with new audiences and demonstrate how technology can both enhance a physical event as well as offer a unique experience. Events have always been a huge part of the experience economy and it’s more important now, than ever, that we offer people an escape – don’t panic, get creative and turn to technology is these turbulent times.