Covid Normal: The Popularity of Immersive Experiences
June 4, 2021
The Centers for Disease Control recently updated outdoor safety recommendations for vaccinated individuals. Some cities or states also might be relaxing guidelines as more individuals get vaccinated and Covid cases decrease. The entertainment industry may be ready for normalcy to return, as theaters and concert venues and other entertainment and cultural institutions either closed to the public or limited capacity.
The popularity of immersive experiences like virtual reality likely increased in popularity during Covid (and even now), as the public needed safe forms of entertainment and venues needed to stay afloat. Virtual concerts and virtual tours and experiences continue to be offered, but what will the future hold for these immersive and alternative entertainment options? Has Covid changed the entertainment industry for good?
Covid Pummels Entertainment
When Covid hit the United States, many businesses that weren’t essential closed their doors to the public. For entertainment venues, restaurants, theaters and museums and other cultural venues, the halt in visitors meant finding other ways to stay financially secure. While some might have qualified for government assistance through relief programs like PPP, many also might have turned to alternative ways to continue to offer services to the public…safely.
A pivot to online experiences became popular. Museums offered virtual tours or maybe even online classes; this helped them reach out to the public, and it also provided entertainment options to individuals stuck at home.
Musicians and performance venues might have felt the full force of the shutdown. Some musicians hosted online concerts for fans. Others might have struggled.
Movie theaters were hit hard. The Motley Fool reported that several smaller movie theaters shut down permanently because of Covid. And there is no telling how the future will look, or if people will want to congregate in masses in theaters even after Covid. The public might be spoiled with being able to pay for movies at home and enjoy them on the couch…without the pricey snacks.
Streaming, Virtual Reality and Wired World of Entertainment
While Americans and individuals across the globe were sitting at home, they needed to find ways to pass their time…when they weren’t working from home. Obviously, trips to museums and theaters were out of the picture. But the internet was full of possibilities.
Entertainment went wired; it streamed, augmented and went virtual. Movie theaters might have been zapped of revenue, but streaming services were racking up subscribers. Netflix surged. And so did other subscription streaming services.
For the first time, new movies—those once anticipated for the big screen—could be premiered at home with a price much lower than a few movie tickets. Concessions were in the pantry or fridge. Have to go to the bathroom? The movie could be paused and restarted at the viewer’s convenience. There were no cell phones ringing. No kicks to the back of the chair. No chatty kids.
What about museums? They might have been closed to foot traffic, but visitors still had options. Virtual reality played a role in recreating the in-person experience at home. Some virtual experiences could have required a headset, but most were fully accessible online. Virtual didn’t necessarily translate to entering a virtual world (like with a headset) but simply experiencing a venue remotely.
Museums like the Louvre and even historic locations like the Sistine Chapel let visitors take tours online at home. Navigation through the locations could be done with a mouse or maybe by touching the screen (if the user was on a tablet).
Other museums might have offered guided virtual tours where a staff member took the viewer around the museum with the aid of a camera. This was a bit like a remote walking tour.
There were (and are) virtual tours of historic locations and cultural landmarks, too. Some were uploaded to YouTube by sites or maybe by visitors. Even from home, individuals could take a walking tour of The Great Wall of China, tour Buckingham Palace (from the BBC), or even virtually visit the Pyramids of Giza.
Virtual concerts didn’t necessarily involve headsets or anything high-tech, beyond, of course, an internet connection and a device. Usually concerts were live streamed and could be watched on different sites or platforms. They might require tickets, although some were free.
Virtual concerts or live streaming concerts are still popular. In fact, Billboard compiled a list of all the upcoming concerts for those who want to watch their favorite artists perform. The list is updated periodically.
Exploring the World with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
The pandemic also ushered in other types of immersive experiences to help students at home during Covid, and, hopefully, make learning from home a bit more exciting. There were apps that students could use to snap photos of flora and fauna in nature to find out more about them (including identification). Other apps like Skyview Lite allowed users to use their phone to look at the night sky for constellation information. Skyview will even find satellites!
Immersive Shopping Experiences
Retail businesses also embraced immersive virtual experiences. Before Covid, many businesses already had an online presence. However, the pandemic likely made online visibility and accessibility much more important to survival.
While not everyone was shopping for items beyond the essential, some consumers might have taken solace in scrolling through clothes or other items. Consumers might have jumped online to find casual clothes for the new work-from-home normal, too.
For the automotive industry, online shopping really was not the norm before Covid. The shift to online car shopping for the consumer, though, probably wasn’t so new. Many car buyers used online resources to begin their car shopping experiences; in 2019, Cox Automotive reported that “Third-party sites are the top online source for both new and used buyers, with 80% of all car buyers visiting them during the shopping process.”
During the pandemic, shoppers headed online to save time, too. According to an article by Kelley Blue Book that cited the “Car Buyer Journey Study, Pandemic Edition from Cox Automotive (which is KBB’s parent company):” “A total of 86 percent said they shopped online to save time at the dealership, during the pandemic.”
Third-party sites, however, also might have improved their own content during the pandemic. Sites like RelayCars offered virtual and augmented reality showrooms that shoppers could use to preview their favorite cars before heading to the dealership. Virtual showrooms could be accessed via headset and an app available on Steam or just a regular device (via an app).
While the virtual showroom provided cars in an online or virtual space, the augmented showroom gave users quite a different experience. Cars could be dropped into the user’s own space. This could be the driveway, a kitchen table or even the backyard. The car was visible via the device and the user could walk around the vehicle, look inside and update the car with a different paint hue.
Immersive Experiences After the Pandemic
While the pandemic is starting to subside as more individuals get vaccinated, the old normal could still be a distance away. The pandemic changed life abruptly, and some of these changes might just stick around.
When life re-opens and gatherings can be held without worry (and without social distancing and masks), people may once again flock to concerts and festivals and even enjoy a movie. But will immersive experiences just die down?
What the future holds remains to be seen. Some people might not feel comfortable being in big groups. Others may welcome normalcy. But virtual and augmented reality and the experiences they provide might continue to be embraced. The pandemic might have opened up a virtual world to those who had never experienced it. When virtual and online experiences were the norm, perhaps those bored at home sought them out…when they might not have done so before Covid.
Virtual and augmented reality experiences may continue to flourish and be in demand. And consumers might like the idea of buying a ticket to a virtual event. Maybe virtual seats will be offered in the future. Perhaps concerts allow people to watch at home with a virtual ticket. But instead of just a television performance, maybe the experience is somehow more immersive. Maybe it’s even augmented. Place the musician anywhere!
Unfortunately, no one really knows how normal will look after the pandemic. Things may go back to pre-Covid normalcy, or the world could become an interesting mix of real-life and virtual experiences. Before Covid, online shopping wasn’t new. However, the pandemic may have allowed consumers to realize that these online channels can decrease the time they spend finding the perfect item, especially when shopping for a new car.
Virtual tourism also could become a trend. Virtual tours could provide accessibility to sites that some individuals couldn’t experience because of financial or other reasons. Maybe museums and cultural venues continue to offer these experiences as a means to reach a wider audience.
As restrictions start to subside, we may soon understand how normal will look and if the public is breathing a sigh of relief from an unmasked face or still continuing to err on the side of caution six feet away. Old habits die hard, and life after Covid might be a mixture of relief and uncertainty.