Events (and Lighting and Projection) Keep Getting Bigger and Bigger

in The Biz

Closing ceremonies at the London Olympics, 2012. Photo courtesy of Merging Technologies.The big opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympics in London over the summer weren’t the only examples of the rise in large-scale events that have made a huge visual impact around the world in the last few years. There was Expo 2010 Shanghai — there, a record 73 million people visited pavilions from 250 countries and international organizations, and on one particularly busy day, more than 1.03 million visitors were drawn to the attraction. Add to that a record number of music festivals and the fact that, slowly but surely, the high-concept event — corporate, music and otherwise — is slowly edging its way back from the precipice that was the Great Recession. It looks as though, when it comes to creating events, big is in again.

Bigger and Better

That’s good news for manufacturers of lighting, projection, staging and related technologies and products for the live-event market. But it’s also becoming apparent that many of the largest events and installations are taking place in Asia and the Middle East, and that more of the actual products being used are also coming from China and other Asian countries. The future is getting both bigger and redder.

The Crane Dance in Singapore synchronizes lighting, video, automation and water effects. Image courtesy of The Production Group.I was talking with Edward Marks, co-CEO of The Producers Group, a kind of collective-turned-corporation that pools its multiple event technology resources for large-scale projects such as The Crane Dance in Singapore — one of the world’s largest animatronics installations — along with events and installation projects at Hong Kong Disneyland and Six Flags Dubai. He outlined his procurement strategy, which he called the “bulls-eye approach.” It calls for sourcing products such as lighting, video, projection and other staging technologies starting from the center of the bulls-eye, which is always located directly over the project itself. Successive rings around the bulls-eye are breached when they have to go further afield for what they need.

When the U.S. was the locus of this kind of large event, this economic Norden bombsight was dialed in squarely over Orange County and Orlando. Its scope broadened to include Europe a few decades ago, but since then, the center of activity has moved east, as has the center of gravity for manufacturing. This, says Edwards, will be one of the trends for professionals in this business to keep an eye on. We’ve known that China and Korea have become the manufacturing powerhouses of lighting and video in the last decade or so, but the fact that much of the user market for the largest and most advanced products is moving closer to that part of the world changes the dynamic, making what is becoming the world’s largest event market into more of a closed loop, able to source much if not most of what it needs locally. Of the 17 vendors that The Producers Group used for the Wishing Crystals and The Fortune Diamond lobby attractions at the Galaxy Hotel in Macau, only three were located any further than the island itself.

The migration of corporate and entertainment events to Asia is only going to accelerate — the region has created its own audience in the form of multinational corporations and a middle class with disposable income. American companies still have an advantage when it comes to brands, and perhaps even more so in the East, where the culture of brand awareness is far more intense than in the U.S. They also have the upper hand in terms of innovation, whether it’s applied to designs for moving-head fixtures or 20-acre casino resorts.

Those advantages are still sizable ones, and when applied to Asian markets, they scale pretty well themselves. As Marks points out, “You might only have three-percent penetration in the Chinese market, but over there that still could be $30 million.” In China, 2013 will be the year of the snake. For western manufacturers, it should also be the year of the brand.

Two Postscripts

Unrelated to the foregoing, there are two postscripts I think are worth adding on here. First, over the summer, in a column about outdoor event safety ( PLSN, Aug. 2012, page 38), I mentioned the experience of Julius Grafton, publisher of Australia-based staging technology blog CX, who was at the Radiohead concert in Downsview Park in Toronto when the stage collapsed, killing a crew member. Grafton pointed out that security personnel actively discouraged both media and concertgoers from taking cellphone pictures and videos. Grafton’s comment at the time was that local security was “obsessed with obstruction.”

In September, it was announced that what had come to be known as the Hillsborough disaster — the crushing and trampling death of 96 soccer fans at a match in Liverpool in 1989 — has only now, 23 years later, been ruled to not have been the result of “drunk, unruly soccer hooligans,” as the British press dubbed them in those days, but rather a massive cover-up on the part of police and event managers, who sought to portray the fans as the villains when in reality crowd mismanagement by police and venue personnel were actually to blame. That day, 3,000 Liverpool supporters were directed onto standing-room terraces approved for barely half that many. This September, British Prime Minister David Cameron issued an unprecedented apology, and further inquiries will almost certainly result in massive damage awards and possible even criminal indictments over the deaths.

If cellphone cameras had been as ubiquitous then as they are now at events, it’s likely it would not have taken 23 years for the truth about that disaster to come out. When police and venue security start yelling about not taking pictures when events turn hairy, that might be the best time of all to keep the video rolling.

Also, earlier this year (PLSN, June 2012, page 55), I wrote about the Tupac Shakur hologram that sparked so much interest when it was displayed during a performance by rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at the Coachella festival in April in California. Investing in dead celebrities still appears to be potentially lucrative — two film studios are battling over the rights to make the Sammy Davis, Jr. movie — but investing in the technology to bring them back to life may be less so. It was reported in September that Digital Domain Media Group, the company responsible for the splashy Tupac hologram, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, running out of cash less than a year after going public. If you really want to see Tupac in 3D, say his name three times in a row on Halloween anywhere on the East Coast. Won’t cost you a dime.