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The 10 most innovative live events companies of 2021

In a year of social distancing and sheltering at home, these companies found ways to deliver dynamic real-time experiences, from European football pitches to a record-setting BTS concert.

The 10 most innovative live events companies of 2021
[Icon: Assignment Studios]
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Two years ago, when the global live events market cracked the $1 trillion annual revenue barrier, nobody could have imagined how soon we’d be relying on virtual experiences to enjoy live entertainment.  Spurred on by the world-wide lockdown, these 10 companies delivered.

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1. Brandlive

For helping the Biden campaign and others capture the live TV experience

Brandlive‘s Greenroom, a one-stop-shop streaming platform and video production tool, was developed over just a few short weeks in late March during the early days of the pandemic. The idea was to give brands, political campaigns, and other events a livestreaming experience that would more closely replicate the feeling of live television. The product and platform caught the attention of Joe Biden’s campaign after it experienced a series of technical glitches, including the infamous goose attack that was caught on camera in May. Biden’s team turned to Brandlive, and by August it was powering more than half of the daily meetings at the Democratic National Convention in Wisconsin.

2. Twitch

For offering artists and athletes a place to showcase and monetize their talents

Before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted live events in March, more than 37.5 million people a month were expected to consume live video on Twitch in 2020. Largely because of its name recognition, and because it already had the infrastructure in place to handle a massive influx of live streamers, Twitch became an obvious destination for concerts and sporting events that needed to migrate online when the pandemic struck. And it delivered, not only offering artists and athletes a place to showcase their talents, hold competitions, and interact with fans, but also make money as physical spaces emptied out. Events such as the Outside Lands Festival became Inside Lands while Major League Baseball players livedstreamed their spring training. Live gaming content, the lifeblood of Twitch since its founding, also hit new milestones. When Riot Games launched its new competitive shooter game Valorant in April, Twitch users watched 34 million hours of related content in a single day, setting a new record.

3. Global Citizen

For drawing more than 270 million people together for an event that raised $127.9 million for frontline healthcare workers and the WHO

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With its stated mission to end extreme poverty around the world, Global Citizen knew it needed to rise to the occasion in the year of COVID-19. Its music festivals at Central Park’s Great Lawn had grown over the last few years to become one of New York City’s signature fall events, but organizers could not wait until September when the spreading coronavirus made clear that resources were urgently needed. In early March, Global Citizen was one of the first major organizations to launch a large advocacy effort with a series of Instagram Live concerts called “Together at Home,” which helped the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Less than a month later it organized a companion TV broadcast special, which aired in 175 countries globally, and on most major U.S. networks. Viewed by more than 270 million people, the special raised $127.9 million for frontline healthcare workers and the WHO. By November, Global Citizen said more than 90% of that money had already been distributed to people on the ground.

4. Run the World

For re-creating the cocktail-party experience for a virtual era

Timing is everything in business, but when twenty-something entrepreneurs Xiaoyin Qu and Xuan Jiang launched their virtual-events platform Run the World in February 2020, they could not have known how perfectly timed it was. The platform’s signature product, Cocktail Party, offers the virtual equivalent of the very thing that workers around the country would soon be craving—a simple drink and networking opportunity with colleagues. Users are matched up automatically with other attendees and take part in one-on-one chats that last for only a few minutes. The feature began as an audio-only service and was upgraded with video capabilities in May, just as work-from-home fatigue was setting in for millions of workers who were adjusting to the new normal. Qu, a former product manager at Facebook, was inspired to start the service after doctor mother traveled from China to Chicago for a networking conference in 2018. The experience made Qu realize that networking for work should be a lot less physically taxing. With backing from Andreessen Horowitz, Run the World launched as an all-virtual company and has since hosted more than 10,000 events.

5. Kiswe

For bringing K-pop band BTS to our phones

If you have trouble wrapping your mind around 756,000 K-pop fans in 107 countries and territories around the world streaming the same concert at the same time—and paying for the privilege—then you can see why Kiswe won us over. In June, the the mobile streaming platform forged a partnership with Big Hit Entertainment, the South Korean entertainment company behind BTS. While the boy-band sensation canceled their live tour in 2020 as the pandemic erupted, they didn’t leave their BTS ARMY hanging. Powered by Kiswe, BTS has been performing live pay-per-view concerts where fans can interact with each other and show their support for the band with digital effects that the BTS members can see. Their inaugural event, “Bang Bang Con: The Live,” is now in the Guinness Book of World Records for attracting the most paying viewers of any online concert.

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6. CSM Sport & Entertainment

For rousing professional sports stadiums to life

The logistics of restarting professional sports leagues after the COVID-19 outbreak brought challenges ranging from the expected to the bizarre. Obviously, the biggest concern was keeping players and workers safe and virus-free, but what about more aesthetic concerns—like making pro stadiums visually appealing for audiences watching at home. For that challenge, a number of leagues turned to marketing agency CSM, which specializes in creating integrated experiences for brands across sports and entertainment. The firm kicked off a branded “seat dressing program” in all 20 of one league’s stadiums, which were adorned in stunning mosaics and messages made from seat coverings. In that same year, it also launched Athletes Unlimited, player-centric sports league with a points-based model that promises equitable compensation and lets athletes share in long-term profits. Its inaugural softball season kicked off in August and aired on ESPN and CBS networks.

7. 92nd Street Y

For generating global audiences for local arts

While most performing arts organizations were caught off guard by the tumult of 2020, few were able to reinvent themselves in a way that would continue to serve their communities, keep culture seekers occupied during quarantine, transform their business model from a local one to a global one, and make them even better positioned for a post-pandemic world. 92nd Street Y, long a favorite New York City cultural center tucked away on the Upper East Side, stepped into action quickly when the COVID-19 shutdowns came, producing a daily email digest of concerts, classes, and interactive talks sent to 35,000 existing patrons. In the beginning, much of the content was free, but the organization discovered an untapped international audience—with participants from some 160 countries. When it started charging an admission fee for its online offerings, 60% of those who bought tickets were new customers from outside the New York area. Now that the rest of the world has discovered this local gem, it’s easy to see these innovations surviving long after the pandemic ends.

8. Verizon Media

For being the first to bring native video-chat capabilities to livestreams for major sporting events

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There’s something to be said for giving people a break, and Verizon spent big do that for football fans when it paid more than $2 billion in 2017 for the rights to livestream every NFL game to any mobile device in America for five years. That meant just about anyone could watch their local NFL games, along with the playoffs and the Super Bowl, for free, as long as they were willing to watch on their phones. The free part is key. Watching sports on a tiny screen may not be the best option for everyone, but at a time when bundled TV streaming services are getting almost as expensive as cable, having a free streaming option is a godsend. When the coronavirus pandemic disrupted sports bars and watch parties this year, Verizon evolved the service—joining the watch-party trend with a feature that let fans watch games together and enjoy instant replays in augmented reality. It wasn’t the first company to launch a co-watching experience in 2020, but as Fast Company wrote in September, Verizon was the first company to bring native video chat to livestreams for a major sporting event, which is arguably where such a feature might prove to be most useful.

9. Resy

For cooking up a 10-course drive-through experience in L.A.

The carefree joy of eating at a restaurant was something we took for granted pre-pandemic. When COVID-19 made the prospect of gathering indoors dangerous, restaurant tech platform Resy came up with a creative idea for a solution: a drive-through event catered by 10 of the most prestigious chefs in Los Angeles. The Resy Drive Thru, which took place at the Hollywood Palladium on Sunset Boulevard, let diners sample a 10-course testing menu without ever leaving their cars. Each car got its own designated waiter, and rather than try to fully replicate the experience of fine dining, the chefs created dishes that could be consumed comfortably on the go. The drive-through experience was sponsored by American Express, which acquired Resy in 2019. It was the centerpiece of a series of initiatives that Resy announced in early 2020 to help the pandemic-battered restaurants that are its lifeblood—including waiving its fees through the end of the year and launching a suite of digital tools for managing off-site dining. In a year when so many events were consumed virtually on a screen, it was nice to see food lovers coming together for a live event that was actually live. We truly hope fine-dining drive-throughs will still be a thing post-pandemic.

10. Bandsintown

For transforming musical artists’ existing event notification systems into a livestream alert vehicle

As a discovery platform for concerts, festivals, and other live events, Bandsintown had to pivot quickly in the wake of the COVID-19 event cancellations, but it stuck to its core mission of helping fans connect with artists. Through a partnership with Twitch, it launched Bandsintown Live, through which artists could alert fans about their live-streaming events and monetize their live streams. In its first 90 days, it was used by 17,000 artists, who created 35,000 live streams for events listed on Bandsintown. Key to its success was a quickly developed feature that let artists turn their existing event notification system into a “live-stream alert system.” The company has taken these efforts a step further with the launch of Bandsintown Plus, a new subscription service that offers fans access to 25 live-streamed concerts a month, along with artists Q&As.