Rosh Singh, MD at agency UNIT9, says most virtual concerts aren’t making the most of the medium. But the latest wave are turning heads across the industry 


Can we all agree that live-streaming is not the same as a virtual experience? Taking nothing away from the artists who have given their time and raised vital funds during the pandemic, the livestreamed performances we’ve seen of late are, generally speaking, unengaging and lacklustre.

Physically attended live performances embed themselves into our long-term memories because they are so much more than a livestream-friendly blend of audio and visual. It’s the intangibles that are the crucial additions to the full gig experience: the smell of the venue, the electricity in the air and the goose bumps down your spine – all the things that are next to impossible to broadcast via a digital medium. So how can a livestream become a fuller experience to compensate for these missing features?

A livestream can be transformed into a virtual experience by playing to its strengths. That means replacing intangibles with elements that can only be created digitally; elements of interactivity, magic and wonder. Although many fans may consume the event after it’s happened, a great experience has the highest value in the moment itself – there is huge currency in knowing you are one of few than one of many. Even in the case of Travis Scott’s wildly popular Fortnite gig, where the ‘few’ amounted to 27.3M players, fans’ experience of watching the performances live in-game with player agency was hugely superior to those who watched a passive video of the performance.

Of course, not all artists will be able to (or want to) launch a virtual performance via Fortnite. But that’s fine. Because there are many other ways of imbuing a sense of digital wonder.

A good virtual experience needs to have some form of interactivity – be that passive interactivity whereby the experience changes based on the herd actions of participants, or through true agency where each attendee can individually impact proceedings. Using AI, we can scan audience emotion and sentiment, feeding this back into the performance through visualisation and overlays, turning a standard performance into a living, breathing unique experience, where both performer and audience feed off each other. Imagine streaming a heavy metal concert and using AI to detect when people are head-banging, then championing these users on a virtual jumbotron. This approach doesn’t simply add a layer of interaction, it actively encourages it.

A stage show is a thing of wonder. Lights and set-design come together with the performance to create an incredible spectacle, albeit one restricted by the laws of physics. But the law of physics is not something we have to worry about in a virtual experience. Using portable green-screen rigs, real-time visual effects and augmented reality, we can create a spectacle of combined physical and virtual. We can change backgrounds, lighting effects and add content into the experience in real-time. Taking it one step further, the audience can be in control of the effects, either passively or actively, changing the look and feel with their interactions.

Livestreaming’s democratisation of events will be a natural by-product of the COVID era. This can work to our advantage by broadening reach and so creating more potential paying customers. But, paradoxically, this broadened reach also undermines the value of an experience through a lack of exclusivity. There is, however, an answer: blockchain technology. Yes. Really.

NFTs (aka Non-Fungible Tokens) are a way of assigning finite ownership to a digital – and therefore theoretically infinite – artifact, with ownership data stored and verified in the blockchain. In the case of a virtual experience, it would act as a digital ticketstub: unequivocal proof of attendance, stored publicly in the blockchain and forming the bedrock of bragging rights.

Creating the next wave of virtual experiences isn’t about recreating Travis Scott’s Fortnite collaboration. It’s about understanding what creates an engaging and memorable digital experience. That means using the right platforms and overarching creative ideas to ensure we leverage and play to the strengths of digital, rather than trying to recreate the physical.


UNIT9 is a tech-led global innovation partner for brands that has created a 5G-enabled AR celebrity BAFTA dress for EE, a vast immersive and personalised treadmill-powered video game for Nike and a World Record breaking giant playable game of Candy Crush.