How the pandemic is transforming the virtual events experience

Driven by a wave of creativity and investment, new concepts are transforming the virtual events experience.

The COVID-19 restrictions have hit the entertainment and events industry particularly hard, with lockdowns and subsequent measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 causing the cancellation of live events as well as the closure of theatres, cinemas and theme parks. The threat of further outbreaks and social distancing measures make for a challenging environment. The cancellation or postponement of events and productions is one of the largest sources of COVID-19 related insurance losses for the global insurance industry. 

Consequently, live events attracting large crowds have become rare since the start of the pandemic, but producers and organisers are experimenting with digital alternatives, buoyed by an increased acceptance within the population as the digitisation of the economy as a whole accelerates. 

New concepts

Among the more innovative concepts is a virtual concert by French composer, performer and record producer Jean-Michel Jarre, which was streamed in June to a worldwide audience. Jarre’s concert drew hundreds of thousands of views across both virtual reality (VR) and non-VR streaming options like YouTube. 

The concept allowed the fans who were using headsets to interact with each other through virtual avatars. The event included classic fixtures of an electronic show: “razy beats, dazzling lights — and 'pills' that made the screen change colours, taking concertgoers on a digital drug trip,” according to Rolling Stone magazine (opens a new window). Some critics already called it the concert of the year (opens a new window).  

Classical concerts are also catching up with digital trends, creating an unexpected intimacy with the sound of the players’ shoes against the hardwood as they shuffle places or the creak of wooden chairs. What may be missing is a way to replicate the spatial dimensions of a concert hall, but that might change as the adoption of new technology spreads. 

The search for alternatives to traditional concerts may be even creating new genres that could prevail after the pandemic ends. Composer David T. Little has been revisiting operas he has produced and is adapting them into short films that are subsequently streamed. The 2010 comic opera “Vinkensport, or the Finch Opera” was filmed at an Airbnb in Houston (opens a new window) instead of the theatre stage and each singer performed while observing social distancing rules. The result has been acclaimed by critics (opens a new window).

COVID-secure studio and events are flourishing, offering an isolated space for artists to perform where they won’t come into contact with onsite support crew but can reach a large audience eager to watch live music. 

Similarly, business conferences are being transformed by the digital revolution, particularly the networking element that is deemed key to attendees. Some virtual event platforms include a ChatRoulette-style feature for meeting other attendees while others use algorithms to match attendees based on their interests. 

For the foreseeable future, high-definition cameras and high-speed connections will remain crucial elements to keep audiences and performers engaged as the pandemic drags. Living room concerts turned into headset-bound virtual-reality experiences may become the new normal in the events scene as well as casual video-game-like shows. 

Advantages of virtual events

While some might miss the traditional experience of live events, the digital alternative has its advantages. Firstly, they can be joined from wherever there is an internet connection with sufficient bandwidth. Further, the events are likely to be cheaper than traditional events as well as easier to fit in calendars since there is no travelling required. 

For organisers, virtual events are generally less expensive as there is no need to hire big venues including personnel. For conference or concert organisers, cutting out the in-person costs can significantly reduce the price of admission and enables more investment into speakers and stars. 

Conference organisers can also offer additional services such as data on who watched a particular CEO speak or how long attendees have tuned in for. Hybrid options with a few in-person attendees may be an alternative.

Despite the advantages, digital events come with risks for organisers such as failure of utilities, cyber incidents or transmission failure. While the appetite for contingency risks remains strong within the London insurance sector following the pandemic, there have been new entrants to the market since COVID-19 related risks have been excluded from policies. While insurers’ interest in covering virtual events is slowly growing, and no wording for this type of risk has been formerly approved, coverage of digital events could be based on a standard cancellation wording with additional coverage extensions:

  • Cyber risk

The policy could indemnify the assured for the loss in case the event has to be cancelled, abandoned, postponed, interrupted, curtailed or relocated as a result of a cyber incident that involves a computer system that is owned or operated by the insured, any participant or any other party.

  • Transmission failure extension 

The policy could indemnify the assured against losses arising from the inability to provide the transmission of the event as a result of the failure or malfunctioning of any necessary facilities (satellite, communication links, power supply and equipment necessary for the proper fulfilment of the transmission). 

For further information, please contact: 

Andy Thompson, Senior Vice President, Accident, Health, Sports and Contingency

T: +44 (0)20 7933 2970 | E: (opens a new window)