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Events Post-Pandemic

Gig
05 February 2021
 

With Boris Johnson set to reveal his roadmap for the reopening of non-essential services in Britain and the recovery of our economy, what should the FM industry be considering for live event opportunities this year in all eventualities?

The entertainment and social industries have been some of the worst affected by the pandemic. Cancellations and announcements of postponing spread fast from the point of initial lockdown in March 2020, and have even been reiterated and rolled over from 2021 now into 2022. It was difficult to predict the profound effect this would have on so many organisations and collaborations, directly and indirectly for the foreseeable future – however, several successful studies and event examples provide hopeful blueprints for safe management.

 


 

"We hope others follow suit in bringing innovative music experiences back to the UK"

 

– Louise Hodges
Head of Consumer Communications, Virgin Money

 

Navigating the Risks

 

As more has been learnt about transmission of COVID-19, the risks of holding gatherings and events have been re-addressed. The main principles of protection have been consistent across most industries and this has been no exception – a focus on hygiene, masks and structured social distancing was necessary for their reintroduction.

As the first lockdown restrictions were eased in summer 2020, some events were allowed to take place at lower capacity. This was not practical for many venues that would not break even on such numbers. Theatres and cinemas reopened with a two metre distance requirement that was problematic for the natural set up of the venues as illustrated below by Admit One for the BBC, meaning that they could not even fathomably accomodate 50 per cent capacity, the maximum allowed. Construction of such spaces from 2021 is likely to incorporate a more flexible design in due to the anticipation of future pandemics.

 

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Low-preparation, low-capacity seated music events with quick bookings became the most popular model for operation in parallel with new rules of socialising with a group of six outside the household, allowing for these pre-determined support bubbles to book tables at outdoor and indoor events. These were often only made possible because there were so many local performers and technicians desperate for work, and because pubs were looking for ways to increase their business and encourage the return of customers. In order to keep such occasions from spiralling out of control, there has often been a reduced decibel limit alongside stifling personal restrictions such as bans on standing, singing and dancing. These table rules and the measured distance auditorium plans were were later assigned to Tier 1 and 2 areas, where only drive-in events such as tailored cinema were permitted for Tier 3.

 

"Socially distanced events also need to put more emphasis on food collaborations. If you're going to sit down for a long session, you need good food to justify the expense and match the emotive sense-of-occasion of being reunited with friends.”

 

– Tosh Ohta
Head of Client Development, Amplify
 

Speaking to Campaign Live in September 2020, Tosh Ohta Head of Client Development at Amplify, spoke about the change of direction this caused for the conduct of the events themselves.

“Now that DJs have to play music at lower volumes to discourage shouting, they're revealing a different side of the music they play,” he said.

“This shift from outright club belters to more a listening selection is heaven for music trainspotters – and it's an opportunity we might not have once social distancing finally disappears.

"Now that we're chained to trestle tables listening to lower volumes, it's crucial that promoters ensure even distribution of sound throughout the venue, with no seating in blackspots.

"Socially distanced events also need to put more emphasis on food collaborations. If you're going to sit down for a long session, you need good food to justify the expense and match the emotive sense-of-occasion of being reunited with friends.”

 

Indoor Events Can be Low Risk

 

Since the first information about coronavirus' transmission was made public knowledge, it has seemed reasonable to most that gathering indoors can be dangerous for infection rates even with safety measures. On the contrary, “concert halls and theatres are not places of infection,” said Dr Raphael von Hoensbroech, director of Konzerthaus Dortmund, as per IQ Magazine. “The past few months have shown that politics needs a scientifically sound basis for decision-making. With our study, we want to ensure that concert halls and theatres may again admit sufficient audiences when they reopen.” 

The three day research carried out at his 1500-seat Konzerthaus in Germany has evidentially revealed that there is minimal risk of COVID-19 being transmitted at a properly managed indoor venue.

This seconds the findings of a separate experiment by Halle University which saw music fans attending three successive gigs held by German pop singer Tim Bendzko in August. That first study found that transmission is low so long as attendees follow correct hygiene procedures and the venue limits capacity, with good ventilation prioritised. In one Konzerthaus scenario, jet nozzles blasted fresh air throughout the building, as an example of the effect that intuitive facilities management can have on optimising the environment.

Going a step further to attempt reassurance, the 100 Club in London is trialing a brand new installation by Pathogen Reduction Systems (PRS) to reduce transmission risk. The air filtration utility uses UVC light, which deactivates viruses and bacteria to stop them replicating. As well as COVID-19, UVC light also inactivates other airborne pathogens including MRSA, measles and the common flu. PRS hope that the technology can be used in conjunction with current procedures and the vaccine to allow many venues better chances of reopening sooner.

 

Larger Scale Production

 

"There's a huge risk for organisers that they'll spend an awful lot of money and then see their events being cancelled for reasons completely outside of their control"

 

– Emily Eavis
Co-Organiser, Glastonbury

 

The Facilities Show is one of the biggest business events in the UK that is currently planning to go ahead this summer. It is also the world's largest dedicated facilities management event and will be run in line with the industry recognised and government-approved AllSecure standard, to ensure attendee safety. AllSecure was piloted in September 2020 and approved by the UK Government on 19 November 2020 as a model for running large events safely. It involves several health and safety measures, including deep cleaning, social distancing on-site, staggered arrival times and PPE, such as face masks. 


Most festivals have had their continued organisation aided by ticket holders that have not requested refunds, instead opting to roll on their admission to the 2021. As many big festivals have cancelled this year, the same may be true for 2022. Glastonbury is the biggest festival in the UK and it’s no surprise that they have already been forced to cancel in 2021. The immense, complicated network of facilities management and the long construction process that is involved in hosting such an event simply cannot function with the possibility of being forced to cancel at the last minute.

"There's a huge risk for organisers that they'll spend an awful lot of money and then see their events being cancelled for reasons completely outside of their control," Glastonbury's Emily Eavis told the BBC.

"And when those events go down, a huge number of jobs and livelihoods will disappear again too."

John Giddings, organiser and agent for the Isle of White Festival, spoke to NME in May 2020 about the decision to cancel their festival last year.

“You might release people out of lockdown, but do they want to congregate with a load of other people before a vaccine? And do they have any money to buy a ticket? A lot of people are out of work and would rather buy food. It’s a frightening scenario.”

On the practicalities of running things safely, he was doubtful due to the nature of the entertainment sector.


“Once you give someone a couple of drinks, they’ll start having the best time with all these people. With social distancing you can only fit 15 people on a double decker bus, how is that economically viable? It’s the same for festivals.

"We pay a million pounds in policing and security for the Isle Of Wight Festival already. How would it be possible to enforce people standing two metres apart? I just can’t see it.”

What’s clear is that those wanting to plan such events in the near future will need to accommodate for a larger security budget. For the sake of other festivals, Giddings called for more “proper direction” from the government on how future restrictions may impact the events industry. “In many European countries, they’ve said there will be no mass gatherings until September 1. Judging by what’s happened so far, I can’t see our government being specific about it,” he said.

Admitting that a great many festivals would face “serious financial trouble”, Gidding said there was also the danger of an “overpopulation of events” in 2021 due to this many of this year’s being postponed. In turn, he argued that all festivals would be at long term risk unless the picture dramatically improves before next summer.

“If everything’s not OK by next year then we’re all out of business,” he concluded. “We can survive one year, but not two. I feel for a lot of people in trouble. Still, I remain optimistic. When times are hard, people turn to entertainment.”

 

Successful Events During the Pandemic

 

"The idea that the festivals can't go ahead and be socially-distanced is inaccurate"

 

– Rowan Cannon
Director, Wild Rumpus


In 2020, there were several examples of pioneering workarounds that allowed for some grateful contracts to go ahead. An electronic music festival with 1000 attendees was run in the Czech Republic at a time when most of Europe was unable to participate in such celebrations. Renegade Festival only required people to wear masks while inside, present at the only stage that was not open-air.

"In these strange times, to get out here to this beautiful location, playing for these energetic and happy people was really awesome, as well as catching up with friends backstage," said Rene from Black Sun Empire, "I hope these things can happen safely in other places soon." In the UK, no such free-movement event opportunities were yet enabled by the coronavirus guidance. 
 

Rowan Cannon, director of festival organisers Wild Rumpus, thinks that there’s good chance that smaller festivals could return this summer. Speaking to the House of Commons Culture Select Committee, she noted that the 5000 person strong festivals she organises – Just So in Cheshire and Timber in South Derbyshire – could easily protect their audiences amid the pandemic.

"The idea that the festivals can't go ahead and be socially-distanced is inaccurate," she said. However preparing for the chance that this may not be permitted regardless has also been top of the agenda. An appeal backed by 100 industry figures has been written by MPs to the chancellor, requesting an insurance scheme to protect live music. Many events take a lot of planning, contingencies and insurance considerations. This addresses the quantity of contracts in need of fallback and financial reassurance to even begin preparations for summer events.

"Without insurance, the events we know and love simply won't take place this year," the DCMS committee said. "Sustaining losses like those we've seen in 2020 for another year isn't an option, and hundreds of businesses... have already been forced to fold," the letter continued.

"The government has backed insurance for the film and television industry to the tune of £500 million. It's now time to do this for other creative industries."

 

The Virgin Money Unity Arena 

 

Multi-industry leader Virgin was able to create a stadium experience while ensuring attendees maintained the rules. The Virgin Money Unity Arena was the first of its kind in the UK, a dedicated social distanced music venue in central Newcastle, providing an example for how productions could be managed if financially viable. The demand for such experiences is extremely high now with options so limited – consequently there is a financial opportunity, and saving grace for the industry if safety bases can be carefully covered.

“We're firm believers in music having the power to transform moods and, while many festivals remain cancelled and venues are unable to open due to restrictions, music continues to be very much alive for us," said Louise Hodges, Head of Consumer Communications at Virgin Money. "The Virgin Money Unity Arena is a monumental step forward for the live music industry, and we hope others follow suit in bringing innovative music experiences back to the UK."

“A key take-out off the back of the concert series is around consumer enthusiasm and co-operation – people are desperate to return to normality and enjoy experiences in person and with friends, and so attendees have been respectful of the health-and-safety measures implemented on-site and have been following social-distancing rules and government guidelines.

“In terms of making the event Covid-19 secure, we have a cleverly thought-out system, which sees people from the same household arrive at the venue via staggered arrival times, take a short walk down to the Virgin Money Unity Arena and watch the live show from the comfort of their own personal viewing platform. All viewing areas are placed at least two metres apart from one another, with food and drinks available for pre-order. One person from each platform is able to access the food and drink stalls and/or the toilet at any one time. Everything you could think of has been carefully considered to ensure everyone on site is protected and safe while enjoying the live shows.”


Virtual Reality

 

The pandemic saw a massive shift towards remote working and online marketing. New forms of conferencing and networking from home have been vital for industries to regroup and collaborate on initiatives for moving forwards. In January this year we hosted the facilities and workplace management channel Workplace Excellence for a revolutionary property industry event, as a prime example. Re:Connect by Unissu was a 33-hour, live and on-demand, global digital event spanning all time zones. It saw 400+ videos from contributors in over 20 countries and 53 days' worth of content was viewed by more than 3,500 people worldwide. 

We were lucky enough to hear from professionals from the world of AI, sustainability and even robotics in construction – and due to the benefit of keeping internet record, sessions are now available to watch on-demand, at a time that suits you. The call for new speakers is on as we prepare to host an evolved channel for their next event in the series.

Virtual events have become a saturated field, but many successful video and audio streams have raised impressive figures for adaptive companies and supported charities. Many people have access to a high standard of technology for a sensory experience at home, with high quality screens and speakers or headphones becoming commonplace. 

V-Festival, which in its heyday attracted crowds of 170,000 across two sites in Essex and Staffordshire, returned this year as a one-off digital event in August and was livestreamed as a three-part television special from the original festival site at Hylands Park in Chelmsford, Essex. Stars headlining at the event were Olly Murs, Dizzee Rascal and Anne-Marie.

Commercial eco-friendly cleaning company, Priority Support Services, was hired by TwoFour Broadcast Ltd to manage the temporary structures at the event as well as the cleaning of Hylands House, a neo-classical villa situated on the Hylands Estate.

Owner and Director of Priority Support Services, Tony White, explained: “One of the key elements of the job was to clean Hylands House where the production crew, celebrities and other VIPs were staying. It was critical that the right cleaning products were used which would protect the furnishings and flooring in particular. It was critical the owners of the Hylands Estate knew exactly what was in the products being used.

“It was an exciting challenge to ensure production crews, performers, TV presenters, security personnel and our own staff were safe and secure and knew we were in control of all cleaning and deep cleaning requirements for the event.

“The event comprised two days of setting up, building the stage and TV podiums. This was followed by two days of filming and a final day taking down and removing all evidence of the film set complete with full size stage, presenters’ areas, kitchens, a restaurant area and, of course, washroom and toilet facilities."

It's no surprise then to think hybrid events that see a production team and a regulated audience paired with a wider reaching broadcast, could be set to become popular as restrictions ease. One of the biggest vacant elements of a recorded performance at the moment is the audience at the scene that psychologically encourage emotional reaction in the viewer at home, like canned laughter in a situtional comedy show. The considerations for facilitating two types of event simultaneously are numerous, but taking on board experience from the last year, this is temporarily one of the best ways to support the industry and customers through both services facing redundancy and newly energised mediums.

Picture: a live music event.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 05 February 2021

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