Lauren Ryan
Lauren Ryan is a Leisure Analyst, writing reports on the UK’s leisure market. She has a keen focus on consumer behaviour, innovations and opportunities available within the market.

COVID-19 will hit the live event sector hard as consumers stay home. The quarantine period and mass event cancellations have inevitably impacted live event operators already. Although the UK government has started to ease lockdown restrictions, festivals and concerts are expected to be cancelled for the foreseeable future due to social distancing measures. As the summer festival season approaches, what can music and entertainment operators do to connect with their audiences and mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19?

2020 festival season cancelled

The COVID-19 outbreak could not come at a worse time for the UK live music sector, with many operators usually gearing up for the upcoming summer festival season at this time. The UK’s largest festival, Glastonbury, announced the cancellation of its 50th anniversary edition planned for July 2020 (March 2020). This was followed by the cancellation of other major festivals such as Reading and Leeds Festival, Boardmasters and Isle of Wight Festival. It is highly likely that other major festivals will follow suit by cancelling or at least postponing their events until the 2021 season.

Music operators have taken the hit already: Music Venue Trust, the industry body for 661 of the UK’s Grassroots Music Venues, requested an immediate £11.4 million and an additional £3.7 million per week to protect and maintain its members in an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson (March 2020).

Consumers will welcome transparency and flexibility

COVID-19 presents a concern for customers as well, as ticket holders remain inevitably concerned about being left out of pocket in the event of cancellations. Operators that provide flexible ticketing options to reassure consumers will be rewarded in the long-term. For instance, Music Festival travel operator Festicket announced its ‘Flexticket’ initiative on the 13th of March, which gave customers the flexibility to cancel ticket orders until April 30th. Ticket seller Dice fm launched a live event tracker so customers can easily track the status of any event on platform. While operators are undoubtedly facing losses during this time, measures such as these can go a long way to ensure customer retention once COVID-19 dissipates.

Streaming will be crucial

Mintel’s latest research on music concerts and festivals predicts that ‘consumers are likely to expect streaming not just from major festivals, but from concert venues and operators as well’, in line with Mintel Trend Going Live. Social distancing and the cancellation of large gatherings will kick this trend into overdrive, as consumers’ entertainment needs will still need to be met.

There are opportunities to boost revenues by building new business models, for example, new ticketing structures that distinguish between ‘livestream’ and ‘on-demand catch-up’. Livestream tickets could offer opportunities to interact with artists through ‘digital high fives’ and post-show ‘ask me anything’ sessions.

Record labels and festival organisers go virtual

Virtual concerts can help operators connect with fans in the absence of live events. Digital events have the bonus of not being limited by venue capacity, thereby increasing consumer reach. London record label, Defected Records, held its ‘Defected Virtual Festival’ at the end of March, which streamed 12 hours of music from the Ministry of Sound. The WHO and Global Citizen presented an online concert series called #TogetherAtHome to raise funds for COVID-19 relief. John Legend and Chris Martin were among those to hold live streamed concerts in mid-March, whilst Travis Scott disrupted Fortnite by holding a virtual concert in the online game, watched by over 12 million people worldwide. 

Entertainers offer concerts via social media

Operators must go virtual by utilising social media and streaming technology. Some of the biggest musical acts in the world have begun offering virtual concerts for fans amidst bans on large gatherings across the globe. Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Keith Urban and John Legend were among the acts to stream via Instagram’s IGTV, with the former reaching over 300,000 viewers. Social media allows fans to ‘interact’ with artists directly, through emojis and comments.

Drive-in concerts could become the new norm

Going to a drive-in to watch a live music or theatre performance could be the future for those who prefer in-person experiences, whilst keeping to social distancing measures. Drive-In Entertainment Australia announced they are teaming up with local operators to bring a range of live performances to drive-ins, with non-contact ticketing, using electronic devices and manual scanning. 

What future drive-in concerts could look like


An opportunity for holograms?

Whitney Houston’s hologram concert tour began in February 2020, to mixed reviews and backlash. However, Mintel’s qualitative research revealed younger consumers were open to the idea as a form of at-home entertainment. While the technology is not available at-home yet, this quarantine period could be used to highlight its potential for the future.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Live Nation announced it will trial social distancing at two live events in New Zealand in late May (29th May 2020). The series named ‘Together Again’, will be the first live events welcoming in-person audiences since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The concerts will feature domestic acts, which will be necessary during ongoing travel restrictions. Social distancing measures will be enforced by capping attendance at 100 people, while audience members will have to undergo temperature screening and contact tracing upon entry. 

Although the UK is unlikely to welcome gatherings as quickly as less affected countries (such as New Zealand), this illustrates the potential future for UK music concerts and festivals once measures such as contract tracing are widespread.