This article was originally published in Wired Insights.
We always write and read about the virtual world of online media in Wired, but not so much about the physical world of live media experiences. But the virtual and physical worlds absolutely should be connected in this increasingly disconnected world in which we can all communicate with one another, but rarely really meaningfully communicate and feel that we are part of a real community.
First, let's take film. Why do we still go to the movies, still fight traffic and the throngs, and still pay for expensive popcorn when we can watch from the quiet solitude of our own homes? Precisely because we are social creatures, and we don't always want quiet solitude. Have you experienced watching a thriller in a theater and, then, the same thriller at home? It's an entirely different experience due to the entirely different energy generated in the big communal room versus your smaller private room. It's simply more thrilling to watch a thriller with others who gasp when you gasp and jump when you jump.
How about music? Music business models are disrupted. Traditional revenue streams are drying up. All doom and gloom, right? Wrong. Music festivals are sprouting all over. Why? Because these festivals become so much more than the music itself. The music draws you in, but the real magic comes from the like-minded community and shared immersive experience created during that moment in time. The Bonnaroo festival perhaps best embodies these possibilities. Yes, Bonnaroo is an extremely lucrative business. But it is also absolutely an authentic physical community experience where the audience bonds over music, literally (frequently, very literally) connects with one another, and creates a magical moment in time.
So, how many online movie and music services get it right and fully embrace their physical alter ego? Not many.
As examples, take leading online music purveyors Pandora and Spotify. These pure-play companies suffer from increasing competition from industry behemoths (like Apple and Google), as well as challenging artist relations and costs of goods (primarily ever-increasing music licensing costs). What's a Pandora or Spotify to do amidst these daunting realities? Perhaps differentiate themselves from all others by bringing their customer experiences into the physical world of music festivals. Expand their connection with their virtual customers. Deepen them. Create a real differentiated and fully realized community. The Pandora "Unboxed" Music Festival! Gold Jerry, Gold! Again, the online community drives offline success—and then the offline, more deeply connected community drives further online success.
But, don't stop there. Music festivals harness the energy from your magical weekends. That energy typically dissipates when the weekend is over. Mobilize that passionate community you created. Continue its life and extend that energy online. Continue the "conversation" beyond the physical venue itself via virtual interaction and social media. Drive even deeper differentiation and engagement by adding a dose of "giving back" and philanthropy to the equation—à la the "Life is Good" festival—and then, man, you really have something. A virtuous—truly virtuous—cycle of online/offline/impact and connection. To forge bonds and mobilize like only music and media can do.