Fashion brands also recognised the opportunity on offer. Instead of a runway, luxury clothing label Balenciaga launched its latest collection in a video game format, with users able to immerse themselves in a dystopian Balenciaga store.
As David Sheldon-Hicks, co-founder of Territory Studio, states: ‘Balenciaga’s video game format is an immersive way to experience its collections when runways and stores are off-limits. With demand for audio-visual stimulation soaring, it’s logical that brands would turn to these worlds for inspiration.’
Such concepts provided both a lifeline and a much-needed shot in the arm for many events that, in truth, had not made the most of digital. As the world begins to open up post-pandemic, however, what’s vital is that events don’t snap back to their pre-pandemic formats. Instead, the interaction and the digitisation of events should remain, woven into the fabric of our physical environments and providing us with greater access to people and places than before.
For Marco Giberti, co-author of Reinventing Live, this hybridisation represents a new era for live events. ‘Events were built to succeed hundreds of years ago but they are built to fail in the 21st century,’ he says. ‘Post-Covid virtual events and webinars will be unrecognisable. It will be like comparing traditional tv with streaming, print magazines with tablets or music CDs with Spotify. Events will probably start online and move to offline activations to later go back online again. Communities will interact through the combination of virtual and face-to-face experiences in ways that will increase their return on investments and improve efficiencies. This trend will facilitate and accelerate hybrid events and a new generation of face-to-face event experiences.’
What’s set to fuel this future at speed is the fact that it’s a win-win for events organisers. Not only does the adoption of technology enable more immersive experiences, but it also increases ROI by opening up in-person events to virtual attendees, boosting both the size and global nature of audiences.
Already, relationships between physical events spaces and digital spaces are beginning to develop and become symbiotic in nature, rather than led by one sphere. The Virtual Factory is a digital manifestation of UK arts centre The Factory, which is still being built in the city of Manchester. Existing in its own right – and open to the public before its physical counterpart – the Virtual Factory’s architecture in digital form is being reconfigured by selected artists.
‘Virtual Factory reflects a time when we are increasingly inhabiting non-physical environments, from social media to video games,’ explains Gabrielle Jenks, digital director at Manchester International Festival, which will take residence at the physical centre when it opens. ‘Artists are creating work for a building that hasn’t opened yet – alluding to the reconfigurable shape of things to come.’
Looking ahead, emerging technologies will enable hybrid events to push this future even further forward. Haptic technology, for instance, could soon mean hands can be shaken across continents, while real-time translation tools could break down cultural boundaries between attendees. By 2030, the emergence of advanced extended reality (XR) and hyper-real digital avatars could even make it impossible to distinguish who is attending in real life and who is attending digitally.
In an increasingly polarised world, fuelled by divisive political rhetoric and a fast-moving media landscape that rewards hot takes rather than nuance, saying that the future sits between two extremes can feel like a cop-out. But when it comes to live events, it’s exactly where the future lies – with physical spaces augmented by digital capabilities, enabling truly global, communal and immersive event experiences.
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