Virtual events are booming with 5G

5G will change how we participate in concerts, conferences and sporting events forever, says Verizon Media RYOT Studio's Head of EMEA, Mark Melling

As global economies closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the events industry was among the hardest hit. Thousands of live concerts, conferences, and sporting events were cancelled or delayed indefinitely as uncertainty around social distancing timelines continued. Fortunately, live streaming apps and digital platforms allow these same organizations to re-create the contexts of events in virtual environments.

A recent Global Web Index study found that roughly two-thirds of UK consumers (66%) would livestream a live event at home if the event could not occur during the pandemic — including 73% of consumers ages 16 to 34. Now, artists, conference organizers, and sports leagues are taking unprecedented steps to accelerate their digital engagement with audiences. And despite some existing limitations, the introduction of 5G networks will provide new, lasting, and evolving opportunities for organizers, attendees, and the brands that sponsor their events.

The current state of virtual events

Even traditional event organizers have been quick to realize some clear benefits of virtual events. There are obvious cost and environmental advantages, but advantages that drive traditional event KPIs — novelty, audience satisfaction, and reach — have emerged in new and exciting ways as well. Verizon Media’s consumer research shows that live event and concert attendees are more excited than other consumers about the prospect of attending a live music event virtually, suggesting appeal for live events is transferable to digital environments.

Music in new mediums as we listen from home

As concert venues closed during the pandemic, artists around the world turned to live streaming across social media and other networking platforms to reestablish their real-time connections with audiences. The One World: Together At Home event, curated in partnership with Lady Gaga and launched on April 18, raised money for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Sponsored and marketed by Pepsi, the event reached 20.74 million viewers in the U.S. alone — the biggest audience for any Saturday-night program in the country, excluding the NFL playoffs. On a smaller virtual stage, a group of artists put on a benefit concert in Mojang’s Minecraft online gaming environment to raise money for COVID-19 research. The versatility of the Minecraft environment allowed organizers to recreate the original venue within the 3D world.



New value and experiential opportunities in virtual industry events

Conference production companies have had to reinvent themselves in 2020, with even the largest industry players realizing new advantages in virtual settings. Sessions at conferences with multiple days and tracks are now available to all attendees, live throughout virtual events or even on-demand after these events end. In some cases, attendees have more opportunities to engage speakers via digital channels, where they aren’t limited by time, physical, and the audio-technology constraints of the physical environment.

Virtual conferences will only improve over time. Sophisticated features like virtual reality, connected via 5G, will allow attendees to engage in exciting, interactive ways. Just as Fortnite allowed the artist Travis Scott to create an otherworldly music venue experience, gaming environments may facilitate conferences “inside” exotic virtual reality destinations unachievable in the real world.


Taking sports seriously in virtual environments

In response to worldwide shutdowns, sporting-event organizers and their sponsors have re-created competitions in innovative and engaging ways via e-sports. In the U.S., professional NFL players participated in an online video game tournament covered on network television. In the UK, the 2020 Quarantine Cup grew from a small video game tournament featuring lesser-known clubs to an event featuring over 100 professional clubs and thousands of spectators.

Even as traditional sporting events start up again, these environments will become increasingly sophisticated and appealing to fans. Verizon Media’s consumer research found football fans in the UK are three times more likely to find the prospect of augmented reality (AR) replays and stats exciting, where younger fans are more likely to visualize themselves using these technologies in the near future.


Realising the future benefits of virtual events with 5G connectivity

5G will be critical to facilitating the virtual events of the future as consumers turn to mobile networks to connect. Here are some advantages 5G connectivity may provide:

  • Enhanced Experiences: Just as physical events are impossible to re-create entirely in digital environments, virtual events will offer their own experiential benefits not available in reality. Exotic VR settings, special effects, and new interactive opportunities will be available to attendees at unprecedented scales.
  • Reach: Virtual events have practically zero limitations in terms of the number of attendees who can participate, vastly expanding the reach of performers, sports teams, and the brands that sponsor them.
  • Monetization: Virtual events offer an unprecedented opportunity for evolved and creative engagement with consumers. Nearly half of UK consumers ages 18 to 24 appreciate when brands connect with them in new and innovative ways, our research suggests. Virtual events offer a nuanced opportunity to meet that demand in the right contexts.

Invent your own way to connect

Even as mainstream events return, collective online experiences will distinguish themselves from traditional events as they become more accessible and offer more desirable experiences. Brands should be thinking about their engagement strategies now to establish themselves in this evolving world. Verizon Media can help brands and marketers break into these exciting new environments.

Our 5G Labs & Studios allow our media partners to produce premium quality 3D content, including virtual and augmented reality experiences, with state-of-the art facilities: volumetric capture, motion capture, AR broadcast, and more. In 2020, we introduced our newest 5G-enabled studio in London — a cutting-edge incubator for innovative and creative companies ready to shape the future of brand content in the emerging virtual event economy.

This article came from issue 7 of Marketing Society publication Empower. Read the archive here.