The Rolling Stones are releasing a ‘radical, new immersive concert screening concept‘ based on their enormous 2016 gigs in Cuba. So what is ‘immersive entertainment’, and is it the future?
Physical and digital
Going to a gig is immersive entertainment. It engages all of your senses, for better or worse. If you’re screaming at your favourite teen idol or thrashing around in the mosh pit, you are 100% in the moment. This is true of almost any intense form of physical activity or engagement. It’s why these things are so good for us: they take us out of ourselves, and focus us wholeheartedly on what we are doing.
The very need to describe something as immersive entertainment is for me an acknowledgement that this activity might not be as consuming as such a physical experience. That somehow through effort, design, or technology, the provider is trying to make something that might not be truly immersive into an experience that matches these physical-world highs.
In the case of the Rolling Stones concert, this seems to amount to a combination of best-in-class audiovisual systems combined with some set dressing and live entertainers. These things together will not transport you back in time and across the ocean to Cuba. But they are designed to create as close an experience as you can get in your local concert venue.
Critical to the success of this endeavour, will be the response of the rest of the audience. If they get into it, and you are surrounded by people having a good time, singing and dancing, then it will probably be very successful. If they treat it like a trip to the cinema, then it’s unlikely to be close to immersive.
Future options for immersive entertainment.
Today the state of the art for group entertainment is ultra HD projection. But in 10 years time? Imagine the same event, with everyone gathering in a concert venue. But instead of the images being projected on a flat screen, you can see a virtual Mick strutting up and down the stage. He is indistinguishable from the real thing, until you remove your smart glasses and he disappears.
Maybe you decide to stay home and watch the gig, and your living room is transformed into the concert venue. You lose the live atmosphere, but drinks are cheaper and there are no queues for the toilet.
Neither of these options will stand up to the real thing. But with concert prices high and access limited, these sub-experiences are likely to be popular nonetheless. In this age of deepfakes, concerts need not be limited to current or living artists either. Why not time travel and see Springsteen at the Hammersmith Odeon in 75 (that’s where I’d go), Nina Simone in ’64 (yeah, I’d also go there) or Johnny Cash live at Folsom Prison (yep).
The idea of the experience economy is not new. It can arguably be traced back to the Tofflers’ FutureShock in the 1970s. But it is true that a rising proportion of our expenditure is going on things we do rather than things we buy. In this world of FOMO, offering people the chance to get to a version of gigs that they missed – perhaps by decades – or couldn’t afford to otherwise access, will likely prove popular. And in 10 years time, it might be the way that many of us experience live music.
But the real, physical experience will always command a premium. Because for the foreseeable future, it will remain the richer experience and the only one that is truly immersive.