By Maddie Clark
Covid-19 cooped-up festival lovers are nervously surveying their summer plans as last week’s Glastonbury cancellation causes speculation for the live entertainment industry’s future.
The days of pushing against a sea of sticky bodies and frantically jumping in unison to the thumping bass of some iconic band seem to be a distant memory. Despite the reassurance of the growing vaccine programme in the UK, Glastonbury organisers Michael and Emily Eavis said in a recent tweet that “in spite of our efforts to move heaven and earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the festival happen this year.” Having considered on-site testing, the removal of indoor venues, increased medical provision and other measures, the lack of certainty of a future lockdown leaves the renowned festival no choice but to cancel for the second year in a row. Such precaution comes with no surprise considering the devastating £5 million lost from last year’s cancellation in March.
With new strains of Covid-19 emerging across Europe, Brazil, Canada and now Japan, it is evident the tedious battle against the pandemic is far from over. Calls for the events industry to wave its white flag seem to be carrying more weight by the minute. Rumours that the Tokyo Olympic Games will have to be cancelled have been rebuked by Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide who is determined to secure the Games as “proof that mankind will have overcome the virus”. Other festivals are still preparing battalions to face Covid-19. Slam Dunk Festival in Leeds is remaining optimistic while the UK’s biggest rock festival, Download, is looking to host 80,0000 fans from June. However, it seems larger-scale events are being forced to look online and live stream to salvage any income they can get.
This shift onto the online sphere is no novelty. This past year has completely changed the landscape of the entertainment industry. From heading to a music festival online to enjoying a National Theatre Show from the comfort of your living room, virtual experiences are currently delivering entertainment to locked-down audiences around the world. Streaming has provided a valuable revenue pipeline for experience agencies, but what is the future of online events in a post-pandemic world? Will large scale events remain as relevant and popular or will companies take a more hybrid approach?
If history can tell us anything, it is that humans are inherently social animals. The iconic roaring twenties succeeded the gloomy and polarised years of World War and the Spanish flu. The 21st century is simply the same package, wrapped in different paper. Why do Harry Styles fans flock across the globe to follow him on his world tour? Why do we spend a questionable sum of money on that football final, without a thought? We thrive off connection. There is something magical about standing in a crowd of strangers knowing you are all united by a shared passion. This connection cannot be achieved virtually, no matter how strong your fibre broadband may be.
Demand for large scale events is not solely consumer based; the livelihoods of artists, actors and creatives are also at stake. Festivals such as Glastonbury or the Edinburgh Fringe are of paramount importance in providing a platform for unknown voices to be heard. Whilst online performances may provide a security net for some and prevent creativity being swallowed by the pandemic, they lack the buzz of a live audience; a performers lifeline. What is more, everyone is fighting for a share of a smaller pie. Without access to live events, new talents will still be left in the dark whilst the spotlight shines on artists and actors with established careers and million-dollar deals.
That being said, new streaming entertainment industry will not simply disappear. Live streaming has heightened awareness around inclusivity; those who are vulnerable, housebound, or financially restricted now have easier access to big events. By eliminating location and capacity barriers, events can also reach greater audiences and repatriate lost revenue. It seems the future of the entertainment industry may veer towards a more hybrid approach. But one thing remains certain; we cannot let Covid-19 destroy the last frontier of our sanity: our human connection.
Illustration by Samantha Fulton.