Over the course of the pandemic, broadcast media companies have come to realize that stalling innovation is simply not an option. While before, many of these organizations were slowly edging towards expanding their adoption of technology to enhance viewer experiences, the events of the last year dramatically accelerated these efforts.
In the context of Covid-19, media companies need to help people stay connected during times of social distancing and provide engaging experiences which help viewers break from the monotony of pandemic life. This means championing new formats and tech innovations, especially as consumers are increasingly seeking value in the digital media they consume.
However, driving these new innovations forward will not be in vain once the pandemic is over. On the contrary, new developments which allow people to connect over media content and experience live events—all from a distance—will become commonplace for viewers all over the world.
Let’s dive into how media companies can create meaningful experiences that bring people together when physical gathering is not possible.
Before the pandemic, platforms existed that allowed people in different locations to watch shows and movies together on streaming platforms while chatting via message at the same time. Given all of the socializing time we have missed out on and continue to miss as lockdowns continue in many parts of the world, it’s vital to now push this to the next level.
This means making “social watching” possible on multiple platforms and in multiple ways. For example, media companies can provide viewers of a live sports event with a mobile-friendly platform to send messages, emojis, and voice notes to each other while watching the ups and downs of the game.
These social watching platforms should allow people to choose between connecting with one or two fellow viewers, or entire friendship groups. The tools can work on set-top boxes and mobile devices, with the chatbox appearing on the TV screen while viewers are able to easily type and send messages from their smartphones.
Social watching is ideal for people that usually love watching their favorite drama show, live sports event, a new movie, or old classics with their friends and family, but now can’t do so because of pandemic-induced restrictions. Media companies now have a way to bring people together and allow them to stick to their pre-pandemic social activities, no matter the distance between them.
Existing as a more affordable way to leverage the power of virtual reality, mixed reality experiences are an “in-between”—essentially, the viewer is able to switch back and forth between the virtual world and their regular viewing space. And with affordable, cardboard VR glasses, consumers can jump into any live event, be it their favorite band’s live concert or a football match.
Picture this: You’re watching a live concert on your TV, the band starts to play your favorite song, and the crowd goes wild. You put on your VR glasses, and you’re immediately transported to the gig, with a 360-degree view of the concert stage and the surrounding, jumping crowd. Not only that, but you’ve also got your surround sound system linked up to the platform, making the experience even more sensory.
Some musicians have already been leveraging concerts in the time of Covid, such as Travis Scott, whose live gig held inside the Fortnite game platform garnered 12.3 million concurrent viewers in April 2020. Not only did Scott appear as a holographic avatar, but viewers also enjoyed psychedelic visuals that wouldn’t be possible at a live concert. John Legend also threw his hat into the VR ring last year, performing a VR concert via virtual music platform Wave.
Concerts are far from the only use case for mixed reality home experiences: Just envision the potential with live sports events too.
You’re watching your football team play a crucial match from the comfort of your living room. It’s the last few minutes, and their top striker takes the ball and starts racing towards the goal. The supporters are cheering, and you want part of the action. All you have to do is put on your VR glasses and you immediately get front-row access to the winning goal!
Of course, technology will never replace being there in person, but it can be the next-best-thing when being at the physical event is simply impossible, either due to social distancing or simply because it’s in a different location.
Many media companies considering investing in this technology might be thinking: And what about when things go back to “normal”?
The reality is that the majority of innovations adopted during the pandemic will remain even after vaccines have been totally rolled out and restrictions are lifted. Just consider how convenient it is to get dishes from your favorite restaurant delivered to your home, or how you can now squeeze an online yoga class into your busy day—would you leave behind those opportunities when distancing restrictions disappear?
The same goes for media innovations. There will always be times when people are apart and can’t connect in person—opening up the opportunity for social watching. Not to mention, live events companies can now generate whole new revenue streams by providing a virtual experience to people all around the world who are unable to travel to those places and want to enjoy them from their homes.
This sentiment was echoed by John Sykes, president of entertainment enterprises at iHeartMedia. “There will still be fans going to Madison Square Garden to see Billie Eilish or Elton John or The Weeknd,” said Sykes to CNET.com. "But maybe there'll be an interactive connection element for the fans in the audience. Maybe that show will live on outside the venue through digital streams that have been perfected in the last year."
As many countries turn the corner towards mass vaccination this year, there’s no doubt that people will be rushing back to live music events, sports games, and simply spending time with each other and enjoying their favorite media content. But that doesn’t mean that social watching and mixed reality will fall by the wayside. Just like before the pandemic, there will always be concerts we want to attend and people we want to hang out with but can’t. This is where new innovations come in, and media companies that want a slice of the pie should invest now to meet the viewer demands of today and tomorrow.
Interested in building these innovative features into your media strategy? Get in touch with an intive expert today.