When Will Live Entertainment Return in China Amid COVID-19?

By Ryan Gandolfo, April 21, 2020

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Game Theory is a regular series where we speak with a professional with insight into China’s business and tech scene.

China’s live entertainment scene has been dealt one of the biggest blows among all industries as the coronavirus outbreak, which was first reported in January, continues to disrupt economies around the globe. Everything from sporting events and music concerts to art exhibitions and more have been cancelled or suspended until further notice. And, when these events do return to the fold, it’s not entirely clear whether the demand will follow.

With his finger on the pulse of the live entertainment industry, Shenzhen High Performance Event Management founder and managing director Greg Turner has made the most of his time in China, leading a wide range of event-based projects in sports and music, among other areas. With nearly 20 years of experience in the PRC, he has played a decisive role in event strategy, development and operation for multi-functional facilities, working with legendary figures such as China’s first-ever Winter Olympic gold medalist Yang Yang and Hong Kong business tycoon and philanthropist Li Ka-shing.

Below, Turner shares his insights on the current state of China’s entertainment sector and considerations for the live event experience post COVID-19:

You’ve worked on and led a multitude of live events in China, from sports and music to hospitality. What is the key to successfully organizing events here?
There isn’t just one key, but I’d say the first thing is making sure you have government support. They just have too many ways to disrupt your plans and event if you don’t have them on board.

Second is really understanding your event and who the audience is. China’s so big you need a focused plan on who you expect to attend and how you’re going to reach them. What works in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou probably isn’t going to work in Shenyang, Hefei or Xiamen.

Having the right venue is also key. There are such massive quality differences in venues and the management. A good venue partner who understands the commercial needs of your event can make or break it for you.

Image provided by Greg Turner

Do you sense any urgency from Chinese authorities to allow large-scale organized events to resume as the country gradually gets COVID-19 under control?
I want to say yes; my livelihood depends on it. But to be honest, I think we’ll be the last to reopen. We’re just too high risk.

I guess we’ll start seeing some highly controlled events coming back by June and hopefully things will be back to the ‘new normal’ by August or September, letting the busy autumn season go ahead. Of course, lots of variable can change that schedule in a big hurry. We all know the government isn’t afraid to shut everything down in order to control this virus.

How should organizers be reevaluating the live event experience in a post-COVID-19 world?
That’s going to be an ongoing challenge for at least the next 12-18 months. In China, even once the government gives the go-ahead, will people want to come back? How do we create an environment where people can still come and have fun while also feeling safe? Will the government have confidence that the right precautions are being taken?
Also, this shutdown period has really accelerated the shift to streaming concerts and live entertainment. Once we’re back online, what can we do to integrate this new massive streaming demand with the live event experience. Lots of questions to be answered.

What type of impact do you think this public health crisis will have on demand for the live entertainment sector for the remainder of 2020?
Tough to say, that incident in Anhui at Huangshan a few weeks ago showed that people aren’t afraid of crowds in the right environment. Will they feel as confident coming to a theater or arena with limited ventilation? It’ll take time, but the demand will come back because there’s nothing that can compare to the rush of a live event experience. I think we’ll see cinemas opening first. Once that happens, we’ll then be able to plan and adapt based on how things go.

Having lived in both Shanghai and Shenzhen, is there a city you prefer?
Shanghai will always hold a special place in my heart, it’s like my second hometown. So many great friends and great times there. But the city now isn’t the same as the city I knew. Shenzhen on the other hand is so full of youthful energy and excitement. It’s a city of young people ready to step up and put its stamp on the world – similar to how Shanghai was 15 years ago. I’m really excited to be part of what I expect will be another wild China ride in the next few years.

READ MORE: How Long Will It Take China's Cruise Industry to Recover from COVID-19?

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[Cover image via @He Junhui/Unsplash]

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