For the live events industry last year, three quarters were totally lost due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The sector's revenue fell from Rs 8,300 crore in 2019 to Rs 2,700 crore last year, according to an Ernst and Young (EY) study.
Sadly, the worst is not yet over for the sector, say industry players despondently.
"We did calls with major event companies to discuss the situation and the mood was very sombre as they were yet again, seeing cancellations. Everyone is staring at an absolute write-off for the year. We don't expect recovery even in the second half of the year. The current situation is this: whatever reserves people had has been utilized in the last nine months. Now, no reserves are left," Roshan Abbas, President, Event & Entertainment Management Association (EEMA) told Moneycontrol.
Anil Makhija, COO - Live Entertainment & Venues, BookMyShow, concurs. He notes that the second wave of the pandemic is a hiccup in the recovery cycle for the out-of-home entertainment sector and has changed the outlook for the industry in the country.
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He adds that due to the rising cases of coronavirus and the COVID-19 curbs, the on-ground event calendar has been severely impacted. "Several physical events have been cancelled with most of them now being hosted online to cater to the audiences’ entertainment needs while retaining a safe and secure experience," says Makhija.
Points out Shreyas Srinivasan, CEO of Paytm Insider: "We had a few on-ground events in Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, and Goa. As of now, we have no on-ground events listed across the country and we’re also advising people to stay safe at home."
Ground events were gaining traction
The uncertainty due to COVID-19 comes at a time when the industry was seeing some recovery.
"What happened was October onwards, the industry was limping back to work. And then between January-March, a decent amount of activity had started happening. Corporate events had started off and social events had begun to recover," says Abbas.
According to Makhija, after the lockdown restrictions were eased last year, the audience response for out-of-home entertainment experiences started on a positive note.
"The pent-up demand for these events led to an average occupancy of 70 percent for an event with 50 percent capacity guidelines, as permitted by the government. The capacity of these events ranged between 200-1,000 attendees," he adds.
Markets like Goa, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad saw strong traction for on-ground events. "Comedy was the most preferred genre amid audiences with several on-ground shows selling out, closely followed by live DJ gigs and band performances," says Makhija.
Srinivasan points out that over the past few months, they saw many international techno and house acts make their way to Goa, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. "Our open-air music property --Live At DLF Avenue saw artists like Ritviz, Peter Cat and Seedhe Maut perform live," he says, adding of course that it was still a long way to go for physical events to reach pre-COVID levels.
And this is why all eyes are once again on virtual events.
All eyes back on virtual events
While Abbas expressed concern for players who are waiting for ground events to come back as there is no work in the market, he said that the only opportunity available now is with those doing digital events.
Hence, companies like BookMyShow, Paytm Insider and Zee Live, whichis the live entertainment and IP vertical of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, are all geared up to offer more virtual events.
In fact, Swaroop Banerjee, COO and Business Head, ZEE LIVE says that the company's focus is on hybrid events.
Banerjee provides an example of a hybrid event. "For Arth, the cultural festival, we had scientists, poets and politicians in Calcutta and Delhi. We had hired a banquet hall and converted it into an entire set. We were live on broadcast, OTT and on Arth's social media handles. There were 75 percent of speakers, who were from multiple locations. We had overseas speakers as well.``
Zee Live for its hybrid events like The Arth or It's a Girl Thing saw three to five thousand concurrent viewership. In addition, both the events saw interest from sponsors like Sunsilk, Gillette, Thailand Tourism, among others.
So, does this mean revenues for virtual events are at par with ground events? Banerjee says no. Earnings through virtual events won’t bring back last year's revenue as it was 88 percent washout in 2020, he explains.
Adding to this, Abbas said that digital events are a fraction of ground events. "If a ground concert used to be Rs one to two crore, a virtual concert is Rs 10-25 lakh."
Yet, Banerjee remains confident about online events as according to him, the size of an online event can match the size of a ground event in the near future. Plus, investments for an online event are 1/10th of a ground event, he adds.
This is why Zee Live will be launching Streams business, which will include pay per view events in categories, including music, comedy and poetry involving both Indian and international artistes. The company is also planning to launch special projects, that has live content around large scale properties like CommonWealth Games.
As for BookMyShow, after hosting 6,400 virtual events between April to December last year, of which over 80 percent were ticketed events and more than 2, 33,200 consumers had registered and bought tickets, the focus is back on virtual events, explains Makhija.
Similarly, Paytm Insider that hosted over 25,000 digital events last year, of which over 75 percent were paid events, ``will continue to stay focused on delivering the full scale and experience of what a digital event could be in the upcoming year," said Srinivasan.
Along with virtual events, Abbas said that another hope is collaborations with other countries for live events.
"Companies are saying that they can start working in places where vaccination has taken place. The UK and US believe that by May this year they will be fully vaccinated. We can look at collaborations and we are already in talks with Dubai," he adds. Hope, happily, is eternal even in these devastating times.