“Cages” by Woolf & The Wondershow in LA perhaps best reveals tomorrow’s immersive, experiential … [+]
Cages by Woolf & The Wondershow
INTRODUCTION & THE FUTURE OF LIVE, EXPERIENTIAL ENTERTAINMNT
What? An article about the future of live and experiential entertainment when we are properly focused on anything but, in this age of COVID-19? After all, the NBA season is now “suspended.” NHL, ditto. Broadway’s lights, turned off. The happiest place on Earth – Disneyland – shuttered. And perhaps most unimaginably, March Madness, cancelled. So why talk about live and experiential entertainment now?
Because, in the long run, societal trends and demographics – not to mention a real human need for physical interaction and shared humanity – support overall accelerating growth in the world of live experiential entertainment. Unless the world and we humans fundamentally change from this point forward, and without minimizing the very real pain and suffering that now envelop much of the globe, this is a momentary blip in live entertainment’s trajectory. Another victim of another terrible, unforeseen 9/11-ish “Black Swan.”
And, like before, we will recover from it.
Once we collectively do recover (both physically and emotionally), Disney’s new partnership with Secret Cinema – where Disney movies will be staged whimsically as several hour evening immersive experiences that reimagine what cinema can be – points the way. Strange juxtaposition, I know. But this article is not so much about that specific story, and much more about what that story represents. As trivial as it may sound right now, who doesn’t need a bit of whimsy and escapism at this moment? That’s one fundamental reason we voraciously consume entertainment in the first place. And even whimsy, if done right, can lead to real meaning and real, lasting, shared experiences.
Disney’s new partnership with Secret Cinema reimagines the movie experience.
I. SHARED, LASTING EXPERIENCES
Maybe not now, but many of us still go to the movies, don’t we? We still fight traffic and the throngs, and still pay for expensive popcorn when we can watch from the quiet solitude of our own homes. Why? Precisely because we are social creatures, and we don’t always want quiet solitude. In-home solitude, in fact, likely is driving many of us a bit crazy right now (for those of us fortunate enough to have that luxury during these crazy times).
Have you experienced watching a thriller like Jordan Peele’s 2019 blockbuster Us or Pennywise’s It in a theater and, then, the same thriller at home? “It’s” (yes, pun intended) an entirely different experience due to the entirely different energy generated in the big communal room versus your insular living room. It’s simply more thrilling to watch a thriller with others who gasp when you gasp and jump when you jump (or even trigger your jumps in the first place). More memorable.
Now imagine how much more impactful things will get when your out-of-home Disney/Secret Cinema experience actually immerses you in the film’s elements, with costumed actors and rich environments enveloping you as you prepare for your augmented film screening. Be prepared to surrender your phones and open up yourself to new entertainment possibilities. New experiences that you share with real human beings in very real and very different physical out-of-home environments (warehouses, for example). These experiences become lasting, sometimes even life changing.
II. DISNEY – THE INVENTOR OF MASS EXPERIENTIAL ENTERTAINMENT
Disney’s new “Star Wars” themed hotel experience opens 2021.
Disney’s Secret Cinema partnership is simply the latest outgrowth of its DNA. The Mouse House invented mass out-of-home experiential entertainment with its theme parks decades ago. Disney’s next great experiential act is to open new immersive Star Wars themed hotels where each guest will receive his or her own storyline to actually “live” amidst Yoda and the The Force for a few precious days – in hotels where the line blurs between where your guest status ends and your active participation begins. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a brave new world of 360-degree storytelling that, if done right, becomes unforgettable.
Amazon has explored buying its way into the movie theater business.
Online juggernaut Amazon – which during these turbulent times likely benefits even more from our one-click “stay at home” shopping (as if it needs to) – increasingly thinks the Disney way and incorporates offline live, real world engagement to deepen its overall brand experience and impact. It bought Whole Foods and builds actual physical bookstores in shopping malls for this reason. But Amazon’s brick-and-mortar ambitions don’t end there. Expect this increasingly omnipresent force of commercial nature to buy a theater chain to make its existing online entertainment products more shared, experiential and lasting. To create a more emotional connection with its customers. At one point, Amazon eyed leading indie movie theater chain Landmark Theatres to do just that (recently, I wrote a piece for Forbes where I suggested Laemmle Theaters as being a logical buy).
III. LIVE EXPERIENTIAL ENTERTAINMENT TODAY & TOMORROW
Meow Wolf is perhaps the most closely watched new name in the world of location-based entertainment.
Thanks to Mickey, today’s global theme park market now tops $40 billion, a number that doesn’t including the massively growing location-based entertainment (LBE) business (think of them as being mini theme parks, like Dave & Buster’s). Two innovative companies that represent the new wave of LBE and its possibilities are Meow Wolf and Two Bit Circus – both of which engage in some non-obvious, soulful counter-programming. Both feature core elements that are decidedly human, instead of technologically-laden. That humanity brings even more magic.
Two Bit Circus is another hot LBE name that mixes elements of old with VR-driven “new.”
Two Bit Circus
Apart from theme parks and LBEs, live music, of course, tops the list of today’s experiential entertainment. As I recently wrote in Forbes in an article titled The Future Of Music, overall optimism now pervades the music industry after decades of doom and gloom – led by hockey stick-like growth for previously-maligned streaming. The recorded music industry alone is expected to reach $45 billion by 2030, more than double today’s $20 billion number.
But on top of those lofty numbers, PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts global live music revenues to rise sharply and reach $30 billion by 2022. Yes, Coachella producers just postponed this year’s festival until October, and numerous other festivals and concerts have outright cancelled in the face of COVID-19. But the unmistakable trend remains intact – Gens Y and Z (and even a few of us Boomers) are obsessed with them. That hunger – nay, more of a need for shared humanity – will never go away. These are not just mass social gatherings. Coachella and others have become the epicenters of youth culture. Annual rites of passage. Not only will they survive. They will thrive!
Live music and festivals- shared, connecting, lasting experiences.
Why? Because these festivals become weekend Utopias. Places to escape the madness of it all – including the increasing and frequently overwhelming digital noise that relentlessly attacks new generations every moment of their waking days (and too often into the wee hours of their increasingly sleepless nights). Just think of all the pressures that face our kids these days? Really, let’s collectively stop, take a breath, and just think about it.
Festivals are places where the young can put down their phones, gather with other souls who are also moved by the music, and collectively simply just have fun (and maybe even find some new meaning in the process). The music draws you in, but the real magic comes from the like-minded community and shared experiences created during those all-too-rare moments in time. “Experience” is the key word (and result) here. A thirst – a real need – for actual physical human interaction and real emotional connection. Shared experiences and shared humanity are lasting. Heads-down viewing and gaming – which many of us are doing right now – are not.
Superfly is a leading name in experiential entertainment.
Rick Farman, co-founder of Superfly (producers of mega-festivals Bonnaroo and Outside Lands) strongly agrees. In a conversation, Farman described to me the need for actual live physical connection as being “the thirst for high-touch, authentic real-world experiences as people increasingly immerse themselves in the digital world.” Live Earth co-founder Kevin Wall, an intensely creative activist who has created many of the largest live events the world has seen and is now deeply focused on new forms of immersive entertainment, adamantly agrees. “Festivals use digital as a driver, but they are anti-digital in what they represent.”
88rising is a leading new multi-platform music brand.
Asian youth culture-focused and music-heavy 88rising (yes, one word) is a new kind of company that follows Farman’s and Wall’s lead (NOTE: I am an early investor). Its 88rising brand carries real meaning both online and offline. 88rising’s music festivals now sell out in record time. Even almighty Coachella has anointed it as being a “chosen one” by featuring the company prominently on this year’s poster. A global unified spirit – a shared experiential humanity – underpins the company.
LA’s new SoFi Stadium opens its doors – and raises sports’ immersive bar – later this year.
If done right, new technologies will continue to enhance, not overwhelm, live experiences in this decade. In the wide world of sports, which, like music, elicits powerful and deeply personal fan/brand engagement (as a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan, I painfully know this), we will watch increasingly powerful “smart stadiums” being built in which we can simultaneously engage and experience both actually (with our family and friends at the game) and virtually (with our friends online watching from home). The LA Rams soon-to-open new multi-billion dollar home, SoFi Stadium, will certainly make sure of that.
MSG’s $1.66 billion Sphere opens in Las Vegas in 2021 to reinvent the venue experience – and blow … [+]
Madison Square Garden Company
And in the world of music, already visually stunning concerts soon will be taken to an entirely new 360-degree immersive level. Literally. Most audacious is the Madison Square Garden Company’s new MSG Sphere, the first of which is under construction in Las Vegas right now and will open in 2021. The company has essentially bet the farm on these new $1.66 billion Spheres to reinvent the live event and venue experience. Its Spheres – true to their name – are spherical 15,000-20,000 seat venues covered from top to bottom (both interior and exterior) in ultra-high resolution LED lights to marry music with lights and sound to create previously unfathomable shared experiences.
Vortex Immersion Media is the leading innovator in dome-fueled immersive experiences.
Vortex Immersion Media
Smaller, but no less bold or impactful, immersive domes already dot the landscape and will significantly increase in numbers over the next several years. Vortex Immersion Media is a noted leader in this space (NOTE: I sit on its Board), and has taken its mind-bending Mesmerica multi-media immersive experiences to sold-out enthusiastic crowds in IMAX theaters and planetariums across the country for more than a year now – essentially driven purely by word of mouth. That’s the power of shared experiences and impact.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Arts District features Wisdome – another immersive venue that has featured a Pink Floyd cover band that plays amidst psychedelic lights as the sound surrounds and pigs fly across the dome’s inner lining. This is just the beginning for this new immersive spherical medium – a new canvas on which musicians can paint, a new MTV for music fans to fully engage in the music and creative vision of their favorite artists.
“Cages” – the indescribable new entertainment experience in LA that must be “experienced” to … [+]
“Cages” Woolf & The Wondershow
Perhaps the most exciting immersive entertainment experience at the moment also lives in LA’s downtown Arts District. It’s called Cages by Woolf & The Wondershow. How can I describe an entertainment experience that is one part Les Mis, another part Kanye West, a dash of Broadway here, and a sprinkle of cinema there – all mixed together in an entirely new kind of immersive blender complete with earth-shattering sound and holographic actors that interact seamlessly with live ones on the stage – and, oh yes, all grounded in beautiful music and a glorious story. A story of heart. A story of shared humanity. A story for our times right now.
How can I describe Cages? I can’t. And that’s the point. YOU must experience it for yourself.
THAT is the power of immersive, experiential entertainment when done right. Shared, sensory, memorable, and lasting.
And there is nothing else like it.
That’s why live entertainment may be dormant for now, but will rise once again to be even stronger – while the insidious virus that has sidelined it becomes dormant and dominated itself.