Brendan Bruss, President PMI Entertainment Group
graduate of Envision’s Strategic Foresight Workshop 2021

Consider the future of entertainment. In an industry that gained a lot of attention during the pandemic as the “first to shut down and last to open,” (If I never hear that again, I’ll be okay!) live entertainment has gone through extensive scenario planning just to come back to what we once knew it to be. Long ago, in 2019, live events were flourishing. Music tours were selling better than ever. Premium experiences and packages to the biggest sporting events were selling at prices never seen before. And then, an NBA player walked off the court with a virus in March of 2020, and we had to pivot.

“Pivot”-  that’s another word I could live without for a few years. “We’re pivoting” became the trendy term for how we would respond to hosting live events again. Protocols, socially distanced seating maps, “cashless,” palm scanning, temp checks, and of course plastic…not enough plastic – you get the drift.  And then the question was: What will become permanent? Will virtual concerts streamed to an audience stick, or is the live experience with others what makes the essence of the event? Did we actually jump into the future of how entertainment is provided, consumed and transacted because it was necessary? Was this moment in time the Mother of Invention or just a way to make things happen by any means available? 

Participating in the Strategic Foresight Fall 2021 session through Envision Greater Green Bay, I had a perfect opportunity to think differently about what the future would hold for live entertainment. We had been thrust into the reset of all resets – a period in which buildings went dark  and we saw a 95%+ revenue loss. What better time to consider the future, since everything we had known had just come to a halt?

As events started to come back, I heard over and over again that people were going to rush out to consume them. That has not happened; in fact there has been some degradation of attendance across the industry. People attending are spending more money, but in general did we really see a reset of our future based on the pivots we made? Of course not, because anything happening now is still a current horizon. Signals of some future adaptations are out there, but the changes were largely transactional for the consumer, based on technology. None of the venue adaptations in design and technology, all of which make the experience better, alter the basic structure of how events are sourced and how the economics are shared.

What have not changed in the live entertainment world, particularly in large venues, are the basic structure of how an act is delivered to the potential crowds and who participates in the delivery of entertainment: artist, agent, promoter, and venue.  For more than fifty years the basic way an act will tour and sell tickets has remained unchanged: The artist or agent contacts a promoter to schedule a tour; venues that could fit the routing with available dates are selected; the announcement of dates that the artist will play the venue comes out, and a ticket goes on sale. 

Thanks to technology, you will no longer see lines around the arena waiting to get to the ticket window to exchange cash for a hard paper ticket. Online, mobile delivery and cashless transactions have taken hold. We’re seeing a new future of transactions involving Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and bitcoin. Digital marketing has replaced newspapers. Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems follow consumers through their purchasing journeys. We see blockchain technology helping to aid and identify the owners of the transactions in ways we never had before.  But in all of that, the crowd is still sourced to buy a ticket in advance to a known act.

Now, imagine a future that allows us to source the crowd in advance and expand the participants in the economy of the event itself. In considering how this might work, we examined the economy around ridesharing.  For how many years was the basic model for getting from point A to point B in a car in a city this: you called or hailed a cab?  The consumer paid the cab driver, the cab company made improvements to the way you paid or scheduled a cab, but no other party participated in that economy.  And then somebody wondered: What if we allowed people already driving cars to pick up passengers and get them to where they’re going? It’s remarkable to think that Uber did not go public until as recently as 2011, and look at how the participants in that economy have flipped!

Inspired by the Uber experience, we wondered: What if we sourced a crowd to an arena in advance for a known date without knowing the act?  What if we allowed influencers to participate in sourcing the crowd via their social reach? Imagine signals of a creator economy in which the audience picks their content. Perhaps an audience or community decides to source a crowd that would all be interested in a certain genre of music on December 15 of any given year. Instead of announcing that Reba McEntire will play in Green Bay on December 15 and then wait to see whether ticket sales indicate an interest, perhaps Green Bay announces to the music community that we already have sourced a crowd – now, who wants to play here? Influencers who push the brand of the event and get attendees could share in the economy of the event. It would no longer be just artist, promoter, and venue.  In fact, the venue could have promoters and artists bid on the date, since we already have a crowd. In other words, here are the economics, this is what this audience is interested in – who wants to play?  To some degree this already happens in the festival world. The brands of Coachella and Summerfest are so strong, people will buy their tickets in advance without knowing the artists. Arenas do not operate that way – yet.

What if the attendees don’t like the artist that gets selected to participate on the date sourced? Well, it’s not too hard to imagine how the resale market can take over via a multitude of currency platforms.  That’s what StubHub is now, a marketplace to sell already purchased tickets. We do know that the exchange of assets, currency and payment methods is being revolutionized as we speak.  In the past few weeks, Coachella sold ten lifetime passes via NFTs for over $1.5 million. In addition to passes to the event, digital ownership of songs and experiences add to the value. The experiential options that NFTs bring to live events are just starting to be realized. 

It is conceivable that venues, along with their communities, could build brands of live events around dates, crowds, and experiences without knowing the artists in advance. Perhaps someday we as a venue operator would not hope that Elton John picks our building to perform, because we have already sourced a crowd that Elton John could not refuse to play to! So, on December 15 of 2032, we might bid our crowd out to potential performers: Save the date and secure your spot with whatever your currency of choice might be!