How technology has changed entertainment experiences

No, this article is not about how to use technology in your location-based entertainment center or FEC. Nor is it about how to use social media to market a business. There are plenty of other places you can read about how to incorporate technology in both the front and back of house and promote a business using social media. In fact, it’s hard to stay current on those things as technology and its applications are changing so rapidly.

Rather, this article is about how mobile connectiveness has changed the way we consume and experience out-of-home leisure and entertainment experiences.

Not that long ago our experiences basically only lived in the moment they happened, in our memories and sometimes in old-fashioned analog printed photographs that we could occasionally share. Today that has all changed due to the growth of the Internet, social networks and mobile connectivity. Today experiences live along a time-line from their first planning to their happening to their broadcast, often simultaneously with the experience, and then well beyond as they’re shared and permanently archived, all made possible by the Internet and social media. This is a fundamental shift in human behavior. As a result, experiences have now become a powerful form of social content and currency.

People today are seeing more value in doing things and sharing those experiences rather than in accumulating things. A survey this year by JWT Intelligence of adults in the U.S. and U.K. found that 79% say they value experiences more than they do material items and 64% would rather spend their money on an experience than a material item. Ipsos OTX in their surveys found that 64% of Americans would rather buy a cool experience than a cool product.

People today equally live on- and off-line lives, simultaneously for many. Today people live in the physical world in their home, places of work and other locations. But they also live their lives on Facebook, Twitter, email, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and many other social media sites. Many people, especially the younger generations, are what are known as Perpetuals – perpetually connected via the Internet and smart phones. Increasingly, going online is not longer something we DO, but rather something we ARE.

As a result real world experiences are immediately broadcast and shared in the digital world and linger on the sites to forever be seen. Experiences have now become a powerful vehicle for social expression, conversation and earning status among online friends. We used to earn status and tribal connectiveness by the material goods we owned, better known as “Keeping up with the Jones.” We are fast moving from the importance of ownership to the importance of connection to “Keeping connected with the Jones.”

“Social media is the connective tissue that enables consumers to multitask during their entertainment experiences by connecting with others and sharing their opinions,” notes pollster Jon Penn of the findings from a recent poll of social media users by research firm Penn Schoen Berland.

The poll found that one-quarter (24%) of Facebook users and one-fifth (21%) of Twitter users have posted at the movie they are watching at the cinema. Of all movie postings, 20% occur before the movie, 8% during and 72% after watching the film.

Viewers of social media have in many respects also become participants in the real-world entertainment experiences of their friends. Real world as well as digital world entertainment afford us a shared experience that connects us to our fellow man. William Nicholls has gone so far as to say, “In many ways entertainment is the religion of the 21st Century.”

The 7th annual Edelman Global Entertainment Study released in June of this year found that people throughout the world were sharing their entertainment experiences through social media. Although the study focused on digital media, TV and the movies, the inference for other types of location-based entertainment should be the same.

The study clearly concluded, “that the rapidly changing market continues to be driven by the passions of individuals and their innate desire to share their passions and positive experiences [through social media]. The study found that people share entertainment content as much as any other form of content – 76% share entertainment, 75% share about their own lives and 76% share about their friends. “This shows the powerful emotional connection people feel towards entertainment as they share it as much as stories about their own personal lives.” Edelman found that in the U.S. the importance of being the first to enjoy new entertainment rose from 17% in 2011 to 39% in 2013.

Being first is a trend that has identified as Experience Cramming under the broader trend category of Newism – “The desire to tell interesting STATUS STORIES is further fueling consumers’ never-ending lust for new experiences, especially acute in a world where so much of identity is expressed online.” They report that many status-hungry consumers are resorting to Experience Cramming, collecting and mixing-and-matching as many, and as wide a variety, of new experiences as possible since unique experiences are becoming harder to find and thus often expensive.

If you have any doubt about the growing importance of sharing out-of-home experiences on social media, just take a look at what restaurant customers are doing. Now sharing a dining experience is much more than just posting a review on some site. Sharing a photo of your meal has gone big time on Instagram (known as foodstagramming), Foodspotting and other photo sharing social media sites as well with using smartphone apps. While not everyone on Instagram is a food photo fanatic, foodstagramming is quite a fad among its 130 million monthly active users (as of June 2013). The New York Times reports that some restaurants are trying to ban the practice on the grounds that it is distracting to patrons, while the Wall Street Journal reports that many restaurants are offering diners perks to post photos of their meals for marketing their restaurants.

As an interesting aside, a recent study in the journal Psychological Science suggests that posting a image of a dish on Instagram before digging in my make it taste better, as ritual enhances the enjoyment of consumption (learn more).

Foodstagramming has caused the restaurant industry to raise the bar in terms of the presentation of their food for diners. Now the plate has become a blank canvas on which restaurants need to present not only a good tasting, but also a visually appealing dish as a photo image of it is sure to be sent out somewhere on the Internet for the world to see.

So in terms of rating the quality of a restaurant dining experience, a new criteria has become whether the food is something you want to visually share with your friends via social media and how will it enhance your status with them.

Even just sharing the location where you are with your friends when you are out and about has meaning. Check-in sites such as Foursquare are about sharing where you are and the experience you are having as much as they are review sites.

As the telegraph annihilated the distance and time of information, so the Internet annihilates the distance and time of experience.

B. Joseph Pine, II

So moving on to entertainment venue experiences, what all this means is the bar there has also been raised by mobile connectivity, as no matter what the entertainment experience is, it now needs to be good enough that you want to share it with your friends via social media. You sure don’t want to share the experience unless it is unique, inspiring, funny, fun, interesting or cool enough to warrant posting electronically. Even if you are alone at the venue, you really aren’t, as you now have social connectivity with your friends. The last thing you want to do is share some entertainment experience that will cause you to loose social status. So the ability to have instant bragging rights has become a new measure for attending out-of-home entertainment experiences.

Good is no longer good enough. Social connectivity has conspired to kill average when it comes to entertainment experiences. Today the experience better be something worth sharing via social media.

Social connectivity has also changed location-based entertainment experiences in two other ways. Smart phones allow guests to engage in electronic entertainment such as videos and games, as well as the entertainment of social media. As our Frugality article in this issue pointed out, visiting and posting on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter is now considered a form of entertainment by 88% of social network users. So when a guest is physically at a location-based entertainment venue, the experience that venue is offering is often competing in real time with the experiences the smart phone offers. Is the real world experience good enough, better than the electronic experiences that guests hold in their hands? It had better be or you won’t see that guest again, but you may see a bad review pop up on the Internet.

The other way social connectivity changes the dynamics of attending an entertainment venue is that the guest possibly brings marketing by the venue’s real world competition with them. One of their friends may check-in on Foursquare or on another check-in app that they are now found at another entertainment facility or restaurant. If the two want to get together, which location will win? Is the experience the guest is having better than the experience their friend is having? Will the friend come to the guest’s venue or will the guest leave with their wallet?

One thing that highly mobile connected consumers, especially the perpetuals, would like to see is being able to digitally interact using their mobile devices with entertainment venues while they are there. They crave digital interaction as well as real world physical interaction, as they consider their mobile device a part of themselves. We seeing this happen with many television shows, where viewers have digital interaction with the show while watching it. A few theme parks have been trying to move in this direction with custom apps. Even Chuck E. Cheese’s now allows some rudimentary mobile device interaction in their stores using their augmented reality Say Cheese app.

No matter how you look at it, real world entertainment is facing disruption and challenges brought on by mobile connectivity. It’s a whole new normal that is still evolving, but one that location-based entertainment venues cannot.