The outbreak of Covid-19 has led to a rise of virtual events and festivals all over the world. Almost two years later (November 2021), in-person events are making a slow return on the stage. But, what about virtual events? Are they going to disappear just as suddenly as they appeared or are they here to stay? This question has divided the global event industry, but according to Paul Jack – director at London Warehouse Events, virtual events are here to stay and co-exist with in-person, physical events.
The use of virtual reality and streaming services has been an ongoing thought within the festivals’ production industry, even before the pandemic, as explained by Maximilian Schmidt, head of esports for League of Legends at Riot Games. Let’s not forget that big events like the Olympics have been using online streaming for many years now. Not only does live streaming allow millions of people all over the world to watch an event at the same time, but it also ensures the event remains online even when it ends. But the Covid-19 pandemic has forever changed the landscape of live events, with many smaller organisations, like museum and art exhibitions or local festivals, organising online exhibitions and virtual events to stay for the very first time.
This is exactly what happened with the Cyprus 2020 Buffer Fringe Performing Arts Festival (BFPAF). The BFPAF is a space for artists to come together, challenge perceptions and create a more welcoming and open society. In Cyprus, the BFPAF has been one of the very first bi-communal events that took place and it has been an annual festival since 2014. With artists traveling from all over Europe each year, 2020 has been a major challenge for the BFPAF, but for Ellada Evangelou – artistic director of the BFPAF, keeping the festival going was not an option, it was the only way forward. As Ellada Evangelou said “ It has been an adventure, trying to conceptualise the true utility of the tool, to see how hosting things online would serve the artists, the audiences, and the festival itself. We all need to grow and benefit through the process, having in mind the global nature of the internet, and the vast possibilities it allows for showcasing art”. And she was right, the festival took place and it was a huge success with performances live-streamed not just from Cyprus, but also from many other European countries even from the US. People from all over the world could attend the event from the comfort of their sofa. And this virtual nature of the BFPAF is here to stay. In 2021, the festival took place in a hybrid format with some events occurring in-person and with many more held online; virtual rooms, live-streamed events and Zoom discussions have all been present.
It is clear that virtual events and the use of streaming services and virtual reality will remain a key element in future events and festivals’ organisations. Some people, like Marie Dapoigny – a culture journalist, go even further to argue that in the near future, it might not matter whether an event is physical or virtual; the experience will simply be equivalent and engaging for all. People from all over the world will be ready to enter a virtual space and experience an event that might be held thousands of kilometres away. It is true that virtual events can be easily accessed by people from all over the world simultaneously, but that doesn’t mean in-person organisations should vanish – the two can co-exist and lead to a more sustainable events industry.
But as we are entering a hybrid world, there are new challenges that should be addressed. The main challenge is how to make a virtual or a hybrid festival engaging and interactive for all attendees. Digital media offers a bridge between people from all over the world as well as access to cultural touchstones which could otherwise be financially or physically inaccessible. Digital tools could be used to allow users from all over the world to experience cultural norms and explore museums and galleries around the globe. One example is the Met 360 Project, which allows users to explore various attractions, using spherical 360° technology. Then, there’s the problem of sustainability and the environmental impact of live-streaming and digital events. On the one hand, virtual events don’t require any travelling and as a result they can reach wider audience with much less carbon emissions. On the other hand, it is important to note that by online streaming technologies we increase energy consumption by a lot – as stressed in recent studies by Shift Project, a French Thinktank. There isn’t a simple answer to these challenges, but with additional research virtual and hybrid events could offer an inclusive and sustainable alternative to the global events industry.
Barco, ‘On-site, virtual or hybrid: what’s the future of live events?’, (10 Jun 2021), https://www.barco.com/en/news/2021-06-10-what-is-the-future-of-live-events.
Dapoigny Marie, ‘Festivals Going Virtual: New Realms and Hurdles of VR and Digital Events’, (25 Jun 2021), https://weare-europe.eu/festivals-going-virtual-new-realms-and-hurdles-of-vr-and-digital-events/.
Feinstein Laura, ‘’Beginning of a new era’: how culture went virtual in the face of crisis’, (8 Apr 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/apr/08/art-virtual-reality-coronavirus-vr.
Lee Alexander, ‘As in-person festivals return, physical and virtual events are converging’, (26 Aug 2021), https://digiday.com/marketing/as-in-person-festivals-return-physical-and-virtual-events-are-converging/.
Philippou Eleni, ‘Buffer Fringe aims to help art resist’, (17 Sep 2021), https://cyprus-mail.com/2021/09/17/buffer-fringe-aims-to-help-art-resist/.
Philippou Eleni, ‘Buffer Fringe Festival 2020 challenges physical and artistic barriers’, (12 Nov 2020), https://cyprus-mail.com/2020/11/12/buffer-fringe-festival-2020-challenges-physical-and-artistic-barriers/.
The Met 360° Project, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/online-features/met-360-project.
Weekly Living, ‘How Live Coverage of Big Events Like The Olympics NHL and Wimbledon Work’, (22 Nov 2013), https://weeklyliving.com/live-coverage-big-events-like-olympics-nhl-wimbledon-work/.