Thriving online concerts in China jazz up pandemic-hit entertainment industry

(People's Daily Online) 14:33, June 20, 2022


Online concerts are taking off in China. On May 28, an online concert by Lo Tayu, one of the most well-known singers of the "Mandopop" genre, drew as many as 40 million unique viewers. At nearly the same time, Singaporean pop star Stefanie Sun hosted a live performance for Chinese audiences, with the number of views surpassing 200 million by the end of the event.

Lo and Sun's concerts were not the first success for this brand-new online cultural activity. Last December, the first online concert of the Irish boyband Westlife, which was tailored for the Chinese market, attracted an online audience of more than 27 million viewers, with the breakout success of this concert having unveiled the massive potential for online concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic era.

Within only the previous two months, six online concerts were held in China, attracting more than several hundreds of million viewers. A re-screening of two concerts from Mandopop star Jay Chou proved to be yet another phenomenal breakthrough for online streaming, the concerts accumulating 47 million and 25 million viewers, respectively. The audience for the first concert could fill up the seating capacity for China's National Stadium 596 times over, which has a maximum capacity of 80,000 seats.

New cultural avenues of consumption

The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily disrupted the concert business across China, as the resurging virus and epidemic prevention policies have forced most live musical performances to be delayed or otherwise canceled altogether.

According to the China Association of Performing Arts, the number of live performances in the first quarter of 2022 fell by 25 percent compared with the same period in 2021, while ticket revenues fell by 35 percent.

Out of the turmoil came an opportunity for virtual concerts as the demand for music performances that can provide entertainment for people is still robust. Traditional recreational activities are moving online, with increasingly more stars and singers choosing to interact with their audiences via the Internet and live-streaming platforms. Therefore, the absence of offline musical entertainment options is being made up for by online music platforms, including those that make use of supporting advanced technologies like 5G and virtual reality.

"Online concerts are innovative and open up a door for the pandemic-bruised entertainment industry," said Shi Chuang, a professor at the Shanghai Theatre Academy. "It has become a new form of cultural consumption for the pandemic era, filling the vacancy of the offline shows."

Data from Chinese analytic firm iiMedia Research showed that in the first half of 2020 alone, the number of users nationwide watching online music performances exceeded 80 million.

"Although these no-frills online events cannot provide the immersive concert vibe brought by the interaction between performers and the audience, they can still offer music lovers a sense of ceremony compared to listening to music alone, especially for those who are under quarantine during difficult times," said Shi, adding that it is an optimal means of entertainment during China's pandemic prevention and control period when clubs, bars, and outdoor music festivals are being forced to close repeatedly.

Some viewers regard online concerts as a "great way to entertain themselves." "It provides a platform where people with similar hobbies, memories, and cultural aesthetics can gather together online to enjoy these performances," said Wangjue, who has watched several online concerts this year.

"It can't replace the on-stage shows, but it can create new experiences beyond an offline show," she said. "It is free for everyone, and it offers different angles and clearer views."

Collective carnivals driven by nostalgia

The growing popularity of online concerts can also be ascribed to the successful exploration of audiences' sense of nostalgia. A slew of sensational online concerts have shared one thing in common: they feature mega stars from the 1980s and 2000s, striking a chord among a close circle of viewers with a shared memory of their younger days.

"I am not a heavy consumer of online concerts, but my friends and I have watched Jay Chou's online concerts together," said Su Ziyao, who has been a big fan of Chou since elementary school. "The nostalgic performance by the idol of our school times has dragged us back to the old days," she said, adding that these online concerts made up for her own regrets for having never attended Chou's shows in the old days.

"To some extent, it is not the music but nostalgic feelings that make these online concerts phenomenal," said Shi, "the beautiful old memories carried by the singers' best 80s and 90s hits rekindle a kind of "collective carnival" again and again."

However, Shi warned that such online concerts could not solely rely on old memories since the recent trend towards nostalgia in the music industry is not an evergreen approach. When audiences' nostalgic feelings are depleted and the sense of freshness gradually fades, aesthetic fatigue is bound to set in.

To seize the window of opportunity and avoid squandering the short-lived lift of other trends, the virtual performance industry must keep enhancing their in-person experiences for viewers by innovating possible scenarios with the help of cutting-edge technologies and by producing diversified and high-quality content for different categories of users.

"Maintaining the audience's sense of freshness and surprise is the silver bullet for the substantive development of the online performance industry," said Shi. 

(Web editor: Wu Chaolan, Liang Jun)


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