Virtual Events are Boring

Most of the virtual events are deadly boring! That's the opinion of Peter Decuypere. Kevin talks with the author of the book 'We Love Events' about how to make experiences of online events.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Peter.

Hello Kevin.

You wrote the book We love events. It's a book, actually, in Dutch. But in the latest edition there's a very interesting part on events in Corona times.

Yes, because at a certain moment, the editor called me and said: Peter, there is a sixth edition coming in September. I said: well, if there is a sixth edition, we can do some changes. And of course, I think that right now, you cannot write something about the marketing of events and about events without looking at Corona. What's happening? What is Corona doing to events? So, it would be a little bit strange not to talk about Corona, in 2020.

Yes, you start the book with a strong opinion. You were mentioning that most of the virtual events are deadly boring.

Yes, they are deadly boring. We have livestreams but sometimes you wonder if the guy isn't dead. At the other side. If it's not a deadstream. Especially with DJ-sets. I don't know how DJs think that looking at a DJ, standing in his living room or bedroom or bathroom or kitchen, whatever, and just filming something from a perspective that you only see like this... This. So, I'm a DJ right here. You see? I'm the DJ. And then you get very boring...

This is like: what's interesting to look at the DJ?

So, I think it's very important. What we can learn out of that, is that production value is very, very important within virtual events.

Do you have some examples of virtual events that you think were worth it?

Well, there's one virtual event that's, I think, beginning or somewhere October. The Billie Eilish show. I think it was October. It was really a virtual event. It was a virtual event that used the possibilities of the virtual event. So, there was a lot of extended reality. Every track was a different set-up. With different graphics and so on. So, you looked at it and it was something that you just watched. You couldn't stop looking at it. It was really... Of course, Billie Eilish is also a great performer. And still there was a lot of spontaneity. It was not like an over-produced show. But the extended reality made in into something different. And not just a copy of a real-time live. Very good show, Billie Eilish.

But I think that's part of the essence, obviously. That something virtual cannot be just copy/paste of live.

Look, I think that one of the very strange events was Nick Cave. Nick Cave did a show: Alone at the Crystal Palace, whatever. It was just like Nick Cave doing a live show at the piano. And that's it. The amazing thing, or the very, almost awkward thing, was that he wasn't even there. It was a pre-recorded show, that he was just transmitting and presenting it as some kind of stream. And people had to pay to look at Nick Cave doing a show. So, you were just looking at some kind of video. Maybe Nick Cave was going fishing somewhere. He was fishing and...

So, I think that you cannot communicate. There's no self-expression. There's no expression. It's just like a DVD you're looking at. I didn't get it. What? That was copy live, paste virtual.

And it's good for fans. For real fans. For die-hard fans. But not just to look at.


I don't know whether you look at the Apple keynotes or not.


But I had the same feeling with those. Before, it was kind of exciting to see the community and to see the interaction with the audience. And now, with a pre-recorded show, it's: nah.

It was like...

The Apple shows were like: one more thing. And so, this was the moment everybody was waiting for: one more thing. And Steve Jobs getting out some kind of iPod. A sort of very small whatever.

So, he knew. He knew. Steve Jobs, he knew how to do things. And how to use the virtual platform. To be more than just a copy/paste. I think that's very important: not to copy/paste. If you do copy/paste the only thing you get is like...

You like to drink beer, Kevin?

Yes, occasionally, yes. The politically correct answer.

So, just think that somebody gives you beer without alcohol.  If you like to drink a real beer, well, you drink beer without alcohol and you say: oh my God, I miss the real thing. So, if you do a copy/paste of a real-time event into a virtual event, it makes you miss the real-time event even more.

If you look at Nick Cave sitting there, you say: yes, I want to see Nick Cave in the Roma in Antwerp. Or in the Sportpaleis. I want to see a real live show of Nick Cave. It's beer without alcohol.

What did you think of Tomorrowland? That's a worldwide example.

Yes. If you look at the production of Tomorrowland, it was amazing. They also used an engine of a game platform, just for the production.

It was amazing but sometimes, I had the feeling with some DJs, just standing there like this. So, where then you have so see all the people doing the same thing.

That's what Tomorrowland is about. About creating magic of the masses. So, it was not magic of the masses. They tried to create the magic of me, sitting there.

So, it was also with some of the DJ-sets that I got the impression of beer without alcohol. Or Champagne without sparkles. You have Champagne there in your decor and decoration there. So, it's Champagne without the bubbles. Without the bubbles.

There was one set, by Eric Prydz, that really was amazing. Also a set that wasn't a copy/paste of a DJ-set, but was a set designed especially for the virtual event. Storytelling. Good music. Great graphics. Really. You were just looking at it and even if you didn't like the music so much, you just kept on looking at that DJ-performance. Great. Eric Prydz.

So, if I'm correct, what was mainly missing, was some interaction with the audience.

Well, if you can have an interaction with the audience, then that's a surplus, of course. With Tomorrowland, there was no interaction. Because you could not make an account and just be part of the audience there.

A good example of where there was interaction - and I think gaming is always showing the way, because gaming is some kind of virtual event - was Travis Scott in Fortnite. Where the gamers all had an avatar. And they just could interact. Gaming is about interaction. Sometimes it looked a little bit funny. All those gamers with some fire and making some strange movements. But, anyway, people can interact with each other. And they have some kind of impression of interacting with the artist. Because you're just standing at this distance of Travis Scott. You're looking at Travis Scott: oh my God. So, I think it's important to get that interaction within virtual events.

Do you think that model of Fortnite, like virtual events, could also work for B2B?

I think what it shows, Fortnite, is that the interaction is important. And of course, with B2B events... B2B events are about interaction. So, you do not even have to push the people to interact. You go there and the success of a B2B event is just if people interact. If people interact it's a successful event.

I find it amazing that some of the platforms that you can use...

I think it's Hyperfair or something. You can use it and the first thing you do, is that you get into a dressing room. And you can choose your outfit. To go to the virtual event. That's a way of self-expressing. Adding some self-expression and being part of the event. And of course, then, you can make a chatroom, you can leave your business card and so on. So, I think for B2B events virtual events are very, very promising.

Why should you take a plane and go to Uppsala to go to some kind of fare? If I can just visit it right here. To meet some friends, that’s also important.


In your book you're not only talking about the traditional events, like festivals, concerts and so on. But also about, for example, Formula 1.

Yes, I think that for, especially sporting events...

You want to see the sporting event in the moment. Because it's what is happening right now. The goal, you want to see the goal. And you want to be the first to see the goal.

It's something different with a show of Coldplay or Rammstein or whatever. You just can look at it on YouTube and it still has the same value after one year.

Looking at it. So, sporting events are about staying in the moment. And that's why they are so...

They make a lot of money with broadcasting rights. Broadcasting. Television. Netflix. Formula 1 with...

What is it called? The fantastic Drive to survive or something? Or Drive...


A great, great, great docu on Netflix. And they pay a lot of money, just to broadcast the event. And I think it shows possibilities but not for live shows. I do not think that for live shows, for Coldplay or whatever. You will not pay to see them in the moment. Live.

What is kind of different in the Formula 1-example is that they also have that virtual or their own platform. In which you can be in the cockpit of a driver and so on.

Yes, that's great. That's a good example. Of not seeing virtual as just a copy/paste of the real-time event.

So, they think about the possibilities of people sitting at home. A screen and just change and you can get in the cockpit of Max Verstappen. I was at Francorchamps a year ago, when Max Verstappen, just in the first bend, he just hit the wall, whatever. Finished after about fifteen seconds. Sitting in Francorchamps you see something happening, far away, and that's it. And people start taking their smartphones to check: yeah, what happened?

So, if you look at the platform of Formula 1, you can see that crash from twenty different angles. And you can just see it and Max Verstappen. And you see what happens. So, it's like...

And that shows the good thing in this. If Corona goes away, it will be an and-and story. You will look at your smartphone, while you are at a real-time event, and it will be a surplus.


Yes, in the book you're also talking about excuse-content and money-content.

What do you mean by that?

Well, I think that...

We pay to go to a real event. We pay to go to a real event. But, of course, we're so used to that virtual world is for free. Again, look at gaming. Fortnite? You don't have to pay for Fortnite. You only have to pay when you're at level twenty or something. Or you just pay for a skin. Or an attribute. Or whatever.

The game is excuse-content. Excuse-content to get you to money-content. And I think that this blueprint...

I think it's an interesting blueprint. Also for events. For events where you have to see your show, your performance. Your livestream and not your deadstream. But your livestream...

Think of Andrea Bocelli in Milan. Where a show at Easter. For hope. Show for hope. Something like that. It was for free. And you looked at it and it had a great production value.

So, it did cost a lot of money to make that content. But it was excuse-content. To bring you to the merchandise of Andrea Bocelli. And then you just pay money for the merchandise. I think that... Take Tomorrowland or Awakenings or Woo Hah or Werchter.

If music is played by a DJ why not just add a button? Buy this track. Give this track away.

So, it means that you do not have to pay for Awakenings. You had to pay for Tomorrowland. You do not have to pay for Awakenings. That's excuse-content. But then you just pay money for the music. For a t-shirt. Maybe for something to eat, that they bring at home and so on and so on.

So, excuse-content: free. That brings you to money-content.

Okay Peter, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on virtual events.

Thank you for having me.

My pleasure.

And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.