The Rise of Virtual Experiences

The list of canceled and postponed events due to coronavirus grows longer by the day. TV shows that depended on their live audiences are having to do without. Some professional sports are off the calendar entirely, while others have forged ahead and released provisional schedules. Industry conferences and music festivals – once among the most reliably-awaited events in their fields – will miss out on their primetime slots. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Artists, individuals, and brands are finding ways to virtualize what were once in-person experiences and engage with their audiences in new ways. Let’s take a look at some of the ways the entertainment industry at large is continuing to innovate, and the future implications of this new realm for businesses and consumers alike. 

Google’s Time to Shine 

The stay-at-home orders across the world have shown that there is not only an increased demand for virtual entertainment but also a real hunger for new perspectives –  even if it’s from the couch.  Google Arts and Culture, a repository of – you guessed it – art and culture, saw the highest ever traffic in its 9year history this March 

From eager consumers completing scavenger hunts in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and flying through the ruins of a Portuguese castle using augmented reality to watching Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet performed by the English National Ballet, Google has been able to increase the time consumers are spending with its brand and giving partner organizations a platform to do the same. Once again, it’s as if Google knows exactly what we want before we even know ourselves. 

virtual tour

Disney Keeps the Magic Alive 

As Disney’s parks have suffered from their indefinite closures, the company also looked to the tech platform to get in front of consumers. A collaboration between Disney and Google allows users to explore every one of Disney’s U.S.-based parks and attractions, from Epcot to Disneyland using the Street View feature. Street View “Trekkers” wandered around Disney’s parks equipped with Google’s special backpacks. Of course, it’s not the same as exploring the parks yourself, but prospective guests can plan out itineraries and prepare for their in-person visits when the parks reopen.  

Google and its brand partners have shown that they can leverage technology to engage fans under the current circumstances and drive future purchase consideration. These successes can serve as an example to industries such as travel, tourism, and art, which continue to be hit hard by the pandemic. 

Travis Scott Goes Gaming 

Taking a very 2020 approach to the lockdown was rapper Travis Scott. In late April, he hosted a virtual live concert in the popular online video game Fortnite, which drew more than 12 million viewers to the first of his four shows and propelled three of his songs back into the Billboard Top 100. This wasn’t the first virtual concert to take place in the game, but it was the biggest.  


The kind of engagement these events inspire is integral to the strategy of Epic Games, Fornite’s parent company. As the game itself is free to play, all revenue is brought in by in-game purchases of special items and skins (outfits or costumes). Fortnite has less active users than some other games, but has the highest rate of players who actually spend money in-game. This conversion rate pushed Epic Games’s 2019 revenue to an industry-leading $1.8B, proving beyond any doubt the massive potential of purely virtual experiences. 

These virtual concerts on relatively new platforms are a glimpse of a future where once-clear boundaries are blurred between film, gaming, music, product and celebrity. 

virtual concert

Celebrities and influencers rely on platforms for exposure, and the platforms rely on them for advertising revenue and customer engagement. It’s a symbiotic relationship that can help brands and personalities reach new markets through product tie-ins and integrations. This can be anything from the limited time ability to use a lightsaber as a weapon in-game, to a fully choreographed virtual concert. Games like Fortnite have been on the front foot, but we’re still only scratching the surface. 

Apple Takes It Virtual 

Outside of fun and games, B2B and education companies have also had to adapt to the temporary shutdown of physical gatherings. Major conferences such as Apple’s WWDC are longer confined to a physical space. For Apple this means, expanding the scope of its messaging to those who can’t travel to San Jose for the conference or afford the hefty $1,599 price tag. Even for those who did plan to attend, the virtualization does present some advantages such as the elimination of scheduling conflicts and the ability for developers to re-watch the content whenever, as many times as they want. 

virtual conference

However beneficial this free content may be for consumers, virtual events are generally not yet at a place where they bring the same value to attendees as in-person events did. For example, consider the undeniable benefit attendees see in networking at events like this, the joining of the best and brightest in one place – something that may be worth the price tag alone for some. From ticket sales to sponsorship deals, this results in a loss of profit for brands.  

As this space continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see how brands pursue new opportunities to raise the value of their events, potentially to a point where consumers will be willing to pay an “entrance” fee to attend. 

To reach a truly global audience, brands must also take into account the localization of their offerings  everything from language to culture appropriateness needs to be considered. Consumers don’t just appreciate experiences targeted to them in their own language they often require it to attend and engage. For example, creating Spanish captions for a virtual video conference in English opens up a market of over half a billion Spanish speakers. Localization is more than just a courtesy, it’s a necessary component of any marketing strategy. It’s an opportunity too good – and too easy – to miss out on.  

The last few months of upheaval have accelerated changes that were already in motion. We are at a turning point that offers great opportunity, and choices made now will shape the future to come. It’s not so much a simple case of “out with the old and in with the new” as a time to re-imagine the possibilities available to us. 

If you have a project that would benefit from our boutique approach to localization, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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