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Get unstuck; It’s really all about social-tainment!

The location-based entertainment industry is at a critical juncture in its evolution. In-home and mobile device digital entertainment and social media have proved to be a major disruptive force, causing a shift in consumers’ entertainment and leisure habits as well as changing their value equations. Spending at entertainment venues, both in the local community as well as on trips, is decreasing. Participation at out-of-home entertainment venues is decreasing. The shares of both spending and participation are shifting to higher socioeconomic households, a trend known as social stratification. The ease of access and low or nonexistent cost (high convenience) of digital and social media now means that consumers are seeking higher fidelity, more expensive out-of-home experiences. These are all long-term trends that can be tracked back a decade or more, not shifts attributable to the recent recession. All these trends have been documented over the past few years in both this blog as well as our company’s Leisure eNewsletter (see article links at the end of this blog).

We are seeing the emergence of many new hybrid combinations of entertainment, dining, drinking and group functions that are responding to the disruptive pull of the digital and virtual worlds. The most successful ones are focusing on higher socioeconomic guests. Location-based entertainment is evolving into what I call social-tainment; a focus on the social experience, not the entertainment, where food and beverage are as important, if not more important, than the entertainment components. Social-tainment is the real world, bricks and mortar equivalent of the virtual world’s social media. However, for social-tainment to effectively complete with social media and virtual world experiences, its needs to have high fidelity.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of players in the various out-of-home entertainment industries, whether it be movie theaters, bowling, laser tag or family entertainment centers just to name a few examples, continue to be prisoners of their industry segment’s paradigms. With social-tainment, there is no such thing as a bowling center, or a movie theater, or a laser tag center or an FEC. As long as those industry segments continue to classify and think of themselves in those terms, they will continue to stay stuck in their conventional wisdom and will not make the transition to what it takes to succeed both today and even more so in the future.

With social-tainment, the emphasis is not on the entertainment, it’s on the social experience-the primary reasons people go out together. Both food and beverage and different forms of entertainment are only facilitators of the social experience, not the prime drivers of the visit. The development of successful social-tainment venues requires a holistic view of the guest experience rather than believing guests are coming primarily for the entertainment.

And what is probably holding back many existing facilities, as well as new venues, from effectively embracing social-tainment are the different entertainment industry segment trade associations, such as the Bowling Proprietors Association of America (BPAA), International Laser Tag Association (ILTA), National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) plus many others. They continue to perpetuate the idea that venues are to be branded based on their entertainment, (although many are starting to recognize that other elements are required for success). But they aren’t changing their associations’ brand identities. Even the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA), which tries to represent wide segments of the out-of-home entertainment and leisure industry, still places the emphasis on the entertainment attractions. And as important as food and beverage is to the social-tainment experience, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) continues to stay focused on restaurants and food concessions and doesn’t embrace a broader view that can include other types of social experiences.

And it sure doesn’t help anyone escape from past paradigms as long as we continue to name or classify venues by names such as family entertainment center (FEC) or location-based entertainment (LBE) with the emphasis on the entertainment.

It is not at all surprising that most of the new venue concepts that are grasping the idea of a more holistic social-tainment experience where the entertainment is not the true focus do not come out of those industries, but are rather new entrants to location-based experiences.

So I propose we all start using a new acronym, STV, for social-tainment venue to help everyone get unstuck from the past.

Related articles to check out:

   The creative destruction of location-based entertainment

   The increasing social stratification of out-of-home entertainment & leisure

   The future of out-of-home entertainment

   What a difference 21 years makes with household spending

   Trends in middle-class entertainment spending

   The trend of decreasing attendance with higher prices

About Randy White

Randy White is CEO and co-founder of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. The 31-year-old company, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, has worked for over 600 clients in 37 countries throughout the world. Projects the company has designed and produced have won seventeen 1st place awards. Randy is considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on feasibility, brand development, design and production of leisure experience destinations including entertainment, eatertainment, edutainment, agritainment/agritourism, play and leisure facilities.

Randy was featured on the Food Network's Unwrapped television show as an eatertainment expert, quoted as an entertainment/edutainment center expert in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Time magazine and received recognition for family-friendly designs by Pizza Today magazine. One of the company's projects was featured as an example of an edutainment project in the book The Experience Economy. Numerous national newspapers have interviewed him as an expert on shopping center and mall entertainment and retail-tainment.

Randy is a graduate of New York University. Prior to repositioning the company in 1989 to work exclusively in the leisure and learning industry, White Hutchinson was active in the retail/commercial real estate industry as a real estate consultancy specializing in workouts/turnarounds of commercial projects. In the late 1960s to early 1980s, Randy managed a diversified real estate development company that developed, owned and managed over 2.0 million square feet of shopping centers and mixed-use projects and 2,000 acres of residential subdivisions. Randy has held the designations of CSM (Certified Shopping Center Manager) and Certified Retail Property Executive (CRX) from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

He has authored over 150 articles that have been published in over 40 leading entertainment/leisure and early childhood education industry magazines and journals and has been a featured speaker and keynoter at over 40 different conventions and trade groups.

Randy is the editor of his company's Leisure eNewsletter, has a blog and posts on Twitter and Linkedin.

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