Reeling under COVID-19 impact, India's live events giants mull future approach for audience changed by pandemic
In 2019, the live events market in India was valued at Rs 8,300 crores. It was estimated to reach Rs 12,200 crores by 2022. Between January-April 2020, however, the industry was found to have incurred losses worth Rs 40,000 crores, and the numbers have only risen since then
The COVID-19-triggered lockdown brought much of our social lives to a standstill, particularly our sources of recreation and entertainment outside our homes. Live events and entertainment across languages has been a prominent part of our social and cultural lifestyles, and the idea of being able to do that again, at this moment, seems like a distant dream. When we think of the things we can do once the lockdown is gradually lifted, being at a live event with a crowd is farthest from our minds.
Before the lockdown, the picture was entirely different. In 2019, the live events market in India was valued at Rs 8,300 crores. It was estimated to reach Rs 12,200 crores by 2022. According to a report by Ernst & Young, the industry was projected to cross Rs 10,000 crores by 2020-21, from Rs 5,600 crores in 2016.
This was of course before COVID-19 took over. In an article in the Financial Express in April about the lockdown’s early impact, the Event and Entertainment Management Association (EEMA) is reported to have assessed the events industry for the period of January-April. The industry was found to have incurred losses worth Rs 40,000 crores, and the numbers have only risen since then.
Cancellation of events and no clear plan to reopen in the foreseeable future has forced companies in the industry to lay-off employees, cut down salaries, defer payments, withdraw appraisal plans and even consider shutting shop. While this holds true for a lot of industries, the live events market particularly suffers from the fact that it will be among the lowest priorities for its consumers.
Says Owen Roncon, partner, Oranjuice Entertainment, that produces the Mahindra Blues Festival among other major events, “It will be among the last industries to get back to full force. And honestly, at a time like this, all those industries that are associated with humanitarian and essential commodities and services will have to be given precedence over others. That said, the live events industry is impacted from every corner because every aspect that forms a crucial part of the industry, is affected.”
To host a successful live event in India, one needs the following to work in tandem: Sponsors, ticket sales, good venues and an eager audience. Roncon adds, “Sponsors are brands who today find themselves in a situation where money is tight, jobs are laid off and workers are overworked [sic]. So, their advertising and marketing budgets would be slashed down considerably. Expecting them to have a product to sell via sponsorship at a live event is a tall order.”
Consumers are concerned about two things: do they have enough money to spend on tickets and is it safe to be in a place with many people? That apart, many live event venues have also been turned into coronavirus isolation and recuperation centres. “They won’t be accessible until we’re well and out of this situation, and they’ve been duly sanitised and cleaned,” Roncon says.
REBOOT, RESET, REWRITE:
The reality for the live events industry — uncomfortable as it may be — is that going back to what they were doing earlier is no longer an option. Simply recording performances in isolation and streaming it online may work temporarily as people remain in various stages of lockdown, but it is neither a long-term solution, nor an economically sound short-term one. “Everything we’ve learnt about business management and administration is being challenged today because we cannot adopt a one-size fits all strategy. Every single organisation that is part of the live events space is having to unlearn old practises; we have to start from scratch. Some of us have already been doing online music festivals along with the other events in the physical world. But those were a small part of our range of activities. Today, that small part has to be doubled or trebled…to help us usher in a new era in live entertainment,” says Varun Khare, head – Live Entertainment, PayTM Insider.
In a scenario where recalibration is the only option, it would take some getting used to. Unlike selling products, live events often sell experiences and the very aspects that made this form of entertainment popular is what is working against it today: People congregating.
While most companies have had to go back to the drawing board to chalk out newer business plans, strategies and paths ahead, there’s one person who is effusively excited about what this shakeup holds for the industry: Shailendra Singh, joint managing director for Percept Group, the media, entertainment and communications company that put India on the electronic music map with the Sunburn festival. “These are certainly unprecedented times, but I see a massive opportunity in this crisis. We often tend to do the same things over and over again. The COVID-19 situation has forced us to think out of the box and that’s a great thing. The human race is a remarkable one that has always risen to the occasion. And we will rise. It won’t be easy, but we will get there with a fresher and newer mindset and perspective. Those who have always had their eyes and heart on the needs of the consumer will come up with plan that’ll rewrite the basics of this industry. We at Percept already have a fresh plan in place, having used this lockdown time to carefully observe and analyse the shifting priorities in the consumer mindset,” says Singh.
THE NEW ORDER:
Captains of the live events industry are preparing for the emergence of a New Order of doing business, of shaping the industry and creating experiences that fit the consumers’ changed priorities. One cannot discount the various epiphanies (existential or otherwise) consumers may have had while being at home during the lockdown.
“The New Order will no longer look at digital as just an additional medium for marketing their offline creativity. The internet as a medium will finally get the respect it deserves and be considered a serious business-making platform. Right now, it has gained more prominence because all our physical options have been taken off the table. The visceral nature of live entertainment cannot be replaced, and it will resume slowly but surely. That said, more brands will explore the true potential of the online medium. The internet is the ultimate leveller. A man with a small offline following, finds that he might have a much wider audience online. The internet levels the playing field for content creators and event organisers. But it also brings with it challenges of adhering to Indian Performing Right Society Limited guidelines and having the right checks and balances in place. The good thing is that will inspire us towards more original content and ideas that optimise the usage of the digital experience,” says Khare.
Roncon feels that the New Order will have to implement its new strategies in phases, just as we have to ease ourselves back into our normal, pre-lockdown lives. He adds, “This Order will improve and get enhanced as the optics around the situation changes. While digital engagement will continue on a massive scale, on-ground there’s only for so long that people will be hesitant to reconvene in public spaces. People will meet in much smaller groups underground, until they are assured that those groups of people are a safe bunch. So it’ll start underground, then move to much smaller live events. Hopefully by then a vaccine should be in place. Concurrently, the laws of entry to such places will change. People may be checked for fever or asked to produce health certificates.”
Singh has already developed a massive entertainment plan that is currently being audited as he hopes the funding would fall into place as well. He has chalked out four intellectual properties for 2021 including one which he says will be the largest entertainment show on the planet. He is also looking to do festivals that focus on fitness as well as spirituality. He says, “We did not need the virus and the subsequent lockdowns, particularly not at the cost at what they’ve come. As tragic as it has been for those who lost their lives, COVID-19 has also inadvertently made us shed our differences and work towards humanity in general. It has given us a chance to rise not just to the challenge of change, but to being better humans. And this can only mean we’ll be better equipped for the monumental shift that the industry is poised to face.”
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