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Virgin Utilita Arena


In an alternate timeline, we would all be enjoying the tail-end of another magical summer, having laughed and danced in muddy fields enjoying live experiences with friends and strangers alike! Instead, in the UK at least, we’ve been cautiously moving out of lockdown with many events as we know them, a distant vision. But there’s some good news; promoters and events businesses have been innovating and controlled outdoor events have begun to take place again. There's a human need for these shared moments of connection, so in this panel we discuss the return of IRL live experiences, how we can make the most of the current possibilities under Covid, and what the future of ‘live’ will look like.

For this discussion FRUKT's Head of Live Fran Martin was joined by Secret Cinema's Head of Marketing Ayomi Rupasinghe,Percolate Music's Managing Director Simon Denby, and Engine No 4 Director Jon Drape. All have been busy bringing new event platforms to life and brought insights and opinions on the current state of play as well as what’s next for live experiences.

Here is just a selection of the things we learned: 

Audiences are responding positively: It’s been a challenging time for many, so the prospect of IRL experiences returning, albeit in different guises than we’re used to, has be welcomed enthusiastically.

“The audiences have been great and feedback has been fantastic; they’re delighted to be in a field listening to live music” – Jon Drape, Engine No 4

Variety of event models to consider: From distanced outdoor shows (Virgin Money Unity Arena) to drive-into and similar experiences (Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience) and unique venue takeovers (Brixton Courtyard and Escape to Freight Island). All are being explored and refined and each have their own opportunities or challenges. For some, a high audience capacity/density feels integral but it’s not always the case. Think throughput vs. dwell time or using time allocated slots to help to ensure people are safely gathering, experiencing and leaving the activation.

Considered layouts come with additional benefits: Experiences that have been designed to comply with current rules include plus points that we can carry over beyond this moment. Improved accessibility and dedicated spaces for groups of friends such as the individual platforms at the Virgin Money Unity Arena have been a welcome feature and add benefits for people including wheelchair users or those with anxiety.

Integrated thinking: There’s an opportunity to do innovative work when we have a clear mindset about live experiences in both the real world and digital spaces. Integrated or hybrid means IRL and online and combining the best of virtual and in-person experiences. Streamland, Percolate’s show with Hot Chip live at Dreamland theme park is a good early example of this – a small IRL audience but streamed globally. The important factor here is that it's live, and less about where it lives.

Embracing new technologies: From Secret Cinema’s Drive-In events using Zoom to connect passengers in different cars and relay them onto the big screen through to Percolate’s use of a drinks order system through customers' phones at Brixton Courtyard meaning no more queuing at the bar. Using these technologies has elevated the IRL experience for the audience.

To get the best return, brands should integrate creatively: Brand partners integrating authentically into live experiences creates a win-win for brand and audience. Adding value in a natural way improves affinity and brand salience. Secret Cinema worked with Häagen-Dazs as a presenting partner for Secret Sofa and the Drive-In events and the brand was integrated into the creative communications for both. The brand has also supported through its own influencer network and content.

“It’s lot more collaborative across the industry with people being more open and it’s a more pleasant working environment. Businesses are up for working together rather than against each other” – Simon Denby, Percolate Music

Sustainability and anti-excess: Millennials and Gen Z-ers were gravitating to sustainable brands before the pandemic, craving an antidote to an excessive consumeristic culture. However, with the disruption has come reflection on priorities that is likely to increase this further still. In retail it comes in the form of peer-to-peer marketplaces like Depop and with live experiences we should consider restraint and avoiding elaborate displays of opulence.

Active brands are getting cut through: As the saying goes, 'fortune favours the brave', and while a lack of certainty is intimidating for some, we have seen that those that supported the new wave of live experiences are getting cut-through and positive attention for their efforts.

“If you can get out there your share of voice is so much higher” - Ayomi Rupasinghe, Secret Cinema

FRUKT’s view

Live experiences have a unique and effective role to play, creating genuine points of connection between brands, fans and talent. Thinking in terms of both IRL and online is key. Integrated experience means creating a meaningful dialogue across both and there is a variety of technology and channel options available that we should harness to amplify live experiences. Brands who want to activate should have the confidence to do so – being aware of and embracing cultural trends.

To find out how we can help you press play in the world of live experience, get in touch with FRUKT’s Head of Entertainment Adam Butters – or Head of Live Fran Martin –