It’s time to reverse the location-based entertainment model. If audiences can no longer come to you, why not go to them?
An existential threat
In COVID-19 and the provisions being put in place to minimise its impact, the location-based entertainment industry is facing a challenge unlike any it has ever faced before. Organisations under the ‘LBE’ label may be incredibly varied, from museums to crazy golf, theme parks to shopping centres, but their business models all share a fundamental characteristic: large volumes of people arriving physically at their premises to spend time and, in most cases, money. As the Coronavirus crisis forces one after another to close their doors, they face a genuinely existential threat.Despite all of the sensible, sober official communications that share lines like ‘abundance of caution’, ‘factors beyond our control’ and ‘closed for the foreseeable future’, behind the scenes there is, understandably, panic. The reality is that no one knows when they will be able to open again, how long it will take for public confidence to be restored, and whether or not this could spell the end, for some locations at least.
But is shutting up shop the only option? Physically, yes. But digitally? Perhaps not. The undeniable fact for LBE is that people can no longer come to you. So why not go to them?
Reverse the model
Technology has reached a point where it can enable the kinds of experiences that were unimaginable only a few years ago. More than 95% of UK households now have at least one smart device, and organisations with a dash of creative ingenuity can harness this to deliver immersive experiences in the home that maintain – or even deepen – the relationships we have with LBE organisations at a time when we are unable to visit them in person.
The so-called experience economy is characterised by the increasing desire to get out, go to places and enjoy doing more, all of which is ideal for LBE. That desire hasn’t gone away, but for the next few weeks and months – at least – we won’t be able to physically act on it. Instead there will be parents whose kids are climbing the walls; child-free housemates, couples and empty-nesters watching their 10th box-set of the day; all crying out for interesting ways to occupy their time and scratch that ‘experiential’ itch. Which is where the LBE organisations we know and love could step in, with a little help from immersive tech – the most experiential digital technologies around.Museums and other heritage organisations could develop experiences that entertain families with their astonishing stories from history. Visitor attractions could design fun, on-brand digital experiences that put smiles on faces when they are needed the most. Sports teams and administrators could create and promote next generation e-sports that keep fans engaged by moving beyond the 2D screens of consoles and PCs and into the three-dimensional environments of their homes and local areas.
Resigning to the fact that no visitors equals no business is understandable for LBE but it is premature and, quite possibly, wrong. Necessity is the mother of invention, and it is just possible that, with a bit of vision, creativity and determination, the biggest crisis in memory could offer an opportunity to create greater levels of audience engagement than ever before.