How event planners are adapting to the world of virtual shows

From comedy to music and summer camps to workshops, organisers and ticketing platforms are adapting to the world of virtual shows

The coronavirus forced practically every single business in the country to rethink their plans, but it’s fair to say that event organisers faced a singular challenge. Whether it is ticketing platforms or on-ground event planners, everybody was forced to adapt to the new normal and reinvent their businesses accordingly. If you open any online ticketing platform right now, you’ll see a variety of things you wouldn’t necessarily associate with these brands — dozens of classes (for music, dance, theatre, hip-hop), kids’ activities (including ‘virtual summer camps’), not to mention paid online versions of their regular programming: stand-up comedy acts, musical concerts…

BookMyShow and Paytm Insider are two of the most popular platforms for these shows. Online stand-up comedy events can be priced anywhere in the ₹199 to 499 range (tickets for the Roast of Danish Sait on Insider are priced at ₹299). Zoom classes are pricier, generally ₹500 and above per session (BookMyShow offers a four-hour masterclass by acting teacher Atul Satya Koushik for ₹499). The better-known the artiste, the higher the price to access the event — an all-new Vir Das comedy show, shot during lockdown, costs ₹499 on BookMyShow.

Adapting to the times

According to Shreyas Srinivasan, founder-CEO of Paytm Insider, “Apart from the hour-long video format, which includes music, comedy and so on, there’s also content that involves recurring engagements. This content works like your standard gym-class package, where the number of sessions is pre-decided.” He also says that the interaction between fans online and the artiste represents a clean break from the experience that a Netflix would provide. “This is more of a community experience, and we need more of that during this time,” he explains.

Others, like BookMyShow, are adjusting to the fact that their consumers have never spent more time online. Albert Almeida, COO, BookMyShow, says, “We recently launched our content discovery platform, Watch Guide, which helps users look at all forms of content available online across streaming platforms. It customises content selection and views based on your past transactions and search behaviour.”

The B2B counterparts of these companies have also readjusted their products subtly. Jai Mundra, founder and managing director of experiential marketing agency Beep Experience, says, “Although we continue to create employee engagement for a number of corporate companies, there’s obviously an additional focus on areas like health and awareness, webinars with motivational speakers and so on. For example, Wipro has partnered with us for a digital calendar for their employees. These engagements could be a digital treasure hunt, an online antakshari or a motivational session with a famous author.” He acknowledged that there’s no returning to the way things were “for six months minimum” because even live events are unlikely to be resumed until then.

Creating engagement

The way one builds online engagement is completely different from the dynamics of planning, marketing and managing an on-ground show. In some cases, the online medium offers some much-needed breathing space — without sacrificing accessibility or potential for growth. The Jaipur Literature Festival, for instance, has been doing live conversations with authors like Margaret Atwood, Orhan Pamuk, Gloria Steinem and so on, as part of its ‘Brave New World’ series of online events.

According to Sanjoy Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts, the series was planned pre-Covid, but the plans were accelerated once the lockdown started. And one of the things that he was clear on was that the digital format needed a new approach, different from the regular panel discussion format with four to six authors at a time. “For this [Brave New World] we thought, ‘Let’s do a deep dive’. It should be one-on-one, mostly, like Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee talking to each other. If you look at the Atwood or the Elif Shafak videos or any of the other outliers with a huge number of views — these might be the same people who’ve spoken at Jaipur, but this content is very different. It is far more intimate, far more reflective.”

The change in approach Roy speaks of is also reflected in the many ways artists are going about their business. According to comedian Kautuk Srivastava (a featured artist on Paytm Insider), stand-up comedy has been uniquely affected by the ongoing hiatus on live events. “Stand-up is the only art form that requires an audience to practise,” says the comic, who has also written a young adult novel titled Red Card. “Writers and painters can practice their art during lockdown. But in order to create a joke, a finished product that you might see in a YouTube clip, you have to test it with audiences several times, changing it if necessary.” Stand-up has a lot to do with the atmosphere of the space you’re in. With made-for-online comedic content, however, Srivastava says, “your lines have to be cleaner; you can’t have a banter-like rhythm to it”.

As online events grow in scale and engagements, it is clear that this period may well end up making structural changes to the way we create and consume things.

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