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Virtual events: Temporary or complementary measure?




  • Digital formats reach a larger audience both in terms of geography and age range. 
  • This format shouldn’t be used as a short-term lifesaver but instead as a complement to live shows.
  • Properties and sponsors still have a lot to learn if they want to master the format, but they are benefitting from the fact that the experience is novel and that viewer expectations are still fairly low. 

With festivals all across Québec getting cancelled this summer, Just For Laughs decided to postpone its 38th edition to the fall of 2021 and to organize the FSTVL HAHAHA in its place, which launched this past May with more than 20 shows over the course of four days.

“At Just for Laughs, our pivot to digital had started well before the public health crisis, which helped us get the FSTVL HAHAHA off the ground. When COVID-19 hit, we were ready to create, film and broadcast high-quality digital content across multiple platforms and effectively launch our new festival,” said Anne Belliveau, Chief Marketing Officer of Just for Laughs.

Elevent’s research department oversaw the data collection and analysis of participants who took part in the FSTVL HAHAHA.

According to the festival’s official numbers, approximately 24,000 people participated in the event. Tickets were $12 per night or $40 for all four nights, a price that the vast majority of participants (83%) considered reasonable.

But who was in this virtual audience? You might think that only Just For Laughs regulars would be in attendance, but the data shows that 40% of attendees had never gone to the festival in the past.

Even if many think that converting to a digital format is only a short-term solution for events, the FSTVL HAHAHA proves otherwise, clearly demonstrating that the experience can reap interesting rewards in the medium- to long-term.

One of those rewards is the increased geographical range that the digital world provides. For the FSTVL HAHAHA, 44% of Québec-based participants lived over 40 km from Montréal—a major difference when compared to the last edition of Just For Laughs, which only attracted 5% of that same market.

Of the people who lived over 40 km from the city, 28% said that they would attend the next edition of Just For Laughs on site and 68% claimed that they would take part in another online edition.

The virtual platform has therefore given the organization the chance to reach a large number of spectators that wouldn’t have ever attended the event in person.

Moving forward, there will be a percentage of audience members that will be reticent to take part in live events until a vaccine becomes available.  This group, together with those living outside the city, represents a new spectator base that properties will be able to engage with on digital platforms.

Presenting events in digital formats is also a new thing for spectators, artists, organizers and sponsors alike. Because there is nothing to compare such events to, spectators have lower expectations and are curious to take part in these novel experiences. In the case of the FSTVL HAHAHA, 60% of participants claimed that they would have probably taken part in the online festival regardless of being confined to their homes or not.

As viewers get used to digital formats, they will become more demanding and will expect a higher quality overall. In turn, organizers will spend the next few years refining this up-and-coming format to reveal its full—and as-of-yet untapped—potential.

As sponsors start to evaluate the visibility and activation opportunities of digital formats, several questions arise, including the possibility of generating revenue that is comparable to the live event and of reaching a wide enough audience.  What’s more, how brands will be integrated and identified within these digital formats remains uncertain. Lastly, without any frame of reference, brands may be destabilized by an activation strategy that is fully digital when the experiential side of things usually accounts for the biggest chunk of their budget.

According to Anne Belliveau, Chief Marketing Officer of Just for Laughs, “sponsors will have to reconsider how they interact with audiences online and start adopting branded content initiatives among other digital approaches. This broadening of their strategy is key because, despite the fact that we’ll eventually go back to live indoor and outdoor events, I firmly believe that digital events are not just here to stay, but they are poised to become an integral and complementary element of any event moving forward.”

The experience of a live festival is, of course, irreplaceable. But the data shows that digital versions are opening up the market to new audiences—and promoters don’t turn a blind eye to that. If they want to reach this new audience, they’ll have to revisit their go-to-market strategies and officially adopt a hybrid system that appeals to people both on site and online.

For the FSTVL HAHAHA, which will become a recurring digital event, the benefit of going virtual is that the whole Francophone world is its oyster—and target audience—and not just the French-speaking market in and around Montréal.


Consumer research and sponsorship impact analysis is an important and key part of our service offering. We take a customized approach with every client or project, and we continuously optimize and evolve our approach. Our experienced research team can help your organization with provenance and traffic studies, economic impact studies, partnership performance studies, public opinion survey on the impact of the sponsorship, and other custom research projects. Contact us today for more details on our research capabilities and how we can assist in reaching your objectives.


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