Singaporeans really love to take part in festivals and markets. We will even brave shoulder-to-shoulder crowds through rain or shine to be there.
But with Covid-19, all programmes lined up for the next few months have been cancelled, and many people will miss attending these fun activities.
For Shilin Singapore, however, the show will go on.
Shilin Singapore, which takes its name from Taiwan’s famous Shilin Night Market, revealed in a post on 14 April that the festival will go virtual this year.
With its first large-scale digital festival, it promises to deliver the same food, drinks, games and entertainment that people love.
Except, attendees will enjoy all of that from the comfort of their homes while they tune in to a six-day live stream.
Making the switch with just two months to spare, we got in touch with Kent Teo, co-founder and CEO of Shilin organiser Invade, to find out how they are adapting.
A Test That Came Sooner Than Expected
Invade is the company behind numerous festivals including Shilin Singapore and Artbox, and also runs social spaces like MOX and Komma Cafe.
Their business has been directly and heavily affected by the coronavirus crisis, bringing them to “a near-zero income situation”.
In a recent interview with us Kent shed some light on their experience, sharing that it’s challenging to adapt when circumstances are constantly changing.
“As much as we want to pivot and transform, each advisory from the Ministry gives us very little time to react,” he said.
Backtrack to a few months earlier — Invade was eager to build on the success of last year’s inaugural Shilin Singapore night market, which hosted over 300 vendors and drew an overwhelming turnout.
Preparations for the 2020 edition were well underway, with a venue secured at Singapore Turf Club and a programme layout mapped out.
The team was also in the midst of filling up their vendor list. Some regional vendors from Malaysia and Taiwan had even booked their flights and accommodation in Singapore.
And then the pandemic brought everything to a standstill.
Despite the discouraging situation, canning the event was never part of their plan.
“We knew that we wanted to tackle the pandemic head-on by providing businesses with an alternative platform to generate revenue,” says Kent.
“This spurred us to think about how we can still be the platform that connects the local and regional community, as well as one that would ultimately help operators survive in these trying times.”
Incidentally, Invade was already thinking about doing digital festivals — they just “didn’t realise it would come so soon”.
The weekly health and precaution advisories by government agencies, coupled with the raising of DORSCON levels to orange, sent signals that we had to react and transform our plans to comply with government measures.
Additionally, we observed that many of our retailers and F&B operators are facing dwindling footfall and drastic decline in sales.
With all this, Covid-19 just proved to be the catalyst [for us to bring forward our plans to test out a digital festival].Kent Teo, co-founder and CEO of Invade
Inspired By Live Stream Auctions
As for the idea to incorporate live streaming, Kent shares that this was partly inspired by the popularity of Facebook livestream auctions and live shopping features on apps like Lazada.
“Observing the capabilities of live streaming, we really saw its potential as an alternative sales channel for our retailers,” he says.
Despite its emergence in recent years, however, Kent notes that livestreaming is still “in infancy in Singapore”.
Because of that, he’s prepared that many vendors may be new to the concept and require help getting started.
One of the areas Invade is focusing on is to properly equip participating businesses for the digital transformation.
Tutorials will be available to help them learn everything they need to know, from live streaming to e-commerce and delivery.
The team will also prepare onboarding kits packed with live streaming essentials: a ring light, microphone and tripod stand.
And if vendors aren’t confident of handling the limelight, they can opt for a live streaming service, where a live streamer will interact with customers on their behalf.
“We want to ensure that everything is as simple, fool-proof and seamless as possible.”
Receiving Strong Interest From Businesses
A major upside to this pivot is also the removal of physical space constraints, increasing the festival’s capacity to accommodate more vendors than before.
In fact, interest in Digital Shilin 2020 poured in “at an even quicker pace” than last year, Kent tells us.
“Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that people are more familiar with our product. But it could also be that people are excited to diversify their formats and revenue streams,” he says.
Vendors will be able to stream from their own locations as long as they have all the required permits to operate areas such as kitchens. In keeping with safe distancing rules, they will not be required to gather in any common location.
Invade will work with a logistics partner to ensure delivery fulfilment. To cover all bases, they are also in talks with five central kitchens to provide their services if vendors need help scaling production to keep up with demand.
Without the need to book a physical booth, they are also planning to change their approach to vendors’ fees this year.
The team is looking at providing a zero-upfront fee for our startups, micro-businesses, and event vendors.
We understand that these are trying times for small businesses and want to provide an alternative sales channel for them to tap on.Kent Teo, co-founder and CEO of Invade
Instead, the Digital Shilin platform will take a small commission fee for every product or service sold.
Customers Can Get Festival Food Delivered, ‘Hang Out’ With Friends Virtually
For festival ‘goers’, a virtual experience will definitely be far from what they’re used to. But there’s no better time for people to open up to the idea since they have been staying at home to fight the virus.
Through the live streams, patrons can directly interact with different retail and F&B vendors to buy their products.
That means they will still be able to get their hands on all their favourite, mouthwatering Taiwanese snacks and bubble tea. Food orders will be delivered to their doorstep within two hours (within a 6 to 8km radius).
However, one important element is hard to replace — festivals are always a social affair, where friends and family go out and enjoy a day of fun together.
Kent agrees that this social aspect is key, and they are doing what they can to recreate this within the virtual realm.
While it is fully online, we are making a conscious effort to make the experience as close as possible to the physical event.
We are looking to incorporate different elements of engagement where festival-goers can participate together virtually.Kent Teo, co-founder and CEO of Invade
Although people can’t see each other face-to-face, Digital Shilin hopes to bring them closer through interactive online games, giveaways and hangout parties that they can join together.
They are also in the midst of finalising a lineup of Asian creatives and artists to stream live performances that the audience can watch together.
A Step Into The Future For Festivals And Small Business Owners
With the event less than 60 days away, Kent and his team are ramping up their preparations, testing products, and making all the necessary adjustments to make Digital Shilin a success.
More than just a means for survival, he has high hopes that this special edition of Shilin Singapore can be “game-changing” for the future of festivals.
With digitalisation as a core theme during the ongoing COVID-19 situation and 5G capabilities building up in Singapore, we hope to turn this trying period into a testbed for future activations and innovative formats.
We hope that Digital Shilin Singapore 2020 will be an enabler that opens up the “retail-tainment” business strategy for our various stakeholders, [and that this experience will help to] up-skill our vendors in various digital technologies and provide them an alternative sales channel for their businesses.Kent Teo, co-founder and CEO of Invade
“That said, we do look forward to welcoming the physical aspect back [when this situation blows over]. At that time, we can then incorporate some the our digital technologies [we have learned] to enhance future editions of Shilin Singapore,” he adds.
Digital Shilin Singapore 2020 will be happening over two weekends, on 12 – 14 and 19 – 21 June, from 3pm – 11pm.
Visit their website here to find out more and get notified when the digital festival opens.
Featured Image Credit: Invade, Natalie Chew via Instagram