Randy White, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the creation of leisure, entertainment and experience venues, and a Co-Founder of the WXO, maps out the future of out-of-home entertainment.
Making us all stay at home, it’s no surprise that the coronavirus has caused a total disruption to out-of-home entertainment and arts (OOH E&A). It has been an accelerant to many trends that were already underway, as well as creating some new ones. Here’s my rundown of the 21 most significant trends and changes that will shape the post-pandemic OOH E&A landscape – in this article, trends 21-15. Read part two, trends 14-8, here.
(WXO note: Randy is specifically talking about trends in the US. But while of course not all trends begin in the US, and the world is far less US-centric than it used to be, still we subscribe to the idea that “when America sneezes, the world catches a cold.” If your organization operates in non-US markets, consider how these may be showing up in your market, or not.)
21. The audience will be gentrified
Before Covid, the OOH E&A market was already becoming very bifurcated and more gentrified, with higher socioeconomic consumers accounting for an increasing share of fees and admissions. Bachelor’s and higher degree households grew from 47% of all such spending in 2000 to 72% in 2019. Meanwhile, the spending by all other educational level households declined.
The pandemic’s K-shaped economics have significantly increased income and financial inequality. The lower socioeconomic were most impacted by a loss of income, while the higher socioeconomic kept their jobs and increased their wealth in stocks and home ownership.
Another trend also likely to continue and further increase economic inequality is that many living costs are growing faster than wages. Since 2000, US college education costs have risen by 57% (inflation-adjusted), healthcare costs by 56%, and housing costs by 31%. During the same period, wages have only grown on average by 10%.
Wages for higher-income workers are growing faster. Since their total incomes are higher, cost increases have far less impact on higher-income workers than lower-income workers whose wages are growing more slowly, resulting in a decrease to the proportion of lower-income workers’ discretionary funds – if any – available for leisure activities.
What this means for OOH E&A: As a result of the pandemic’s disproportionate economic impact and living costs rising faster than wages, for a large share of the middle and lower socioeconomic, their discretionary spending will be severely limited for many years, causing these financially-challenged households to restrict their discretionary spending and further increase the bifurcation of OOH E&A – the audience will become even more gentrified. The growing share of all attendance and spending at OOH E&A coming from the higher socioeconomic in the post-pandemic era means the venues will need to cater to their higher standards, tastes, values, and preferences.
20. Migration to the virtual world
Pre-pandemic, the time spent on digital leisure was increasing. For all Americans age 15+, time spent on digital leisure (mostly at home) has increased by 11%, nearly 20 minutes a day over the 15 years before the coronavirus.
The impact of Covid acted as a catalyst, speeding up consumers’ digital adoption and new virtual habits at a rate few could have predicted. The pandemic forced Americans to collectively swap the physical for the digital world in a matter of months, accelerating the migration of entertainment and socialization from the real to the digital world. We’ve seen:
– The development of many new and improved at-home entertainment and social digital virtual experiences
– Their adoption by many people who have never used them, the “virtual immigrants”
– Their increased use by the already digital and virtual natives
The at-home virtual technology evolution that took place over the past year has facilitated finding new routines. It gave us so many new ways to occupy and enjoy ourselves at home. One big area of growth was video chat. During the lockdown and at-home isolation, video chat became the closest substitute we had for in-person socialization.
The pandemic has also clearly affected how people enjoy entertainment and video games. Social simulation games, a video game species where you control a character’s life inside a simulated world, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, boomed. Video games such as Fortnite hosted concerts and talk shows transforming themselves from just a video game into a social platform. In many respects, the gaming aspect became secondary to a place where people could connect and spend time together.
The coronavirus has been the catalyst for creating various digital alternatives for all types of IRL events in virtual shared spaces, including: happy hours, crafting parties, concerts, nightclubs, weddings, graduations, playdates, birthday parties, and memorial services.
Many of these virtual experiences fall into a trend called “fantasy IRL“, where imagined worlds – virtual, in-game, or fictional worlds – collide with the real world. The virtual space becomes, for its inhabitants, almost as real as the real world, something like the metaverse. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the real world became the virtual world. Our face-to-face interactions became virtual. Our social “third places” were only found in the virtual world.
Virtual alternatives to IRL experiences have many advantages, for instance:
- No need to get dressed: attend in your PJs.
- No need to spend time traveling to the event.
- No lines to the restroom at virtual concerts.
Virtual alternatives to some IRL live entertainment also added a new dimension. Watching a movie at the cinema together with other people is a shared experience, as is attending a live cultural performance. The new virtual alternatives people had at home allowed those experiences to become socially shared experiences. People could socialize with others, watching at home and with their friends anywhere in the world. Many streaming platforms added extensions where people could have “watch parties”, use text and audio, and even video chat while watching synced content.
A Deloitte study found that since the pandemic began 38% of consumers surveyed have tried a new digital activity or subscription. The most popular are viewing live-streamed events and watching a video with others through a social platform, web application, or video conference.
What this means for OOH E&A: A Deloitte study found that more than two-thirds of consumers who have tried a new digital activity or subscription during the pandemic say they are likely to continue their new activity or subscription. In September, a ForgeRock survey of Americans found nearly half of consumers said they would use more online services and apps post-pandemic than they did pre-pandemic. Due to their convenience and low cost, our new virtual worlds, opportunities, and habits will be new formidable competition to OOH E&A that existed pre-Covid. The virtual experiences raise the bar for what it takes to get lots of people to leave their homes again to visit OOH E&A.
19. Competing with new at-home hobbies
In addition to at-home digital, people have been taking up new or returning to other at-home activities with abandon, including old hobbies such as arts & crafts, gardening, sewing, candle making, jewelry making, calligraphy, and even playing a musical instrument. The August 21-23 Harris poll found that nearly half of adults – 49% – have found new at-home hobbies and pastimes they’ve enjoyed during coronavirus. American adults are so happy with the newfound hobbies that nearly 8 in 10 of them (79%) plan to stick to these activities long-term, according to a survey by StorageCafé.
18. Eating in beats eating out
Data from the American Time Use Survey strongly suggests that the increase in cooking meals at home during Covid is not a new trend. Instead, the pandemic has accelerated a trend that started at least 15 years ago. From 2004 to 2019, people increased the amount of time they spent at home on food and drink preparation by 24%. On a typical day in 2019, one-fifth more people (19%) were preparing meals than in 2004.
17. Hometertainment is where the heart is
Homes took on a new character during the pandemic. Homes used to be considered a base: a place you operate out of, take care of some people and things, and then head out to work, recreation, and other social and leisure activities. Data from the American Institute of Architects points to the idea that Americans are now thinking about their homes as immersive experiences – a place they’re a part of versus a place where they touch down.
Nesting at home with hometainment is not new. It’s the super acceleration and continuation of a long-term trend of people spending increasing time at home. The 2018 Trusted Media Brands Modern Family Study declared, “staying in is the new going out”. It found that 80% of families and 78% of millennials said they would rather stay in with their family or friends than go out. The most popular at-home quality time activity for 95% of people was socializing/hanging out. YPulse found that nearly 7 in 10 adults age 19-37 would rather stay in on weekends than go out, and the same amount say going out is more effort than it’s worth. Their December 2019 survey found that the top things Gen Z and Millennials do for fun on an average night (with one exception for 13-18-year-olds) were sweatpants activities you do at home, with nearly three-quarters being digital screen activities. Another survey found a continual increase over the past decade in the percentage of people preferring to stay home on the weekends, growing from 37.7% in 2011 to 49% in 2019, and peaking at 53.4% in Q3 this year.
A December 10 – January 5, 2020 survey by CivicScience asked over 4,000 adults what defined happiness for them. Family came in first, followed by home life. Family and home life came in the same order when adults were asked what most defines success for them. Peoples’ lives at home are very important to them.
Americans have, on average, increased their awake time spent at home by 16 minutes per day. This translates into an annual increase of 6.4 days’ worth of at-home awake time (averaging 15 hours and 10 minutes a day) since 2004. People are also sleeping 14 minutes more per day, increasing the average time at home to 30 minutes every day. As a result, people spent one-half hour less time each day away from home in 2019 than in 2005.
For more on this stay-home trend,, read Randy’s blog post on uber-bunkering.
What this means for OOH E&A: The pandemic accelerated the hometainment trend. Many people will continue to embrace the at-home virtual social and entertainment behaviors and routines they developed during the pandemic. Leisure time is a zero-sum game. More leisure time at home leaves less leisure time away from home, possibly replacing some of the time they spent pre-Covid at OOH E&A. Faith Popcorn says one thing is for sure; we will not be going back to 2019. She’s predicted, “Covid-19 will redefine our homes forever – favoring bunkers and self-sustainability”. Post-pandemic, the home is likely to remain a major hub for more social and leisure time and activities than pre-coronavirus.
16. Spending more time in nature
Americans took up new outdoor activities in significant numbers during the pandemic. During the last two weeks of the stay-at-home orders in May, a study of Vermont adults found a significant increase in many nature-based activities. Participation increased nearly or greater than 50% for all the activities monitored.
In July, a survey by Hub Research found that nearly one-quarter of people (24%) were spending more time outdoors. The number of people visiting parks has increased during the pandemic. Over one-quarter of people visiting parks during Covid’s early months had rarely, or never, visited nature in the previous year. Prior visitors increased their visitation. It became hard to find a trailhead parking spot, not to mention purchase new bikes, hiking boots, canoes, and camping gear. Campgrounds were packed and hiking trails crowded. Among the biggest activity gainers were running, cycling, and hiking. State and National park attendance spiked. The number of hunting licenses issued increased from previous years. Using anonymized GPS data from mobile phones, Google estimates visits to parks, including everything from public beaches, dog parks, marinas to national parks, saw an 80% increase in September since January. Another outdoor activity, gardening, also saw a large increase in participation.
The appreciation and connection to the outdoors many people discovered for the first time resulted in many people adapting the Norwegian lifestyle concept of “friluftsliv” (pronounced free-loofs-liv). Friluftsliv translates in English as “free air life“: an appreciation of being outdoors and incorporating outdoor activities into your life.
What this means for OOH E&A: No different than the new digital options people took up during the pandemic, many people have enjoyed renewed and newly discovered hobbies and outdoor activities and will likely continue them post-pandemic. As such, they will be increased competition for OOH E&A.
15. Baby bust means fewer family outings
The baby bust that started back in 2008 continued through 2019. In 2019, there were 565,000 fewer births than before in 2007, a 13% decline. Brookings’ researchers estimate that the economic downturn caused by the pandemic could result in a dramatic decline in births on the order of 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021 than would typically occur.
The researchers went on to say that additional future reductions in births may happen if the labor market remains weak beyond 2020 [in June when the research was conducted, it was expected the pandemic would end much sooner than now anticipated]. The researchers expect that many of the births will not just be delayed but will never happen.
What this means for OOH E&A: The baby bust is reducing the market potential for children-oriented venues.
Read part two, trends 14-8, here – and sign up to the WXO newsletter (in the box below) and we’ll let you know when we drop part 3 of Randy’s insights on key trends that’ll impact experiences in 2021.