Will the Success of Virtual Events Impact In-Person Events Post-COVID?
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Alex Lindsay: One of the things that we're seeing is a lot of the events that we're working on actually have a much higher participation rate. So, as people are starting to work on these events, they're suddenly realizing how many people ... We had a client almost initially when they did their first event, what they expected to be 80 people turned out to be 250. I have someone else that we work with that they expected 200 and they ended up with 1100. And what we realized is how many people weren't coming '[to in-person events], because they didn't want to displace four days for a two-day event. They didn't want to pay for the hotel. They didn't want to pay for the flight. So what we're seeing is, huge participation numbers compared to what we saw with physical events.
That is not what we expected right out of the gate--that that many more people were going to start showing up. And so, especially as people plan something inside of Zoom, for instance, they end up needing a lot more. For streaming, we just stream it to whatever CDN we're solving it with. But it's starting to change the way people think about these conferences for folks who are charging for it. Some of them are still seeing increased attendance, even through a charged event. People who are not charging or who are doing this for PR are seeing huge increases--at least our partners are seeing huge increases in the number of people attending and interacting. And a lot of them are not quite there yet, but if this year continues to go the direction that it's going, a lot of them are talking about greatly reducing the number of events that they're doing in person, not necessarily getting rid of all of them.
There are some really high-value ones that you're spending a lot of money per person on that they want to keep. But the ones that were more general admission, that were having 5,000 people show up--a lot of those aren't starting to pencil out anymore. And so, as they start to realize, this was not nearly as bad or as hard as we thought.
The other thing is that the online audience now is now the primary audience. When we do this round table right now, if we stream this, we'd all be talking on a stage and you [the streaming audience would] be a fly on the wall, somewhere in the back of the room. And the questions would mostly come from the room and you wouldn't really be part of it. Now the online audience has this much more visceral connection, and we see it really having a huge effect on how many people come, how interactive they are, and how connected they feel to the event.
So, whether it's a quarterly meeting, an annual marketing show, or an industry event like CES or the International Auto Show, we still need in-person events. But how these events recognize and incorporate remote presenters and remote audiences will have to change from what was done pre-COVID. The future of events is hybrid, although these hybrid events will take different forms, depending on the event size, budget, and nature and complexity of the off-site elements. There are what I call "Three Tiers of Hybrid," which represent three different ways to bring local and remote presenters and attendees together.
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