Coronavirus spreads Thai entertainment to online platforms
By Chalermlapvoraboon Valaiporn
BANGKOK, NNA - Screaming fans were emptied out of concert venues in Thailand for a few months as lockdowns were enforced in tandem with global measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
But popular musicians continued to perform on virtual platforms for people who were ordered to stay safe at home after the deadly virus spread to more places in the country such as night spots and performance venues.
While this has helped to mitigate the impact of the pandemic somewhat, its toll on the music industry was very telling.
Enjoying continuous growth throughout the years, the country’s music events have seen revenues soaring from $54 million in 2017 to $68 million in 2019, according to Statista, a statistics service firm.
However, with the cancellations of concerts in recent months, revenues are expected to plunge 59.2 percent to $28 million this year.
But the show must go on.
Major entertainment conglomerates such as BEC World Pcl. and GMM Grammy Pcl. launched online platforms to stage concerts in an industry-wide move to support the livelihood of musicians while keeping audiences.
“Everybody was doing Facebook live and Zoom and we knew that we needed to go online with our artists. We need to get our artists working, and try to create an income stream for them as well,” Neil Thompson, deputy managing director of BEC Tero, told NNA.
Established in 1998, BEC Tero has been organizing concerts and events for international and local artists. In response to the pandemic, the company has launched ‘Soundbox Online,’ a digital platform to hold live concerts, the first of which was held on July 18.
Two more concerts by local artists broadcast on July 25 and Aug 1. The platform was developed from the company’s ‘Soundbox’ platform used previously to promote new artists as well as international artists to local listeners, said Neil.
The channel is distributed under a collaboration with Tencent (Thailand) Co., which owes Joox music streaming service, and local music studio company PM Center Co.
In the first quarter of 2020, BEC Tero conglomerate saw its revenues drop 19.1 percent to 1.63 billion baht ($51.8million). Income from concerts and other shows tumbled 97.1 percent, which registered a loss of 77.1 million baht.
Another local conglomerate, GMM Grammy Pcl., also introduced new online concerts to compensate for losses from concert cancellations. It held a ‘GMM Online Fest’ on July 4 and 5, to cater to Thai music fans in 200 places around the world.
The concert was a collaboration between GMM Grammy Music and South Korea’s live streaming application VLive. GMM has yet to announce the online concert revenue.
In any case, the conglomerate gained at least 1.3 billion baht in the first three months of 2020. The main contribution of 700 million baht came from the music business, but it was still a significant drop from 974 million baht made during the same period last year.
The country’s famous local indie record label, WhatTheDuck, has also staged an online concert on its ‘Live Interactive Studio’ platform.
“The inspiration behind creating online concerts was because we saw people being affected during the time,” WhatTheDuck told NNA.
“We wanted to help the involved personnel including electricity mechanics, technicians, stage organizers, sound engineers who faced no income at all,” said a statement from the company.
During the country’s lockdown in May and June, the record label held two online concerts which attracted 1,000 and 3,000 people respectively.
Concert goer Paranee B., 23, said, “What is good about these virtual concerts is that they are cheaper. But I don’t get the same feeling as being involved in a real performance.”
Paranee, who bought virtual K-Pop concerts held by South Korea’s SM Entertainment, added, “Normally, music fans would have to spend up to 6,000 baht to attend a concert. But I only had to pay 900 baht for a virtual one.”
While online concerts can offer good sound production and visual quality, music fans like Paranee still find themselves having to adjust to the new experience. "I would still want to meet my favorite singers personally in real life,” she added.
But Thompson sees virtual concerts as growth opportunities for the music industry beyond COVID-19.
“We want to look at this as a long-term thing, to give us the flexibility for our artists and fans from Jakarta, Tokyo and international fans to have more interactions with their favorite artists,” he said.
Concert halls with screaming fans are likely to return soon with social distancing measures in place. Event organizers like BEC Tero are allowing the limited number of fans to attend events under social distancing measures.
Besides music events, Thailand’s events and exhibitions sectors were also affected by the coronavirus disruptions. Government-supported events fell by as much as 30 percent. Of the 122 events that are supported by Thailand Convention Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), 36 events were cancelled, while 86 were postponed.
The state-run agency launched Virtual Meeting Space (VMS) in April to support business meetings and encourage trade show organizers to use its Offline 2 Online (O2O) platform. So far, 35 events have been held on the platform.
The shift to the online platform can reach out to more consumers. For example, Thailand Toy Expo 2020, which was held on May 28 to 31, attracted as many as 72,600 online visitors.
Meanwhile, with the easing of lockdowns in July, organizers are staging the comeback of big events which still require participants to wear face masks as protection.
After the Bangkok Motor Show, which was held in mid-July, upcoming events include Bangkok Art Biennale 2020, international food exhibition Thaifex 2020 and Metalex, a machine tools and metalworking exhibition for Southeast Asian participants.