In 2019, Lysfesten (Festival of Lights) celebrated its 30th anniversary in a way that was bigger, bolder, and better than ever before. This annual holiday celebration, held at the darkest time of the year in Norway, brings people together to mark the beginning of the Christmas season. Organised by Bergens Tidende, the festival is the news company’s “gift to the city” and is now an important part of the regional Christmas tradition.
Lysfesten features live music from local bands and young artists, as well as other forms of live entertainment. It includes a candlelight vigil and choir singing, then the evening is capped by a magical 10-minute fireworks show to truly light up the darkness. In addition to attracting the people of Bergen, it has become a drawing card for visitors from other countries and Norwegian cities.
Last year’s 30th-anniversary celebration brought out 30,000 attendees — equivalent to 10% of the city’s population — and garnered a significant uptick in online traffic. From its inception, the event has played a key role in building Bergens Tidende’s brand identity and awareness, helping differentiate it from competitors. But as the 31st anniversary neared in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to stage such a massive community event.
Knowing how important this event is, both to its brand and to attendees, organisers at Bergens Tidende pivoted to reinvent the annual tradition.
“It was important for Bergens Tidende to keep up with the tradition in a different year with restrictions,” said Cathrine Vange Grindheim, brand manager at Bergens Tidende. “So we made the first digital Lysfest and brought the Festival of Lights home to the citizens.”
Same idea, new location
Instead of appearing at the traditional location, Festplassen, the event moved online. Bergens Tidende published articles and ads to let readers know that the show would go on — it just would not go on as usual.
The digital event followed the same structure that Lysfesten attendees have come to love: It had the same traditional elements such as beautiful music, local artists, entertainment, and fireworks. Editor-in-Chief Frøy Gudbrandsen opened the event and introduced the traditional countdown to lighting of the Christmas tree. This year, however, the live countdown was replaced by a pre-recorded countdown done by people from Bergen.
Since the event could not go on in-person, Bergens Tidende transformed its offices into a TV studio, where the holiday celebration was filmed and streamed.
“We used BT journalists as live hosts to combine all the content and to show some of our profiles,” Grindheim said. “We also used pre-recorded interviews with people in the city on their life in this different year.”
A showreel of some of the most important and engaging issues of the year gave Bergens Tidende an opportunity to showcase its best content and show how COVID had affected the city and its residents. And, sticking to tradition, the show included pre-recorded musical appearances.
“We also invited the readers to sing a Norwegian Christmas carol at home and send the video to us,” Grindheim said. “The result was a digital singalong/song relay with people from Bergen that was used at the event.”
The fireworks display still went on — this time, from a private, undisclosed location to prevent crowds from gathering — and many residents could see it from their home as well as via the livestream.
Overall, the event reached 495,400 people and generated 31,800 responses. Facebook ads with information about the digital event, requests to participate in the song relay, and information about the program reached 289,019 people. Even more significantly, the articles about Lysfesten before, during, and after the event were read by many and showed a larger number of readers than BT experiences at a normal event.
And, although the livestream on BT had 44,000 views, which is about the same as last year, the viewing time was longer. Overall, Grindheim said, the event reached many more people this year. “We know that many gathered around the TV or a computer to watch the digital event together, so we know we reached out to many more than the number of streams.”