The Future of Entertainment : you’re either Live ….or you’re dead.

12th Oct 2012

In the very early days of entertainment, before the development of writing, rudimentary storytelling evolved into an established oral tradition and then into   simple plays – giving rise to the world of the theatre. This ‘live’ mode of entertainment and information delivery, has lasted across thousands of years and spread all around the globe

In classical civilisations, theatres were the hub of a society and the cradle of democracy – when they weren’t watching Aristophanes, Athenians were debating the political issues of the day. In other societies, especially ones with colder climates, the theatre was an important venue for basic sustenance – such as the provision food and keeping out of the cold.There is a visceral energy about live performance, a primeval power that is generated by direct contact between people and it has lasted, because it goes to the very nature, and basic needs and desires of woman and man.To be sure, live entertainment in the modern world has been up against it – under pressure from the big screen impact of cinema and small screen convenience of television. Theatre, the traditional mainstay of live entertainment has had to to borrow heavily from the world of music to survive commercially – witness the dominance of musicals in the West End and on Broadway.
The not so surprising thing about the music (although it did seem so at the time) is how the music industry has countered declining music sales with income from live performances. 30 years ago bands used to tour because they were contractually obliged to,  and often lost money in the process. Now in league with live music professionals like Live Nation, the live aspect is massively profitable and the main major revenue stream for artists. People love live events so much that even comedians are now playing arenas normally reserved for big music and sporting events – Michael McIntyre is currently on a UK arena tour with 58 performances at arena venues
How do other channels stack up in the ‘Live’ stakes?Radio has always been about live ‘aural’ entertainment, but one of it’s most engaging aspects is the radio roadshow and the audience debate, in other words – live and face to face entertainment. Radio, currently under considerable pressure in the digital age, has always had to adapt to exist. Initially the only entertainment channel in the living room, it was kicked out by the TV and had to find an audience at breakfast and in people’s cars .
Some elements of radio do work well in a ‘listen later’ environment . For example radio content is very popular on the iPlayer and this has prompted the BBC to  launch the ‘iPlayer Radio’, to meet this demand . But for me, the real power of Radio is in the ‘now’ – breaking news and live sport – it’s no surprise that there has never been a football highlights show, on radio.In the heyday of Television, it was in live or big events that it showed it’s power : out of these coming the post transmission, conversational ‘water cooler moments’ that kept TV content front of mind. However, as large rating programmes have declined, so have the water cooler conversations and in an ever decreasing circular fashion – TV audiences have declined further.TV has had to change too and it has sought to manufacture live events to get people back round the water cooler. TV show formats that have historically operated quite well in a pre-recorded format are now ‘LIVE’ – the inference being that you will lose some of the excitement if you decide to record and watch later .Shows like ‘Red or Black’, and ‘Emmerdale Live’ are examples of this trend.
Reality TV is a more natural (but ironically, heavily edited) live entertainment format. If however we are looking for a genre that makes prehistoric human entertainment look sophisticated – this is it….Other entertainment and media channels have got in on the act . One of the most exciting aspects of ‘Out of Home’ media is the flashmob, perhaps the most famous one of recent times, being the 02 Flashmob at Liverpool Station in 2009. Games are also benefitting from the elixir of live entertainment. From blockbuster ‘cinema style’ launch events to the success of Social Gaming – for example : Modern Warfare and Fifa 13 Ultimate Team.Augmenting all of this of course, is the social web. Through this medium the audience is made bigger and the event is made more interactive and more rewarding. Broadcast content spawns user generated content and leads to countless expanding and circulating conversations. Channels like Twitter provide a continuous live commentary in and around, and often long after, an eventThe largest social noise is always around a live event, whether within the world of entertainment or without, and people’s capacity to connect via a range of devices makes this even easier. In the world of TV, Zeebox is a good example of a product that  seeks to capture this excitement for the ‘power of now’.

Finally…. to Newspapers. Before broadcast media, this was the medium that provided the ‘live’ entertainment of it’s day – who needed news more regularly, than every morning?

But other faster and more ‘live’ channels have come along and Print has had no real answer. Sure, some vertical channels, like the FT and WSJ, which provide a unique perspective and rich content continue to be successful but, in the main, the only answer to new challenges faced has been to copy the competition – often late in the day and not as well as it has been done before.The successful channels of the present and future, are those who are able to successfully embrace the visceral and energising world of ‘Live’ content – entertainment and information. For the others, the only alternative is the opposite of Live……….Dead
Nick Hammond