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Survey: Conference, SMB, Media Events Going Virtual Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Social distancing guidelines adopted in a coordinated effort to "flatten the curve" of COVID-19's spread are bringing many traditional business practices to a standstill. Meetings, conferences, and other events that typically bring together dozens, hundreds, or thousands of attendees are a necessary casualty of these efforts, at least for the time being. While many events are cancelled or postponed, organizers of shows that must go on in their scheduled time frame are increasingly turning to "virtualizing" their events, leveraging live streaming, video on-demand, and a variety of platforms and other strategies to create practical simulacra of the events they had planned.

Although virtual event and (of course) video streaming platforms have been in widespread use for years, many event organizers are scrambling to adopt these platforms for the first time, or to use and approach streaming in ways that their usual business practices have never before required. These newly adopted approaches are, at least temporarily, causing dramatic changes in the ways these organizations interact with their audiences and, in many cases, operate interally. In turn, these changes are engendering shifts in streaming deployment through the working week and beyond, as 11 a.m. Sunday becomes the most conspicuously social-distanced hour in America.

To get an idea of just how these changes were taking hold, get a useful snapshot of how broad and deep the shift to virtual events is now and will be in the coming months, and drill down into how these events will look and how businesses will ramp up to them, we surveyed the Streaming Media readership on a number of pertinent topics. To get a broader picture of emerging developments across multiple business and technology verticals, we also surveyed professionals in several other industries served by publications and conferences produced by our parent company, Information Today Inc., including the following:  

  • Customer relationship management
  • Speech technology and user experience design
  • Knowledge management
  • Database management
  • Library and information technology

An eye-opening 91% of respondents told us they're planning to virtualize one or more events in the next 6 months. Among that group, 54% are working to launch a virtual event in the next month, and another 25% are developing events to launch in 2-3 months, with the largest group (48%) doing 2 to 5 events and nearly a quarter of respondents planning 10 or more. Readers participating the survey were widely distributed among a number of demographics and verticals, with the largest group self-identifying as conference/event organizers (16%), media outlets (15%), SMBs (14%), and government/education (13%).

Virtual Events How Many

More than half of these events in development are being produced on tight budgets of less than $5,000, with a striking quarter of budgets TBD. 57% are planning events of a half day or less, compared to 16% launching full-day events and 27% developing multi-day experiences. Monetization remains undetermined for many (22%), with the largest group (44%) planning cost center events with no monetization strategy. A sizable 39% expressed interest in learning more about how they might monetize the events they're planning.

Most organizations developing virtual events will feature live video (only) during the event and on-demand after, along with slides, chat, and live Q&A. Just under a third are planning virtual tradeshow components.

Multicam streaming to multiple platforms, produced in-house seems to be the norm for the virtual new normal. Only 25% intend to use a dedicated virtual event platform at this point. Interest in learning more about those platforms remains high (53%), though not as high as interest in streaming platforms (64%).

One respondent's comment perhaps best summed up the uncertainty of the times, even among those certain about imminently taking the virtual event plunge: "We are struggling to find reliable solutions, so we're rolling our own until things stabilize."

You can download the survey results here.

Virtual Events Survey

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