Our post-pandemic future will bring us together like never before — with gatherings in the tens of millions, predict some of the world’s experts in design and events.
That’s the vision of Michael Lockwood, an architect at Populous, outlined at CityAge’s Bringing the Crowds Back. Technology has historically changed the dynamics of human gathering, he said, from early radio to television and the Internet.
Our embrace of virtual meetings necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic is no exception.
The popularization of platforms such as Zoom, and the lingering human desire of people to get back to regular life, especially concerts and sporting events, have opened the portal to the mega crowd. Lockwood predicts that as many as tens of millions of people could be involved in live/virtual hybrid events, centred around activities such as e-gaming, esports and traditional events that take a hybrid, live-virtual format.
Lockwood offered an example of this trend: a 1921 boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier that 90,000 people watched live, and 30,000 people listened to via radio, something that was virtually unheard of until then. The match ushered in “the Golden Age of Sports”. Now Lockwood wants us to consider “what types of spaces and places we should be designing today to be ready for this next decade of gathering.”
You can check out Lockwood’s post-pandemic vision for bringing back the crowds here.
We can already see the start of mega-crowds. Lockwood gave the example of Travis Scott’s Fornite concert last year in particular, which was viewed 45.8 million times and has now collected over 150 million views on the artist’s YouTube channel.
In a March 2021 Forbes issue Florida investor and entrepreneur, Marco Giberti stressed just how much Covid-19 has accelerated our foray into a new age of gathering. “It will be like comparing traditional TV with streaming, magazines with tablets or music CD’s with Spotify,” he said.
The same Forbes piece highlights other professionals in the events industry, Cindy Lo, Dahlia El Gazzar, and Keneisha Williams, who agree that events won’t be the same post-pandemic. But virtual won’t replace live.
Williams maintains that humans will always look for in-person connection, warding off a large-scale shift to entirely virtual events.
Lockwood agrees. “We’re in a virtual gathering now, this stuff is becoming commonplace, but being together in person is really fantastic, I think humans are drawn back together,” he said.
So, we are in the age of the hybrid model.
Legendary impresario Clive Davis, now 89, is leading the trends.
He’s been asked by New York City to hold a show, tentatively set for Aug. 21 in Central Park, to celebrate New York’s recovery and opening. He’s planning on a three-hour concert, featuring several “iconic” artists, for 60,000 live viewers and a “worldwide television audience.”
All three of the Forbes-featured professionals emphasized the importance of hybrid events going forward. They also said interactivity will be key to these events, including the ability to converse with smaller groups of people through virtual discussion groups or events that give people something to do at home, if they aren’t attending in person.
Dahlia El Gazzar gave the example of a networking event that featured sangria tasting with Drag Queens, and had people making their own drinks at home. Cindy Lo’s agency organized a holiday party that was Choose Your Own Adventure themed, which brought in more engagement than the company expected. Gazzar says the person behind these events has “to be more of a producer or conductor than just an event planner.”
Event kits are also becoming increasingly popular, making virtual events more personalized and simulate real-life human encounters. They can also act as incentives, according to Lo, to get more people to sign on. One example she gave was a PDF filled with participants’ LinkedIn profiles that audience members only got when they entered the virtual venue.
Not all industries will take to virtual events as easily as others, though.
Cindy Lo points out that some industries haven’t been as successful in transitioning to virtual events in the first place, which means those groups will likely remain more reliant on in-person interaction. She highlights trade-shows in particular, and anything where the value the customers are getting depends on their ability to see and evaluate a product in person.
Events that are rooted in entertainment and experience are going to see the biggest shift towards virtual, including concerts like Travis Scott’s, esports, networking events — events that invite people to connect through shared beliefs, whether that be social justice movements, or the formation of new online communities that share lifestyles but are separated by geography.
The emphasis on personalization, interactivity, and hybridity in virtual events, could all come together not only to decrease accessibility barriers and increase capacity for events, but also open up more avenues for self-expression and a sense of belonging, as people have more choice over how they engage and to what extent, which Lockwood highlighted throughout his presentation.
“The virtual world offers something really fantastic,” he said. “It offers an opportunity to remove all barriers to access, people can come as they are, who they are.”
Travis Scott’s hit concert on Fortnite makes one thing especially clear. Large-scale virtual events that bring millions of people together aren’t just futuristic ideas — they’re already here. We just need to figure out how we’ll use them.