The Future of entertainment

Words by Katie Puckett

the future of entertainment in neon lighting

Welcome to a world of 24/7 stadiums, shape-shifting sports pitches, alternative-reality theme parks, and tours by dead rock stars. It’s going to be one hell of a ride …

Experiences are the new stuff.

How do you spend your downtime? In a digital, on-demand world, the choices are almost infinite. We can tap into any kind of entertainment whenever we want, from anywhere. YouTube users watch 1 billion hours of video every day,[1] Spotify users can stream more than 50 million songs,[2] Netflix subscribers can surf 1,569 television programmes and 4,010 films,[3] and Twitch’s 4 million monthly streamers produce content for an average of 51,400 live channels at once.[4] But doesn’t watching on your own get lonely?

It seems that it does: in this atomized space, live communal experiences have become more valued than ever. And the more of the world we see on a screen, the more we want to go and explore it. Clutter is out, memories are in. Consumer data shows that people are spending less on “stuff” in favour of travel, dining out — and events.

“Everyone thought that digital would cannibalize live events. But the more time people spend on social media, the greater their desire for one-off experiences”

Chris Lee, Populous

Even gamers are going out. More than 23,000 esports fans went to the League of Legends World Championship Finals at Incheon Munhak Stadium, South Korea in October 2018, and 174,000 fans attended two weekends of esports tournaments at ESL One in Katowice, Poland in March 2019.

“Reality gaming” is growing too, in the form of escape rooms, immersive problem-solving games where teams work together to escape against the clock. The first opened in Japan in 2007, and the phenomenon has since spread across Asia, North America and Europe. There were approximately two dozen escape room facilities in the US at the end of 2014. By mid 2018, there were more than 2,300.[5]

Thrills, spills and roller coasters

2018 was an eighth record year of growth for Live Nation, the world’s largest live events company. 2019 promises to be another. Ticket sales were up by 16% in the first half, with its concerts expected to draw nearly 100 million fans worldwide [6]

In an average week in 2018, sports events across the world attracted cumulative attendances of 42 million people [7]

In 2017, a record 1.1 billion thrill-seekers went to theme parks around the world, spending US$44.8 billion [8]

“The more we’re able to do at home, the more we crave going out, being with people we care about and doing something hopefully a little extraordinary”

Craig Hanna, Thinkwell

It’s not just to have something cool to put on your Instagram feed … In 2018, Live Nation, surveyed 22,500 13-49 year olds across 11 countries:

66% said they were “starving for experiences that put them back in touch with real people and raw emotions”

71% said “the moments that give me the most life are live experiences”

73% agreed with the statement: “Now, more than ever, I want to experience real rather than digital life”

Midnight Ride, a dirt-bike adventure complete with VR wolves at Thinkwell’s Lionsgate Entertainment World in Hengqin, China
The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride, a dirt-bike adventure complete with VR wolves at Thinkwell’s Lionsgate Entertainment World in Hengqin, China. Image: Thinkwell Group

4D flying theatre experience
Don’t look down  … Green Lantern: Galactic Odyssey starts off as a planetarium show, before riders are thrust into an immersive “4D flying theatre experience”, suspended in front of a 38m half-dome screen while their senses are bombarded with computer animations, wind, scents and mist. It was designed by Thinkwell Group, and is one of the most popular attractions at Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi. Photo: Thinkwell Group

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You won’t believe your eyes: a screen on every surface, holograms and AR

There are no more captive audiences. The market for our time, money and attention is an incredibly competitive one, and it’s stalked by a constant Fear Of Missing Out. If you go to one event, what aren’t you experiencing elsewhere? Even when you’re there, there are constant distractions, reminders that there is a world of other possibilities … Hosts might manage to tempt people through the doors, but how can they hold their attention?

Maybe we should stop trying so hard, says Craig Hanna, chief creative officer at Thinkwell, creator of some of the world’s largest and most successful theme parks and destination resorts. “I’ve been to so many seminars in the leisure sector about how we have to keep people from using their phones. But we can’t assume we’re ever going to compete with that device so we have to make it seamless to the experience.”

Technology is a tool rather than a starting point, says Hanna. “A lot of our experiences are heavily laden with incredibly sophisticated technology, but most of it is invisible to the guest.” Take the Scooby Doo and the Museum of Mysteries attraction at Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, a ghost train or dark ride where you board the Mystery Machine van to explore a haunted mansion. “The ride system is trackless, so as designers we are not bound by the linear nature of a track and can play games with the vehicle’s motion and capability. When Fred says, ‘Let’s split up and look for clues!’ the vehicles actually split up — something you can’t do in a tracked ride. We use this to enhance the story and create something unexpected, but at no time is the ride marketed as ‘an innovative trackless dark ride’. It’s simply a family dark ride that takes guests through an episodic structure and then surprises them.”

“The digital world has transformed buildings. They’re huge billboards, they’re interactive machines”

Albert Paquette, Architecture49

Your favourite dead stars — LIVE!

It used to take many, many hours of programming to create even a short segment of hologram. But more powerful processors and algorithms are increasingly able to take on the computational heavy lifting, enabling longer, more detailed, more realistic shows. At the League of Legends championship in Incheon, South Korea in 2019, a virtual band made up of game characters debuted their new song live on stage alongside real-life artists — so real, the holograms even had reflections on the shining floor surface. Holograms are now selling out arenas in the guise of music legends such as Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Maria Callas, with Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and Frank Zappa all set to be digitally resurrected.

hologram of a singer on stage

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Hanna believes that augmented reality (AR) will play an enormous role in dazzling the visitors of the future, in combination with artificial intelligence and wireless, low-power wearable devices. “AR has absolutely the greatest opportunity to transform location-based entertainment, the possibilities are really extraordinary. If a guest could wear a piece of technology that allows an attraction to track me, to know what I do, know how many times I’ve done it and communicate that back to staff, then the entire place could become more like Westworld than we could imagine.”

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is already doing this to some degree with its phone app. “When I go to get a drink after I’ve had a great run in the Millennium Falcon, the guy who serves me my blue milk might say, ‘Hey, I heard you made a Kessel Run in three parsecs’. That’s magic, and it puts me in the experience in a very cinematic way. That’s how immersive people are expecting future experiences to be.”

real and holographic dancers perform together at the League of Legends championship in Incheon, South Korea
Spot the difference: real and holographic dancers perform together at the League of Legends championship in Incheon, South Korea. Image: Riot Games

So how far are we from a real-life Westworld? The 1973 film about a no-limits immersive theme park is now whetting the appetites of a new generation as an HBO TV series. In the real world, it is rumoured that Disney World’s new Star Wars-themed hotel will have no windows, only video screens, notes Hanna. “If I’m constantly looking out at space and spaceships, that gets pretty close to a sense of being there.”

Not every technology is advancing as fast: “Obviously, we’re not going to have artificially intelligent, human-like robots populating this place in our lifetimes.” But maybe we don’t need them: “AR can certainly create something pretty close. If people have glasses on, you can populate that entire world with sentient creatures that only appear in your overlay.”

“Virtual and augmented reality will be a paradigm shift in how people watch games”

Jay Wratten, WSP

For sports fans, there are a dizzying array of possible applications, just coming on stream.“We’ll start to see video feeds that give you the chance to experience the game from different perspectives, even when you’re sitting in the arena,” says Jay Wratten, sport sector lead at WSP in the US.

Or why not “sit” somewhere completely different? “Imagine if there were cameras around the ground, converting the action into a live VR version of the game,” says Peter Chipchase, director at WSP in London. “Say you’re sat in the back row and you can’t really see what’s going on, you could watch the digitized version on a VR headset but still feel the atmosphere. Or you could fly down and be in the middle of the action.”

With 5G connectivity, millions will take part in a single event. Theoretically 100 times faster than 4G and coming soon, 5G not only enables the transmission of information-rich, realistic experiences in real-time, it dramatically reduces the latency or lag in two-way connections.

  • The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea offered live VR footage of skiers and snowboarders over a 5G network, and instant replays of 360° high-definition footage.
  • A violinist on-stage in Bristol, UK, was accompanied over 5G by a pianist, vocalist and second violinist at two different locations in London, 100 miles away. The 5G connection worked almost too well: the two violins were so perfectly synchronised that they sounded like a single instrument, so the piece was rewritten with two different parts.
  • In its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, Japan pledged to telecast the games live in 3D to stadiums around the world.

 

San Francisco’s Chase Center will be home to the Golden State Warriors basketball team, but it also has a Broadway-style stage
Déjà view … San Francisco’s Chase Center will be home to the Golden State Warriors basketball team, but it also has a Broadway-style stage. “When you enter the building you would never recognize it as a sport arena, it feels more like a performance hall,” says architect David Manica. “The arena can even transform to host smaller theatre events. It is really three buildings in one." Visualizations: steelblue

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One great day out isn’t enough. Venues need to host something different every day, flawlessly.

Stadiums and arenas are expensive, energy-hungry buildings — and most of the time, they’re empty. UK football stadiums only stage league matches every other Saturday; in the US, there are just eight home games a year.

The days of building bespoke venues for one team and one kind of event are gone. The sporting facilities of the future will have to be chameleons, winning fans’ loyalty even when there is no longer an exclusive relationship. “Instead of having several stadiums spread out across cities, I think you’re going to see consolidation between teams and sporting events, especially in highly populated areas,” says James O’Neil, leader of the sports and entertainment practice at Cushman & Wakefield. “You feel like it’s your home field when you go there to see your team. But then maybe a few days later, your across-town rival is coming into the same stadium. They can change the team name and everything else within a few hours.”

“You don’t want to be in a situation where someone comes along and says ‘can you put on X’ and you have to say no”

Peter Chipchase, WSP

Accommodating different sports calls for some creative solutions. At Tottenham Hotspur’s football ground, the grass pitch is in a tray that slides back to reveal a synthetic one 1.5m below — the first bespoke NFL pitch outside North America.

The technical requirements for the two sports were very different, says Chris Lee, managing director EMEA at architect Populous. “In soccer, no one’s on the pitch other than the players and you just have two managers at the side. In American football, there is a massive entourage of about 80 people, so the first spectators are always elevated. It’s also pretty hard to get line markings off natural grass, and then there’s the difference of having 40 incredibly large NFL players on the grass pitch — the damage they do to the field is huge.”

The sliding field solves those problems and will enable maximum use of Tottenham’s stadium. As well as NFL games, Saracens rugby club have signed a five-year deal to play their big games there. And rather than waiting until the end of the football season to stage concerts, so as not to destroy the grass, it can be slid out and replaced overnight.

“The business model changes quite dramatically through the ability to change that one thing,” says Lee. “They can run a lot more events and the turnaround time is a lot quicker. On a business level, that makes huge sense, but also on a sustainability level. If you’re investing all of this carbon into a building, we should be using it as much as we possibly can.”

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The transformation has to be convincing. To really maximize revenue generation, venues have to be able to host anything that comes along, from a full-capacity sports crowd to intimate corporate events. That means being able to tailor every aspect of the building, says Peter Chipchase at WSP. “You need to be able to effect a complete conversion — for example, the ability to convert a football stadium with no roof into a fully enclosed arena. Once it’s an arena, it needs to have multiple modes: concerts with different combinations of seated and standing areas, touring shows, EDM, ice hockey, boxing, basketball, Cirque du Soleil  … That means flexibility in spectator requirements and behaviour patterns, loading patterns, rigging loads, all the lights, the AV. The climate might be different for each type of event. There’s no reason why you can’t accommodate all these requirements, it’s just about setting the right brief.”

One client wanted a 42,000-seat turf sports stadium that could quickly be converted into an arena with a roof. Chipchase’s design, for which he has filed a patent application, has the pitch in a tray on a frame and strand jacks on the roof. “The strand jacks pick up the pitch and it becomes the roof, creating a pit at the base that can be fitted out in various configurations. The stage, lower tiers and all the other arena equipment can be stored under the upper tiers and quickly wheeled out into the pit. One of the challenges of rigging an arena is access to the roof soffit. With this approach, you can lift it a little way and lock it off to rig all the equipment from head height, so there’s no need to work at height. As soon as you finish playing football on Saturday afternoon, you can lift the roof up ready for a concert in the evening.”

aerial view of the Yas Bay Arena
Developed by Miral, Yas Bay Arena in Abu Dhabi will be an integral part of the Yas Bay waterfront, a 14 million square feet mixed-use destination set to transform the southern end of Yas Island. The arena is being delivered by a WSP-led team, including architect HOK, and is designed to expand from a 500-seat theatre to a multipurpose venue that can host 18,000 spectators.

Anticipating the many uses of a building over a 30-year lifespan is a tough call. But even short-term predictions are problematic: “It’s really dangerous to design a building for today’s technology because by the time it’s built, four years in the future, it’ll be outdated,” says David Manica at sports and entertainment specialist MANICA Architecture. “So we design for the unknown and provide a blank canvas that is flexible.”

In a more resource-conscious world, adaptability will become an even more important component of a design, believes WSP’s Jay Wratten.

“If you look at the change in fans’ expectations over the last 30 years, some facilities just can’t meet those in their current state,” he says. “If we take the stance that they’re supposed to last, the new challenge will be how to keep them current with the bones in place.”

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Overwatch fans turn out to support their esports heroes
Overwatch fans turn out to support their esports heroes. Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

World’s fastest growing sport draws previously hidden demographic

Livestreaming video games such as Fortnite, Dota 2 and Overwatch has become a major spectator sport, and real-world events are growing in popularity — some leagues now require that teams have a local venue for home matches. The global esports market will grow by 26.7% in 2019 to top US$1 billion[11], with dedicated arenas, bars and cafes proliferating across Asia, the US and Europe. China leads the trend, with six cities vying to become its esports hub.

“It’s a different demographic, and it’s huge and growing,” says Ron Turner, principal and sports leader at Gensler. “There’s a push to adapt the esports experience to existing venues, so you create smaller venues for maybe 200 or 300 people to take advantage of the food and beverage component. There can be a worldwide network of games taking place in different time zones.”

A very high level of power and bandwidth is essential: “It’s almost like a surround-video situation with dozens of cameras on all of the players so fans can watch them as well as the in-game action. Then you have commentators and celebrities, so you need a booth that’s visible to the audience.”

There must also be areas for teams to prepare and for fans to try out new games. “You need to provide a variety of experiences, not just rows and rows of seats. It really comes down to flexibility — making sure that you can accommodate all these different types of activity and that you have enough power.”

Players at the Overwatch Season 3 final in Korea

Players at the Overwatch Season 3 final in Korea. Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

[1] YouTube [2] Spotify  [3] Flixable  [4] TwitchTracker.com  [5] roomescapeartist.com  [6,10] Live Nation Entertainment  [7] Two Circles  [8] IAAPA Global Theme and Amusement Park Outlook 2018-2022  [9] Euromonitor [11] Newzoo

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