In this edition’s Leisure Insight, James Logie, Managing Director of Retail Management Consultants and James Bradbury, Managing Director of Bradbury & Bradbury explore and discuss the future of leisure & entertainment in the 21st century.

Back in 1997, when Robbie Williams released his hit “Let Me Entertain You”, nobody could have imagined how the entertainment world would look just a few decades later. Today, Robbie can still fill a stadium; however, the entertainment landscape around him has dramatically changed.

The future of the leisure and entertainment industry in the 21st century is one of limitless potential and exciting possibilities. As technology continues to advance at an unprecedented pace, expect to witness a revolution in the way people spend their leisure time, transforming leisure activities into mind-blowing adventures that were previously unimaginable.

From AI-powered immersive entertainment to captivating multi-sensory experiences, for those seeking fun and relaxation, the future looks very bright.

Of course, technology has already made a profound impact on leisure and entertainment. From the early days of television to the rise of the Internet, we have witnessed a shift in how we consume, connect and derive pleasure.

So, the real question is: what’s next?
The answer almost certainly lies in the seamless integration of technology with leisure activities. AI’s influence on immersive entertainment is likely to be monumental. Whether you crave an adrenaline rush or seek moments of tranquillity, theme parks & attractions of the future will provide a level of total engagement and interactivity that is unprecedented.

Immersive entertainment will transcend boundaries, transporting us to unimaginable realms. VR will plunge us into lifelike simulations, enabling us to become part of our favourite movies, join our favourite bands onstage, explore fictional worlds, or witness historical events first-hand. Gone are the days of passive, linear entertainment; now, we actively participate and shape our experiences, blurring the lines between virtual and reality.

But in a post-Covid landscape, the combination of crowd-wary viewers, the ratcheting cost-of-living and the muscular dominance of on-demand streaming platforms point to an increasingly uncertain future for ‘traditional’ cinema.

Today’s time-poor, tech savvy consumers have virtually unlimited choice and discretion in how, where and when to spend their money – ‘build it and they will come’ no longer cuts it in the 21st century. Large-scale multiplex complexes can no longer rely on juggernaut movie launches to drive footfall and many are already in financial freefall. Shopping centres – traditionally anchored with a cinema – will surely also need to up their game as a key driver of incremental visitor footfall risks becoming a “white elephant” ripe for redevelopment.

The rapid progression of technology and AI raises concerns about the potential loss of physical and social interactions – and streaming undoubtedly has its own limitations. When we’re watching at home or on the move, it’s often just us – atomised – and no quantity of streamed entertainment can ever quench our thirst for genuine experiences: unique moments, shared moments, stir-the-soul moments.

Whilst this all might feel a bit Blockbuster circa 2003, for those willing to change-up, it’s certainly not without hope. Here’s just a few of the new wave of entertainment bucking the trend:

• With over five million tickets sold in two years, The Van Gogh Exhibit is the global phenomenon where technology enables art to be completely reimagined for a new and younger audience. Rather than merely witness great art, the blended VR / immersive light and sound experience allows you to step into some of the artist’s most compelling works.

• ABBA Voyage in London is a powerful illustration of the impact AI is set to wield upon the future of “live” performance – avatars blending seamlessly with human performers, creating memorable, captivating experiences that blend the boundaries between reality and fiction. With the advancements in AI, we are fast heading to entertainment, whose only restriction is imagination.

• In 2023, the entertainment industry reacted with awe at the sheer ambition, architecture and advanced technical sophistication of the ‘The Sphere’ in Las Vegas – no less than a total reimagining of the Stadium Concert experience for the 21st century. The Sphere, which stands 111m tall and 150m in diameter, is wrapped internally and externally with LED screens and integrated speaker technology to deliver a whole new paradigm of unrestricted sonic and visual exhilaration for audiences and artists alike.

Whilst ABBA Voyage and The Sphere are prohibitively expensive for most developers, the lesson is clear. To capture the customers of today and tomorrow, retail master-planners need to broaden their conception of what entertainment and leisure can be, tear down the obstacles standing in the way and embrace the future.

In this regard, we think the theatre experience hits the bullseye. We see high demand spread right across the country but a real bottleneck in supply. The best shows are typically concentrated in major cities, often in venues constrained by a combination of high running costs and Victorian-era construction restricting everything from scale, capacities and customer experience, all filtering through to high ticket prices.

Is it now finally time for the industry to firmly embrace a ‘democratisation’ of leisure and entertainment, decentralising from the big-city metropolis and giving back to the people? We certainly think so.

The future of the leisure and entertainment industry in the 21st century is filled with excitement and anticipation. More interactive, personalised and engaging than ever before, from gaming to theme parks to live performances, the possibilities are endless.

So, brace yourselves. The future is bright and it’s time to embrace the limitless opportunities that lie ahead.

As the inimitable Robbie Williams prophesised all those years ago – “Let Me Entertain You”!