A New Hope for Out-of-Home Entertainment
The worst of times are often the beginning of the best of times, but only when the challenges and opportunities are accurately identified and fully understood. The New Hope is that 2021 will be the year out-of-home entertainment venues accept the competitive realities we face, which is an overabundance of entertainment choices or, more accurately, an overabundance of attention distractions.
This overabundance comes from both in-home and out-of-home entertainment choices. If we really look at what we are competing for, it’s NOT a person’s money or even their time – it’s their ATTENTION!
Going forward, we must embrace the possibilities of what could be. We must then do the hard work required to create out-of-home experiences that take our venues to a level that empowers them to break through the noise, which will enable us to not only survive, but thrive.
Our current and prospective guests are constantly being barraged by thousands of interruptions and distractions all day long. If we want to break through and capture their attention, we must provide our guests with the most fun and engaging out-of-home entertainment experiences. We must also facilitate and enhance the quality of our guests’ social interactions with their friends and family within our venues.
The Evil Empire = In-Home & Mobile Entertainment
In this battle for attention, it’s important to acknowledge that we are essentially bringing a BB gun to a TANK fight.
Who has the tanks? In-home and mobile entertainment platforms (i.e. Netflix, Disney+, AppleTV, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Peacock, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Tik Tok, Online Video Game Streaming platforms, plus X-Box, Playstation, and many more). These giant in-home and mobile entertainment companies are maneuvering around the entertainment battlefield in their impenetrable tanks competing with each other to control the attention of billions of people. And guess what? They don’t see out-of-home entertainment as a threat to their industry at all, not even a teeny tiny bit.
None of this happened overnight, but it feels like it did – especially since Covid-19 showed up to put a massive spotlight on our competitive weaknesses. Think of it this way: Which entertainment companies have grown 2x, 5x, or even 10x stronger during the Covid-19 pandemic? It’s an easy answer – it’s many of the same companies listed above.
While on the other hand, in the blink of a pandemic eye, Movie Theaters have become a mediocre experience when compared to watching first run movies in the comfort of our own homes. At home we have the ability to pause the movie, use our own bathrooms, order our preferred food & beverages from our own mobile devices, all while wearing our pajamas and sitting in our comfortable La-Z-Boy by 6:32 p.m. And if it’s not a first run movie, let’s binge watch our favorite, newly discovered (5th or maybe it’s the 10th) TV series on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Apple TV, Disney+, etc.
And as most of us already know, these TV shows are presented in a WAY more addictive, cliffhanger format than any movie in a theater could ever hope to offer. Multi-episode and multi-season TV shows like Game of Thrones are far more addictive than any movie franchise. In fact, the most famous movie franchise, Star Wars, has multiple TV series already available on TV including the newest and very first live action Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian, which can only be viewed on Disney+.
Like I said above, we have to acknowledge what isn’t good enough about our current offerings as well as what can and cannot be fixed. We must identify and understand what our strengths are, or what they should be, and we have to 10x or at least 5x our strengths so they break through the noise. What we offer has to capture our guests’ ATTENTION repeatedly, more frequently, and certainly not just a few visits per year. Based on the current and future competitive landscape, a few visits per year means death to just about every out-of-home entertainment venue.
About 14 months ago on November 13th, 2019, I predicted the collapse of our entertainment industry in an article titled “Out-of-home Entertainment Industry Apocalypse.”
In the article, I predicted that 50% of all entertainment venues and 70% of all movie theaters were going to disappear over the next 20 years (at the end of this article is a link if you would like to read what is now our most read article).
No, I did not predict that Covid-19 was going to be a factor in our industry’s apocalypse; however, it’s important to point out that Covid-19 has been, and continues to be, a massive accelerator of the predictions in the article.
It may seem that Movie Theaters and out-of-home experiences became mediocre in what feels like the blink of an eye, but the reality is that it didn’t happen in months or even years – it took decades for in-home and mobile entertainment to become the powerhouse that it is today.
Online gaming and especially first-person shooter games (i.e. Halo, Call of Duty, Fortnite, PUBG, etc.) have, over many, many years, exploded overnight in popularity (sarcasm and truth combined). Due to the massive number of semi-social, easily accessible, cheap, and often free in-home entertainment options, our out-of-home guests can just stay home – unless, we create something that is truly unique and can only be experienced out of the home.
Take laser tag for example. Traditional laser tag has improved so little over the last 20+ years that it is often portrayed as a fun nostalgic thing 20, 30, and 40 year olds used to do when they were kids and teens. And yet, those same 20, 30, 40 and even 50 year olds are the core players who play online first-person shooter video games. Laser tag is the “real live-action” version of these online games, but laser tag‘s overall playing experience has not improved as much as it should have, and more importantly CAN!
Important note: the average age of a video game player is 34 years old! Don’t read any further until you fully understand what that means. It means the bell curve for video game players starts lower than 9 years old and goes to over 59 years old. That may sound insanely wrong, but it’s freaking true! The global gaming industry is huge! It’s been reported that in 2020 the global gaming industry achieved revenues of $180 billion, which is more than sports and movies worldwide. One of the biggest segments of this giant industry is “First-Person Shooter Games.”
Based on the previous paragraph, the mediocrity of laser tag is just another in a series of huge missed opportunities for out-of-home entertainment. The opportunity for laser tag is bigger than ever (i.e. It’s HUGE!), but the laser tag experience is stuck in the 90s with cartoony black light UV painted arenas as well as themes and props that make absolutely no sense – especially when it comes to actually improving and dramatically enhancing the gaming experience. If we are going to create attractions that can become addictive and habit forming, the gaming experience IS the Key.
Critical takeaway: No other out-of-home attraction has the same upside potential as laser tag when it comes to creating a behaviorally addictive out-of-home attraction experience. Players who love to play online first-person shooter games (100 million plus in the USA alone) want to play a 10x real world version of their favorite online game, but the average laser tag is designed and operated to be a boring, mediocre experience.
All other out-of-home attractions have the same problem as laser tag (i.e. bowling, go-karts, arcades, bumper cars, mini-golf, etc). All of the attractions in our industry have made incremental improvements, but those improvements are just not good enough to break through the noise of in-home and mobile entertainment that has been purposely built to be addictive. We must figure out how to make dramatic improvements to our out-of-home attractions and social experiences.
We must also create and implement the tools and mechanisms needed to enable our guests to easily and repeatedly reconnect and bond with their friends and family at our venues on a monthly basis.
We can do this by fully integrating our attraction and guest experiences with tools and mechanisms that enable our venues to trigger the habit of our guests repeatedly scheduling new visits to our venues to play, socialize, and bond with their friends and family. To the best of our knowledge, this doesn’t exist in any significant way in our industry, but I assure you it’s coming and very soon – finally!
How do we know it’s coming very soon? Two reasons: number one, we have to have it for our own entertainment venues as well as our clients’ venues. Number two, we already developed something similar for our LASERTRON Battle Royale Squad game and fully integrated it with our autonomous Battle Royale Tournament experience – and it works!.
When it comes to out-of-home entertainment, the simple truth is that good is not good enough, in fact, good is not even mediocre anymore. The only solution is a long overdo rethinking and redesign of our attraction and entertainment venues.
We must fully embrace the need to become students of the craft of designing and evolving behaviorally ADDICTIVE out-of-home experiences.
The sentence above is exactly what in-home and mobile entertainment providers have been doing for 20+ years and they have gotten really good at it. Unfortunately, our industry is not even remotely close to understanding how to do it.
To be clear, there are no experts in our industry that can help us do the work that is needed to be done to survive the Apocalypse.
At a minimum, there has to be an ongoing partnership of experimentation, discovery, and learning to create out-of-home attractions, entertainment, and social experiences that are designed to be habit-forming.
This can only be done by working closely with vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers who are making the investments of time and money to create experiences that are capable of enabling behavioral addictions to actually form; and, just as important, these behavioral addictions must actually be positive and good for our guests.
YES, there are positive and good behavioral addictions and out-of-home entertainment is in a truly unique position to enable our guests to experience one of the most important human needs, which is out-of-home, in-person socializing and bonding with their fellow human beings (friends, family, coworkers, etc).
We must be humble and think with an open mind about the very real challenges we are facing. We must work together to discover and create the dramatic improvements that are necessary to enable our out-of-home venues to thrive.
In the Apocalypse article I wrote over 14 months ago, I made several predictions and it looks like more than a few are coming true, and even faster than predicted.
Below are 12 updated and new predictions for 2021.
1. Reaffirm – The number of Movie Theaters will shrink by 70% over the next 2 to 3 years (I predicted wrongly that it would take 20 years)
- Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, AppleTV, Amazon, and Movie Studios deciding to release their movies earlier or even at the same time as in theaters on their own streaming platforms, or they are skipping theaters altogether to use their best, proprietary theatrical content to rapidly increase the number of subscribers utilizing and most importantly paying them for the continued use of their streaming platforms on a monthly basis.
- It’s important to point out that the content creators keep 100% of the revenues that come in through their company-owned streaming platforms. And most importantly, their platforms are designed to capture their members’ attention on a weekly or even daily basis, which helps them to build a much stronger behavioral addiction to their streaming platforms. By continuously infusing and promoting their best theatrical content directly to their subscribers, they are able to maximize the growth and retention of their subscribers, which helps to insure that their platforms continue to generate even stronger recurring revenue streams far into the future.
- Their platforms give them the ability to communicate directly with their subscribers and most importantly the ability to promote their upcoming releases of new movies, TV shows, and other content for virtually FREE compared to the promotional costs of releasing a new movie into theaters. They can provide their new movie for free to their subscribers as a part of their monthly subscription and to bring in more subscribers who want to see the movie or they can charge their subscribers extra to watch the movie at home and/or make it only accessible through their streaming service, which also helps them to increase their subscriber base.
2. Reaffirm – Out-of-home entertainment venues will shrink by 50% over the next 2 to 3 years (note: I also predicted wrongly that this would take 20 years) I really didn’t think this would happen. The original intent of the Apocalypse article was to warn our industry about the oversaturation of both out-of-home and in-home entertainment, but, with Covid-19, the shrinking of our industry by up to 50% is a very real possibility.
- In-home and mobile entertainment have grown dramatically faster, because the content creators have spent gargantuanly more time and money (20+ years & hundreds of billions of dollars) creating the entertainment, games, and the tools and mechanisms required to enable their customers to become behaviorally addicted to their offerings. And again, Covid-19 has significantly accelerated the behavioral addictiveness of in-home and mobile entertainment.
- Oversaturation of Out-of-Home Entertainment – too many out-of-home entertainment venues have opened over the last 10 years – especially in slow growth and declining market areas. There IS such a thing as oversaturation of a market and Covid-19 has and will continue to shine a light on this problem.
- Venues in oversaturated markets are unable to attract enough guests to make a sustainable profit, which means these market areas will continue to be bloody red oceans of competition. Eventually, and when enough have closed, the out-of-home entertainment venues that remain will be able to generate healthy profits, but only if they break through the noise by creating experiences that are truly unique, out-of-home only, and attract guests back on a monthly basis instead of only a few times per year.
3. Reaffirm – Virtual Reality is a Trojan Horse in Out-Of-Home Entertainment Venues
- Out-of-home VR is a marketing tool for the in-home entertainment powerhouses who will dominate this market. All video gaming VR hardware and content creators (i.e. Facebook, X-Box, Playstation, Nintendo, video game developers, and all the current and future streaming platforms) will capture 99% of all VR revenue. They will only leave the tiniest of scraps for out-of-home entertainment.
- The costs for gamers to experience VR in their homes has already declined significantly and sales of VR hardware and software are surging for the in-home VR gaming market.
- The real money has and will always be in the development of hit games that are sold to hundreds of millions of gamers and/or using those hit games to drive more gamers to the big gaming companies’ subscription-based online streaming platforms that currently cost between $5 to $20 dollars per month. These streaming platforms enable their subscribers/players to have unlimited hours of VR fun at a very low cost per month. Out-of-home VR will never be able to compete with the quality, breadth, and convenience of in-home VR content.
4. Out-of-Home (OOH) entertainment venues will embrace Behavioral Addictive Design or Die
- Out-of-home (OOH) entertainment venues that survive will finally embrace behavioral addictive design. This is the only way out-of-home entertainment venues will be able to survive and thrive.
- In-home entertainment has been fanatically focused on addictive behavioral design for 20+ years and we have yet to grasp how important this is to our out-of-home entertainment industry’s survival.
- The best attraction and guest experiences are the ones that become more fun and entertaining the more our guests experience them. Just as important, these experiences must be the kind that can only be done in our out-of-home entertainment venues.
- The best attraction and guest experiences will be fully integrated with the tools and mechanisms that enable our guests to easily schedule, promote, and invite their friends and family to return to our venues again and again.
5. RFID Wristbands are Key to Improving the In-Venue Guest Experience
- This may sound like a strange prediction, but it’s not. If you look at all the different types of technologies available to track our guests’ movements and purchases within our venues (ID cards, mobile devices, NFC, etc.), none of them are as capable or convenient as RFID wristbands – especially when the technology that can be integrated with them can achieve a much better guest experience. Sometimes simple really is dramatically better.
- I won’t go into all the details here, but our software team is in the middle of figuring out the best ways to develop the software and hardware integration that will enable entertainment venues to provide a better and more seamless guest experience.
6. Fast Casual and Mobile Device Ordering at your selected table is here to STAY
- Technology and “near” saturation of mobile phones is permanently changing the out-of-home dining experience.
- Fast casual dining using mobile device ordering can provide a much more convenient, faster, and far less labor-intensive experience than traditional sit-down table service.
- Sit-down table service is slow for a reason – this is why the staff are called waiters. We wait for them to come over to our table to take our order for drinks and appetizers, we wait for them to come back so we can order our entrees, we wait for them to come back to ask us if we want another glass of wine, we wait for them to come back to ask us what desserts we want, and finally we wait for them to bring us our bill. Mobile ordering and payment eliminates many of the negatives of sit-down table service.
- Front line staff wages are going to $15 per hour (I had this prediction written before the new President gave his speech about increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 – either way it’s coming and sooner rather than later). Plus, minimum wage will continue to go up above $15 dollars because it’s going to be set to inflation in many states and will automatically increase every year.
- If you are a food and beverage consultant or architect, please jump on board and help all operators to save and make more money by going to a higher-end, fast casual, smartphone assisted dining experience for all or at least most entertainment venues.
7. Traditional sit-down table service is DEAD (especially in entertainment venues – see above prediction)
- Sit-down table service is becoming (or has become) a lower quality food service experience when compared to the best fast casual software-aided table service – especially for out-of-home entertainment venues.
- Going forward, it’s 100% insane to design a traditional sit-down restaurant experience for an entertainment venue – especially since the added costs are far too high for the value added.
- The table service experience will be of lower quality when compared to fast casual dining – especially when all the new mobile technology and other tech is fully integrated into the fast casual dining experience.
8. Automated Guest Interfaces
- Automated guest interfaces are finally going to dramatically enhance the overall guest experience before, during, and after each guest’s visit.
- Kiosks and mobile guests’ data entry (waivers, email, phone numbers for texting when our guests’ food & beverage orders are ready for pick-up, their food and beverage is now being delivered to their table, and notifications to guests when it’s time to play their attraction – no more queuing lines.)
- Online guest reservations for attractions, birthday parties (adult and youth), all group types, seating, private rooms, etc.
- Online/Mobile food and beverage pre-ordering, in-venue ordering, and reordering.
- Real-Time Guest Feedback (guest surveys, reviews, concerns, etc. while guests are still in our venue)
9. Monthly Visits NOT Yearly Visits
- Monthly guest visits will become the norm for the best out-of-home entertainment venues that survive the, here now, out-of-home Entertainment Apocalypse (accelerated by Covid-19). This will occur when the best entertainment venues finally provide their guests with the best and most addictive attraction and guest experiences as well as the software tools and mechanisms required to help their guests easily book new visits with their friends and family.
- This is probably the most or at least one of the most important predictions in this article. And if you’ve read this far – congratulations! So now, what are we going to do to bring our guests back within 30 days of their previous visit? The next prediction is critically important to making this one actually happen.
10. Autonomous Guest Marketing, Promotions, Referrals, and more
- Guest-centered software along with guest experiences that are designed to be addictive will become the core driver of a venue’s growth. Most importantly, guest centered software will help to significantly increase monthly repeat visitation of our guests. To be clear, this does not exist in any significant way, but it will soon. In fact, it’s the core focus of all our current software development. These new software tools are hugely critical to the success of all out-of-home entertainment venues.
11. Out-of-Home In-Person Socializing will be the new In-Thing for 2021 and Beyond
- Out-of-home socializing will become the new In-Thing for those of us who design venues that dramatically maximize human connection within our spaces.
- As out-of-home entertainment venue operators, we can no longer hope that a high level of socializing is happening. We have to provide the best out-of-home social experiences and the mechanisms that enable it to happen before, during, and after our guests visit our venues.
12. Adult Laser Tag becomes the Best Anchor Attraction for the Best Out-of-Home Venues
- No other out-of-home attraction has the upside potential of an Adult Laser Tag experience. A 40+ player multi-level adult-sized arena will take up about 6,000 sq.ft., but it can generate a million plus in revenue.
- If you build an adult style laser tag, you will continue to get all the kids and teens. Most importantly, you will get a much larger number of adult players which can and should double your revenues, but only if you build an adult laser tag experience and operate it like you would an adult attraction.
- Single-level and small multi-level laser tag arenas are not impressive enough to attract large numbers of adult players and the capacity is too limiting.
- UV painted cartoony looking arenas are not going to attract large numbers of adult players. In fact, they don’t attract most teens either.
- An “Adult Laser Tag Arena” is one of the few attractions that has the ability to become a behaviorally addictive playing experience. It can be designed to have all the addictive hooks that can be tweaked to make it happen.
- Automated LASERTRON Tournaments just work in a 5x or better Adult Laser Tag experience when the attraction is operated professionally.
- Not yet a believer! Visit the most advanced and addictive laser tag experience in the world at the LASERTRON entertainment venue in Rochester, New York. You will be a believer as soon as you walk into the fully Programmable LED Illuminated LASERTRON arena and see it in action.
Bonus Prediction: Monthly Options with (x) Credits per Month and (y) Credits per Day
- Monthly Guest Options will become the new hot marketing and promotional tool for the best entertainment venues. Stay tuned to learn more or see it in person at the next LASERTRON Conference, which will be held at the LASERTRON Rochester, NY venue May 18th and 19th.
I think we can all agree that 2020 was an EXTREMELY challenging year as well as a very long one – kind of like this email!
We all know it sucked big time (2020, not this email), but I believe it was a defining moment for our out-of-home entertainment industry in more ways than one. I think many of us will be able to look back on 2020 and acknowledge that we learned more in 2020 than in any other year in our lifetime.
2020 showed us what was possible, what our weaknesses are, and how much pain and stress we could endure. Most importantly, it showed us what we needed to do more of and what we needed to stop doing. The obstacles were certainly huge, but the learning curves were massive and critically important to our current and future success.
The New Hope for 2021 is that we will use all the difficult and painful lessons we learned from 2020 to create a significantly more antifragile, out-of-home entertainment industry.
We must use the pain of 2020, to never forget that good enough never is and to always keep moving forward…
Thanks for reading,