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Is the Terminator prophecy coming true?

In order to future-proof our client’s projects, our company continually performs extensive research to understand the impact that constant connectivity and digital entertainment, as well as other cultural changes are having on the location-based entertainment industry. Along the lines of what we are finding in our research, I found a very interesting comment by James Cameron, director of The Titanic and Avatar movies in an interview by Jose Rottenberg in the current issue of Fast Company magazine:

Rottenberg: In The Terminator, you envisioned a future in which machines would become self-aware and take over humankind. Thirty years later, how do you think that prophecy holds up?

Cameron: It’s happening. When people are arguing over whether drone aircraft should be able to autonomously take out a human target, you’re into Terminator territory. Sit in any airport lounge and look around at the number of people hunched over, looking at a device. The machines have already won—only in a way that the Terminator films didn’t imagine.

And I’d add, just think about it, we now talk to our devices asking them for information and advice and take directions from them. Oh, how the age of the machine is upon us in such a short time.


Posted in digital, Disruption, movies, Trends | Comments Off

Millennials aren’t necessarily who you think they are

The press continually implies that Millennials are a homogeneous group of approximately 19- to 34-year-olds. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, not all Millennials are singles living in their parent’s basements. No, they aren’t all foodies. No, they aren’t all singles and childless couples who go out and party a lot.

Defining consumers by age is a big mistake. It is much more meaningful to define them by multiple dimensions, including their life stage. A college student behaves a lot different than a early-thirty-something single with a job. A childless late-twenty-something couple behaves a lot different than a late-twenty-something couple with children. A single childless woman behaves a lot differently than a single mother with a child. In fact, having children significantly changes spending priorities, including entertainment.

When we look at the Millennial generation based on those with children, approximately half have a child. Depending on the parents’ ages, earnings and couple status, even that can be a very diverse group.

Mothers with children 2012

Don’t plan your location-based center or marketing based on some broad population demographic such as Millennials. To be successful, you need to be a lot more targeted than that.


Posted in Consumer expenditures, Demographics, Entertainment, Location based entertainment, Millennials | Comments Off

Travel spending on entertainment & dining takes a staycation nosedive

The U.S. Commerce Department has reported that spending on travel and tourism during the 1st quarter of 2014 decreased at an annual rate of 1.0%. However, spending on recreation and entertainment turned down dramatically, decreasing 11.2%, and spending on food services and drinking places decreased 3.5%. All other travel related spending categories actually turned up during the quarter.

This all took place during a time of rising consumer confidence in the economy.

It’s hard to find an explanation for the the steep decline in spending on recreation and entertainment, as people were still traveling, in fact more so, based on all the other travel spending categories with the exception of dining and drinking.

Could it be that entertainment and recreation is taking a declining priority on how people spend their discretionary incomes when traveling. Our company’s research has found a definite long-term staycation trend when it comes to entertainment spending on trips. This could well just be a continuation of that trend.

entertainment spending trips staycation

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Playing Video Games Now a College Varsity Sport

I wrote a previous post about eSports. Now it is being recognized as a legitimate sport by Robert Morris University in Illinois. The university is offering hefty scholarships for players of one video game in particular, League of Legends, which is the most popular game for organized video game team competitions, known as eSports. The school will offer the scholarships as part of their new varsity eSports program.

The school says it wants to give credit to those with a competitive spirit who don’t necessarily want to play traditional sports such as basketball or football. Associate Athletic Director Kurt Melcher, who will be in charge of the school’s varsity eSports program, said League of Legends is a competitive game that demands team strategy and mental prowess, so offering scholarships will attract the same types of committed students who are drawn by scholarships for traditional physical sports.

Robert Morris’ team will compete in the already well-establish Collegiate Star League, a collection of 103 institutions including schools from Harvard to ASU who compete against each other in eSports matches. But the RMU team is the only one considered “Varsity,” and an official part of the school’s sports program. There are currently 27 million daily and 67 million monthly League of Legend players. In 2013, the video game produced $624 million in revenues.

The US government now recognizes League of Legend players as professional athletes who can be awarded work visas to come to the US to play.

So now not only is digital eSports a popular spectator sport – a League of Legends championship sold out the Staples Center in LA last October and was watched online by 32 million – but digital has crossed over into popular college sports to compete with the physical, including popular college basketball and football.

This is just one more example of how the digital world is disrupting traditional entertainment, and now sports. Not only is pure digital displacing the physical and real world versions, but we are also seeing a convergence of digital and real world experiences creating new forms of competition.

Posted in digital, Disruption, eatertainment, eSports, Experience, sports, Trends, video games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

More about the Social TV competition

In my blog last week I discussed how smartphones have turned the activity that consumes the majority of our leisure time, TV viewing, into an interactive social experience. With smartphones (and other screens), TV viewing can connect viewers in the moment with friends, content creators, stars and both likeminded and not-so-likeminded viewers, making it a very social experience and therefore even tougher completion for location-based venues. This new social leisure experience is one part of a phenomenon called Social TV, simultaneously using social media while watching TV.

This is not some nascent activity. It has become a major consumer phenomenon. Research from the Council of Research Excellence in the fall of 2013 found that one-sixth (16.1%) of TV’s audience is using social media at the same time and slightly less than one half of those, or 7.3% of TV viewers, are engaged in socially connected viewing – social media conversations related to the actual show they’re watching. According to their research, the vast majority (90%) of that socially connected viewing takes place on Twitter.

Twitter Nielsen now tracks social TV on Twitter. The company found that 36 million people in the U.S. sent Tweets about TV in 2013. Analysis of their 4/28/14-5/4/14 tracking showed there is a broad age and gender distribution of who Tweets across the different programming and there are significant differences in the age and gender of Tweeters based on the type of programming. Not too surprisingly, males are the majority Tweeters for sports programming, with the highest percentage (89%) for cable basketball. Both cable basketball and cable boxing have the highest share (over 90%) of under-35 Tweeters. Females are the majority Tweeters for reality and drama series shows.

Tweeting chart

The second social media channel for TV conversations is Facebook. February 2014 research by SecondSync found that contrary to previous assumptions, 60% of TV-related Facebook interactions about a TV show happen while viewing the show. Their research found that up to a quarter of the TV audience is posting content relating to the show they are watching on Facebook, and 80% of that is occurring on mobile devices. Although SecondSync found Facebook to be a more significant socially connected TV viewing media than the Council of Research Excellence research that found 90% of simultaneous TV viewing conversations were occurring on Twitter, it still substantiates the magnitude of simultaneous Social TV conversations via social media.

Percent interacting Facebook

Twitter and Facebook Social TV are examples of just one of the many new kinds of growing digital disruptions to yesteryear’s entertainment landscape. To complete today and in the future, location-based entertainment must rapidly evolve and raise its bar to continue to capture a share of the consumer’s leisure time.

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Smartphones are making TV tougher competition than ever

Television viewing consumes the largest share of our leisure time and is the number one competitor to people spending their leisure time away from home. In 2012, television viewing consumed an average of 2 hours and 50 minutes a day, more than half (53%) of our average 5.37 hours of leisure time each day and one-fifth (19%) of all our awake time. And TV viewing time is on the increase, 7% since 2004, whereas time spent away-from-home at entertainment and cultural venues is on the decrease.

In the recent issue of Wired Magazine, Mat Honan wrote a very noteworthy and what should be frightening article for anyone in the location-based entertainment industry called “Tube Amplifier.” Here’s an except from his article:

“The Internet has gotten better and better at letting us talk to one another. . . I can share something—on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram—about what I’m currently experiencing and immediately hear from others experiencing the same thing.

“This instant Internet, ubiquitous and pushed to our smartphones, lets us experience events not only as they happen but together—even when we are physically apart. It’s not watching something at the same time as someone else; it’s watching it with them. We’re not just broadcasting anymore; we’re conversation-casting.

“Television has talked to us for decades, but it never listened. While we all watched events like the moon landing at the same time, we did so in pockets of isolation. This is why the so-called second screen has triumphed over the first. It’s why “second screen” is such a colossal misnomer; the phone is the first screen—always with us and always on. And it has made our big screens more vital. By combining the two, we connected ourselves.

“Thanks to this, live TV has never been better. The ability to comment immediately and have anyone respond has given live television a power-up; it has provided motivation to tune in to things we might otherwise skip or TiVo. Because a show isn’t just something to watch anymore—it’s a way to connect. . .


“During the Sochi Olympics, peak tweet volume hit during a live hockey shoot-out that pitted the US against Russia. Both countries were tuning in and cheering through their devices,
despite a massive time-zone discrepancy. And this year’s Oscars were the most-watched in 14 years, even with our DVRs and other entertainment options. Maybe we just wanted to talk. . .

“Today the conversation is the event: The highlight of the show is what happens simultaneously on another screen. It’s experiential synchronicity.”

This new internet-enabled social dynamic to watching television is the tube amplifier, or should we say flat screen amplifier. This new ability to socialize at home with people elsewhere while watching greatly enhances the attractiveness of television. It also makes watching a lot of TV in real time far more desirable than DVRing it, giving less flexibility to when you do other leisure activities.

This new expanding dimension of TV viewing is very similar to the appeal of massively multi-player online games (MMOGs) and massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Most players are drawn to the games more for their social aspects than the game play. However, the segment of the population that watches television is far greater than the number of people playing these online games

I’ve been writing a lot in this blog and in our company’s Leisure eNewsletter about how digital technology is changing the competitive entertainment landscape and taking both leisure time and leisure disposable dollar share away from location-based entertainment. Now we have the synergistic combination of two digital screens merging to become more powerful and attractive than either alone. Disruptive digital at-home entertainment competition continues to ramp up its game. To counter this new competitive threat, location-based entertainment venues need to ramp up their game, their quality and attractiveness, what is called High Fidelity, to become a premium experience in order to continue to lure people away from the digital options in their home cocoons.

We are in the mist of a profound shift from real world to digital entertainment and it’s happening faster than most people realize.

Posted in digital, Disruption, Experience, Leisure time, Location based entertainment, Out-of-home, Social media, Trends, video games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

eSports, the newest spectator sport

There is no argument that the introduction of home video gaming consoles had a major damaging impact on arcades, as people stayed home to play video games rather than spend time and money to play them in gamerooms. Video game play has now expanded from televisions screens to every type of screen, including computers and mobile devices (predominately smartphones).

Today, half (51%) of U.S. households own a dedicated game console and those that do own an average of two. 59% of Americans play video games, and among those that do, over half (53%) play games on a smartphone. Participation in video games is big time.

In addition to taking business away from arcades, the time people spend playing video games takes away from their leisure disposable time, roughly five hours a day on average, that they can use to visit a location-based entertainment (LBE) venue. It’s a plain and simple competition in a zero sum game for their leisure time, and of course, their disposable income.

Well, if video game play wasn’t bad enough competition for LBEs, now it has become a major online, spectator, competitive sport known as eSports. Last year 71 million people watched other people play video games, almost half (31.4M) in the United States. One in five American video gamers now either watches or participates in eSports. The average eSports viewer watches 19 times a month for 2.2 hours each session. eSports viewership is doubling each year.

Now there is even a dedicated website,, dedicated to watching people play video games. The two-year-old website sends streams from more than 600,000 video game playing broadcasters each month to over 45 unique viewers. eSports have become so popular, that both Sony and Microsoft have now integrated Twitch and other streaming technology into their videogame consoles. YouTube has a popular channel, PewDiePie, devoted to videogame content that has more than 16 million subscribers. Another popular, recently launched online broadcast network for eSports is premium for professional level competitive gaming, operated by Major League Gaming.

Last October more than 32 million people tuned into the Twitch live stream of the Season 3 world championship broadcast of the Riot Games’ League of Legends, more than the combined total that watched the series finales of the television shows Breaking Bad, 24 and The Sopranos.

eSports viewers

League of Legends is the world’s most popular eSports game, but in the Western World, Call of Duty is the most popular. To see a one-minute trailer for the upcoming 2014 Call of Duty Championship with a $1.0 million prize pool, click here (mature 17+).

ESPN has now recognized eSports as being an official ‘sport’ alongside other sports, which until now have all involved real world physical play. ESPN and Major League Gaming have agreed for the first time in history that MLG pros will compete at ESPN’s X-Games for a shot to take home a medal. This will bring the first-ever Major League Gaming X Games Invitational to the inaugural X Games Austin in June. Eight of the world’s best Call of Duty teams will compete in a three-day tournament for a shot at a medal.

MLG will have a dedicated area showcasing the event at X Games Austin. The gaming tournament will be featured next to other X Games events in fields like BMX, Moto X, and skateboarding. It’s unclear how much of the ESPN/ABC X Games TV broadcasts will focus on gaming, but MLG says highlights of the tournament will air on both networks. The complete tournament will air exclusively on channels on the web, mobile apps, and the MLG app for Xbox 360.

If you think about it, this is a significant milestone in the expansion of the digital world into our leisure lives. Now playing eSports, where the competition really takes place in the virtual world, is considered a legitimate sport. And for the first time in the history of mankind, all the participating sports players don’t have to be located at the same physical place.

As if eSports play and its viewership hasn’t made the entertainment competitive landscape worse enough for LBEs, now eSports is raising the bar by competing for a share of what time people do spend out of their homes at entertainment venues. Now eSports is taking place in stadiums and arenas.

Watching people play esports video games

Last Fall the Staples Center in Los Angeles sold out of its 18,000 tickets to watch the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship. But that one time event is small time compared to what is about to happen, and unlike a lot of remarkable new venues, it won’t be in Dubai, but rather in China.

Hengqin Island located off the coast Macau, where millions already come to casinos to play games of chance, is where gamers will be coming to watch other gamers play Xbox in the competitive-gaming industry’s first own ‘Madison Square Garden,’ a new eSport 15,000 spectator capacity MLG Gaming Arena in a new $2.8 billion V-Zone gaming theme park. The first phase of the park with the arena is expected to cost $480 million and is slated for completion in 2017. V-Zone is the planned centerpiece of the $18 billion Creative Culture City.

Hengqin, China Creative Culture City

Hengqin, China Creative Culture City

The Hengqin Creative Culture City will be the 1st development in China and in the world to house a permanent visitor attraction dedicated to video game and eSports activity. In addition to being the site of the world’s first MLG Gaming Arena, the V-Zone is slated to include an expo area for game developers to feature new and upcoming games, creative workspaces, gaming-themed restaurants, retail shops and more.

The growth of eSports and its introduction into different real world venues is only in its early stages. We’re sure to see it become an even more significant option for a growing segment of the population as a form of entertainment and/or sports.



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Disruption by a new 3rd place with lubricated socialization

My blogs and our Leisure eNewsletters have included a series of articles over the past few years featuring a general theme about how digital technology is disrupting real world out-of-home experiences and socialization. My last blog discussed how digital technology is shifting our social interaction from taking place in the real world to taking place in the digital world, especially on the smartphone.

In that blog I discussed restaurant community tables that work to bring people together to socialize in an out-of-home location when there is a social lubricant, either booze or artisanal food. However, at Starbucks, the community tables tend to only function as communal desks where people don’t interact due to the lack of a social lubricant.

Well, those Starbucks community tables, as well the entire store, are about to undergo a dramatic change in the evening, which I predict will create a new social venue destination that will be disruptive to restaurants and bars.

Back in 2010 in Seattle, Starbucks opened its first experimental unit that sells beer and wine in addition to its normal beverages and food. Since then they have rolled out the concept, which they call Starbucks Evenings, to 26 sites in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Portland. Starbucks has now announced they will be going into hyperdrive with a major expansion of the concept to 1000s of their 11,500 stores around the United States.

In addition to offering beer and wine after 4pm, the evening cafes also offer a menu of savory, shareable, warm small plates and desserts, including such offerings as bacon-wrapped dates with a balsamic glaze, parmesan crusted chicken skewers, truffle macaroni and cheese, artichoke and goat cheese flatbread and salted caramel cheesecake brownie.

Starbucks food

Starbucks has already successfully made their stores the place to meet up with friends during the day while you enjoy a wide variety of custom-made coffees, teas or other drinks and possibly a snack or breakfast or lunch selection. In fact, they basically invented what is known as the 3rd place in America and have spread the concept worldwide. Now they will be expanding that social concept into the evenings and nights, and instead of lubricating socialization with non-alcoholic drinks, they are turning up the lubrication dial by creating a place where you can meet and have a cold one or a glass of wine.

They are also tapping into a rapidly expanding trend with their small plate menu – snacking. In fact, today the average American snacks 2-3 times a day, with most of the snacking occurring in the late afternoon, evening and into the night.

I recently had the chance to visit three of the Starbucks Evenings cafes in Seattle. I was very impressed with the interior design. The décor in the evening is more mellow, warm and upscale than the typical daytime Starbucks. And the stores appear to use a richer palette of colors and woods. Starbucks is also giving their store empire a bespoke look by customizing the designs for their locales. Here’s a selection of photos of Evenings stores both in Seattle, Portland and Chicago.

Starbucks Evenings collage

Here’s where the disruption comes in. If you want to meet your colleagues and friends after work or later into the evening to relax and have some great conversation while you have a drink and perhaps a gourmet snack, these Evenings stores offer a much more inviting atmosphere than hanging out at a bar. The Evenings stores have a much more relaxing, comfortable atmosphere, almost a living room ambiance. They are true 3rd place-social hangouts in the evening, no different than Starbucks’ success for the same during the daytime. And based on all the research our company has seen, they are definitely the type of place that Millennials will gravitate to (who already gravitate there during the daytime). In fact, I am much older than Millennials, and I’d much rather meet up with friends at a Starbucks Evenings store than any bar I’ve experienced. In a certain sense, they are much more approachable and far less intimidating then bars.

Starbucks is also very smart by making their stores environmentally responsible and socially conscious. In fact, all their new stores are LEED certified. Research shows this gives them a competitive advantage. For example, research by Technomic found that 63% of consumers they surveyed said they are more likely to visit a foodservice facility they view as socially conscious. This also helps Starbucks attract and maintain a good workforce. Millennials are especially drawn to brands that exhibit sustainability efforts. 85% of Starbucks’ workforce are Millennials.

In a nutshell, I think Starbucks has created a very disruptive new model for an attractive evening and into the night, out-of-home, social destination. They have eliminated the negatives of hanging out at bars and lounges and will have wide appeal to not only Millennials, but also to a much wider adult audience. Bars and restaurants have a new form of competition, which although not a category killer, is sure to cut into their market shares.

Posted in Alcohol & bars, Disruption, Millennials, Out-of-home, restaurant | Comments Off

No need to socialize, as that’s what smartphones are for

In my blogs and in our company’s Leisure eNewsletters, we’ve been giving extensive coverage to the impact that digital technology is having on peoples’ lives and their leisure, and how, as a result, it is slowly disrupting location-based leisure. Our last eNewsletter issue featured an article Why entertainment venues should fear digital technology that discussed the increasingly technology-enabled, hyper-convenience of never needing to physically experience the outside real world, what is known as the super cocooning – just staying in the comfort of our homes where anything, physical goods or digital, can be delivered.

Back in October 2013, our eNewsletter covered Sherry Turkle’s research about people and their relationships with mobile technologies and the effects digital technology is having on how friends and people interact in the world. She sees a trend called a flight from conversation brought about by texting and social media. Turkle says we are developing conversation-phobia, people prefer texting and posting on social media rather than talking on the phone or having face-to-face conversations.

A recent article in The Atlantic magazine, Alone Together: The Return of Communal Restaurant Tables, brought home the point again for me. The article discussed how communal tables tend to only work in restaurants when you have a social lubricant, either booze or interesting artisanal food. The article then went on to point out that the communal tables at Starbucks work a little different, where there is an absence of booze or entertaining food. There, the communal table is used as a communal desk where people sit looking at their digital screens while they occasionally sip some coffee and not interacting. There, The Atlantic said, “We use technology to make sitting around a communal table an acceptable practice. There is an understanding among customers that although the space is shared, there is no need to socialize because that’s what the smartphone is for. The communal table lets us indulge our social needs without actually socializing.”

It is becoming increasing clear that digital technology is shifting our social interaction with each other from taking place in the real world to taking place in the digital world and consequently, real world get-togethers, talking face-to-face, is rapidly becoming extinct. This means that what was once a primary reason for going out to an entertainment venue, the socializing, is losing its appeal, as that’s what texting and social media on the smartphone is for.

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More Evidence of the Digital Disruption of Location-Based Entertainment & Culture

In my blog entries and in our company’s Leisure eNewsletters, we have been reporting on digital technology’s disruption of location-based entertainment and culture, both in time and dollar market share. Since the birth of the smartphone less than seven years ago and the subsequent introduction of mobile tablets, the digital battleground for consumer leisure time has moved from desktops to mobile devices. According to data from Nielsen, in December 2013 the average time spent on smartphones in the U.S. and U.K. exceeded web usage on computer screens. In the U.S., the average monthly time spent per person on the computer screen on the web was 26 hours, 58 minutes compared to 34 hours, 21 minutes on smartphones. In the U.S., monthly smartphone usage is up six hours since December 2012. Pew reports that 58% of U.S. adults now own a smartphone and the percentage continues to grow.

A March 2014 report by Flurry, an app analytics firm, sheds light on exactly how Americans, and I’m sure the Brits, are spending their mobile device time. They found that Americans spend an average of 158 minutes (2 hours, 38 minutes) each and every day on their smartphones and tablets and that 80% of the time is spent on apps. Here’s how that daily time use breaks down.

Time spent on mobile devices mar'14

Research by Penn Schoen Berland that we reported on back in August 2013 found that of social media sites, including Facebook, are considered entertainment by 88% of users. Accordingly, looking solely at app use on mobile devices, three-quarters (76%) of the time is devoted to entertainment. If we add in entertainment using web browsers on mobile devices for such sites as YouTube, I estimate that approximately three-quarters of all mobile device time, or 2 hours per day, is spent consuming entertainment on mobile devices. Those 2 hours, of course, do not include all the additional entertainment time spent on non-mobile screens including computers and televisions.

As we reported in our Leisure eNewsletter back in November 2013, we have research from Scott Wallsten from the Technology Policy Institute that shows that online leisure activities are displacing time spent at real world, bricks ’n’ mortar leisure venues.

So here’s what is so scary for location-based entertainment, sporting events and cultural venues, the vast majority of which are seeing a long-term trend of declining attendance. The use of mobile devices that can be used anywhere 24/7 continues to grow, and the majority of that growing screen time is being used to engage in entertainment, entertainment that is convenient and free or has insignificant cost. Americans no longer need to be in their homes or in attendance at entertainment, sport or cultural venues to meet their entertainment or cultural needs. It’s all going mobile. This is clearly a DISRUPTION to bricks ’n’ mortar venues.

Our company’s research shows that venues can’t compete with the digital screen experience on price. And they sure can’t compete on convenience. The only way to compete with mobile entertainment and at-home entertainment options is to compete with increased quality for all aspects of the bricks ’n’ mortar experience, or what is called High Fidelity (not music fidelity). The experience has to be so great, such high quality, and to a certain extent, unique, that people are willing to take the time to leave their homes and put down their digital screens to experience it. And you know what is so surprising? For the higher socioeconomic who are the lion’s share of the location-based market, they will pay a premium price for it, as it is a value equation for them based on the use of their limited leisure time rather than their money.

The bottom line message is very simple for location-based leisure venues of all types, evolve to Higher Fidelity or die.

Posted in Culture, digital, Experience, FEC, Leisure time, Location based entertainment, Out-of-home, sports, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off