Year Gone By, Year Coming Up

Industry Watch | January 4, 2021 | Guest Article

Deepak Choudhary Festival of Festivals IPL Spoken Fest WOW Awards

How does one begin to sum up the year 2020? Lots of folks, particularly media pundits, are going to try, coming at it from whatever lens through which they view the world. My view, as ever, is through the lens of the live entertainment business, always coloured by personal experience, flavoured by peers I love and admire, colleagues, acquaintances, heroes, legends and bar-room banter. In the end, as I sit down to write my annual round-up of the year gone by for a year filled with unpredictability and lots of introspection, I can only fondly remember how we embraced the year as a gateway for the fresh new decade and deliver some incredible live entertainment acts India has never seen.

Notable Hits of 2020

Predictably all of the biggest on-ground live events of the year were delivered within the first three months of the year before the pandemic. Even in that short span, some of those events left a huge impression in every organiser’s mind. Some of the memorable ones include the annual Kalaghoda Festival in Mumbai, Filmfare awards held in Guwahati, the sold-out Arijit Singh concert in Mumbai which lived up to its name of being ‘One Night Only’ for the year and the watered-down version of the Auto Expo 2020.

Even as some of the biggest international events of the year got cancelled or postponed, including IIFA in Indore, the Dubai Expo and Tokyo Olympics, IPL 2020 managed to host the annual cricket extravaganza in the UAE, albeit without any stadium attendees.

Despite the pandemic enforcing a complete lockdown, as always, the industry adapted. Virtual/digital events became a thing, and almost all performing artistes found a way to reach fans via streaming. While most of them started off with free performances on their social media handles as a one-off, with time they transitioned to host paid digital gigs. While ticketing majors Paytm Insider and BookMyShow adapted their operations and business models to suit the burgeoning requests for hosting, a fresh crop of digital event hosting and ticketing platforms have sprung up, helping organisers take their pick.

Popular music festivals including Sunburn and NH7 Weekender went digital this year, while some of the other ones even decided to skip the year. While Sunburn experimented with free as well as paid models for their various gigs, NH7 Weekender in partnership with Paytm Insider debuted a new interactive video player to engage users through multiple stages and private party rooms. Spoken Fest, in its digital avatar, created a 3D world for navigating around the festival and also brought about interesting brand-led activations in the arena. Supermoon went virtual with a digital gig featuring some of the biggest artistes including last year’s biggest Indie sensation, Prateek Kuhad.  

At Event Capital, we restructured most of our live events including Bollywood Music Project, Edutainment Show and Windmill to suit the digital avatars with customised offerings for the attendees. We even managed to launch a new IP: Festival of Festivals with BookMyShow, which saw a multitude of popular festival IPs coming together under one single platform.

Theatre events definitely took a backseat in this pandemic and took some time adapting to the ‘new normal’ of digital events. Interestingly, popular production houses worked with the limitations of the digital platforms and created content which could be experienced from the confines of everyone’s homes. Comedy events transformed for the digital landscape more natively and shows on Zoom have become the norm and might even continue after the pandemic restrictions are removed.

Amongst the conferences, while all the major conferences including industry forums like FICCI Frames went digital, the game-changer for them was the ability to get speakers on board who would otherwise give these events a miss due to their busy calendars. Notably, the biggest highlight for All About Music was the session featuring the music legends A R Rahman and Arijit Singh, where the latter had a free-wheeling 90-minute conversation with Rahman.

The year also saw a lot of organisations opening their purse strings to help those in need of funds by organising digital charity events to raise money for the affected. A new initiative, ‘Stayin Alive’ was also born to support people from the industry who have been affected by the pandemic, and hosted a series of events to raise money for the cause. Additionally, as a part of their efforts, even the digital streaming majors Facebook and YouTube hosted a series of gigs featuring some of the biggest names in the Indian film and music industry performing on their platforms including ‘Chotti Si Asha’ and ‘Global Citizen’s One World Together’. Laqshya Live Experiences partnered with Production Crew to help Rambo Circus stay relevant with a digital offering, which was widely well-received by all.

Event education didn’t take a backseat this year either, and we saw the launch of Touchwood Wedding School in Delhi and launch of my own Whistling Woods International School of Event Management in Mumbai. While EVENTFAQS continued to take stock of the industry with its regular news and insightful updates, the ever-popular WOW Awards became a digital event this year and we also launched a new IP, Congregations India, to discuss the Government, political, tourism, culture, sports and religious events landscape in India.

At EEMA, Roshan Abbas took over as the new president and has been instrumental in steering the association with a gusto never seen before. During the past few months, we saw EEMA being pro-active in reaching out to governing bodies and releasing SOPs for organising events in a post-pandemic world. Through the year, we also saw the launch of Karnataka Event Management Association (KEMA).

Sadly, we lost our industry’s legend, Michael Menezes, on February 13, 2020.

Since October 2020, with the lockdown restrictions being relaxed, we saw the industry picking up steam. On-ground events with limited capacity have started, and many organisers are experimenting with drive-in as well as hybrid events to offer attendees a combination of on-ground as well as digital experiences. Supermoon has even experimented with a drive-in cinema event.      

The year ahead
The billion-dollar question facing the live events industry now is, how and when are we coming back? As we begin2021, vaccines are being rolled out in some parts of the world, and several events are already on the books for 2021. While places inthe US and Europe are drawing crowds at drive-in shows, Taiwan has seen arena shows return and Australia is proceeding with confidence into what looks to be a busy 2021, the specifics of what a come-back might look like in India still remain largely unclear.

Having said that, India already has a packed calendar with five State elections scheduled for Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry. The prolonged campaign periods generally lead to a significant amount of on-ground event investments, and that’s something most event management companies and vendors will be eyeing in these markets. Additionally, the Indian Government is slated to launch a year-long celebration from August, 2021 to commemorate 75 years of Independence with a slew of programmes and projects to showcase 'development, governance, technology, reform, progress and policy' over the years. It is also understood that Anant Ambani, Mukesh Ambani’s third child, will be tying the knot in the coming year. Looking at how the previous two weddings were organised for the other two Ambani scions, this one ought to be a mega event for everyone to look forward to.  

Cricket has always been a big driver for the events and experiential marketing industry in India, and IPL has been its biggest draw. While the 2020 edition was successfully held in the UAE with no audience attending the event, the 2021 edition scheduled from March 28, 2021 to May 23, 2021 is also expected to be held, the venue for which is being mostly contested between Ahmedabad and UAE. Additionally, there is a conversation about two more IPL teams being added to the current line-up to take the tally to 10 teams in the upcoming season itself. 

Before the IPL extravaganza, some of the key outings for India in 2021 include the England tour of India, Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and the ICC T20 World Cup scheduled in stadiums around the country. Moreover, the hugely successful Pro-Kabbadi League’s eighth season was postponed in 2020, and is slated to be held from July to October this year. Speaking of other sports, all the tennis grand slams are scheduled to be held in their respective calendar months, as well as all the football tournaments including Euro Cup, UEFA Champions League and the Premier League. 

The Olympics, perhaps the world’s biggest sporting event, is now scheduled to take place in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8, 2021. While the enthusiasm for regular MICE businesses might take some time to pick up, this event and the Dubai Expo in October 2021 might help the industry get some much-needed traction.

Music lovers don’t have much reason to feel left out. All the popular music festivals which went virtual or were postponed in 2020 are expected to be back on-ground with adequate safety measures in place. While it is understood that a ticketing major is firming up plans to bring down an international artiste before 2021 ends, other organisers are busy blocking dates with some of the biggest Indian artistes including A R Rahman and Arijit Singh for their domestic and international tours. Just as Goa has become the must-visit place for everyone looking for a vacation in 2020, it is understood that the fifth edition of the India Nightlife Convention & Awards (INCA) is slated to be held in the State this year. 

Thanks to the pandemic, most of the festival organisers have found a space for creating digital extensions for their on-ground events, and these digital extensions are expected to continue for the near future too as consumers have lapped up these formats. Whether they will replace the on-ground events or not is a question that no one has definite answers to. Only time will tell how consumption patterns are going to change for entertainment seekers.  

What’s in store
I hope you’re all well-rested because the forced pause is coming to an end. Industry pundits expect live shows to pick up substantially in April and a full slate of concerts and events (with adequate safety measures) in all venues starting October, 2021.  

The return will be challenging. Beyond the new protocols and best practices in the pursuit of safety, we must remain cognisant of the consumer who wants to step out for a good time, but with caution. Today’s entertainment fans cast a wide net, and we can’t force them to make difficult choices about what to attend, where to attend, as we need them to attend everything they fancy. They need our shows, and we need them, too. Artistes want to play, and organisers want to deliver great experiences. However, my answer to the often-raised question of ‘How will the industry come back?’ is: ‘Stronger than ever.’

At EVENTFAQS, we reached out to some of our peers, colleagues and friends to share their thoughts about what they are looking forward to in the coming year. We were met with a collective round of positivity which makes us believe that the Indian events industry will be back bigger and stronger in the coming months. Watch this video to see how some of us are gearing up to the challenge.

 

Deepak Choudhary, Founder and Director, EVENTFAQS Media & Event Capital, gives us an expert’s overview of the industry’s journey in 2020 and insights into what 2021 has in store

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