Leveraging Virtual LIVE Entertainment to Remain Viable During a Pandemic

Kristopher Jones and Damon Wayans Jr pitch their Special Guest App on "Planet of the Apps". Today, they are pitching a new business model to help on-premise and entertainers mutually benefit.

The coronavirus pandemic has temporarily decimated the hospitality industry leaving millions of workers without employment. Similarly, the entertainment industry, particularly those musicians and performers that earned a weekly living by gigging at bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, are without a steady income and left scrambling to find alternative work to pay bills. This new reality hit home immediately for Special Guest, the venture capital-backed talent booking management platform I founded alongside actor/comedian Damon Wayans, Jr in 2017 to connect musicians, comedians, and other LIVE performers to talent buyers and event planners.

By early March 2020, most bars, restaurants, and nightclubs across the country were forced into a government-mandated shutdown, while stay at home orders became the new norm. The entertainment industry was forced into unemployment. But instead of closing the doors at Special Guest, we challenged our team to consider options that would allow Special Guest to remain viable and relevant during these unprecedented times. We wondered if it would be possible to leverage the new realities of a virtual workplace to position Special Guest as a primary solution for entertainers (as well as bars, restaurants, and clubs) to make money and remain viable despite the fallout of the global pandemic. 

There were some clear trends that emerged from the World being under lockdown from the coronavirus. For instance, in December 2019 video conferencing software Zoom averaged about 10 million users per day. By March 2020 Zoom’s daily usage exceeded 200 million. A primary catalyst for this growth is that businesses small and large were forced to close physical establishments all while managers, employees, and clients still needed to communicate. Indeed there has been a steep learning curve for many people that weren’t familiar with platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype but it became clear to the Special Guest team that being able to do things “virtually” was a requirement for entrepreneurial relevance and viability during this time. 

Someone on the Special Guest team asked me if I had heard of a “Virtual Happy Hour,” which is a meeting among friends, family, and colleagues via Zoom, Hangouts, or Skype often with alcohol or celebration involved. Sounded fun! I did some research and discovered that by early March the hashtag #virtualhappyhour began trending on Twitter and has since been used millions of times. Google Trends shows similar hockey stick growth for the keyword “Virtual Happy Hour” despite the concept barely even existing 45 days ago. I just knew we had to take action.

On March 17, 2020, Special Guest launched the ability for anyone, anywhere in the world to book private, virtual LIVE entertainment performances on Zoom, Skype, or Facetime. With tens of thousands of unemployed entertainers available for hire at SpecialGuestApp.com, bookings started coming in from around the world. Not surprisingly, one of the most popular ways people are using Special Guest is to book 15 to 30-minute music or comedy performances during their #virtualhappyhours. Still, others are creating virtual birthday parties, anniversaries, and virtual family reunions. The idea of a virtual private LIVE entertainment experience is fun, it’s inexpensive to pull off (starts at $25) and creates a win, win, win outcome.

Bars, restaurants, clubs, and other corporations are taking advantage of Special Guest’s Virtual Booking Platform way beyond virtual happy hours. For instance, the Canning House restaurant in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania began using Special Guest several weeks ago to hire musicians to perform LIVE on their Facebook Fan Page. Instead of directly promoting delivery or takeout services they used the promotion to raise money for an emergency food relief non-profit called Keystone Mission. The LIVE performances have received thousands of views, thousands of dollars were raised for charity, and fans engaged with the Canning House and their brand messaging. Now fans were hyper-aware Canning House is still open for business via takeout or delivery and are committed to their community by supporting LIVE musicians and non-profits.

How can you leverage this new Virtual World to either grow your business, engage your audience, or connect with those people most important to you?

The Nightclub and Bar Show has been an important part of the success of Special Guest. I was a keynote speaker at NCB 2017, Special Guest is a repeat exhibitor and attendee, and Damon and I are scheduled to deliver a fireside chat at the 2020 show later this year in Las Vegas. We feel especially connected to the NCB community and we encourage you to take our lead and find a way of leveraging this new “virtual” world to keep your business relevant during these challenging times.

Book a virtual entertainment experience at https://specialguestapp.com/

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