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How Has the Return In-Person Events Affected Live Streaming?

The pendulum has swung back away from streaming for a brief period, but COVID opened millions of eyes to the power, capability, and convenience of streaming—from the provider's reach to the attendee's convenience. It also helped a lot of people realize that it's not as easy as it looks. I see the end result moving that pendulum toward more streaming—and more kinds of streaming—in the near future.

Before COVID, corporate streaming was slowly growing as executives, marketers, and event planners realized that not everyone could make every event, and there's a larger audience out there that wants to be involved, but may not be able to devote the time or dollars to attend an in-person event. And some people didn't want to travel at all.

When COVID hit in 2020, in-person events, worldwide, were shut down. After some months, event organizers and companies that had done quarterly and annual meetings and public product announcements before the pandemic realized those events still needed to happen. The worldwide public still wanted or needed to know what's going on, and the pendulum that was slowly swinging in the direction of streaming was slammed full throttle. All these events needed to be streamed—and include remote presenters, disparate audiences, using public, or internal CDNs. Things got very busy for streaming producers, streaming tool manufacturers, and cloud service providers.

Then, come early 2022, the pendulum swung back in the complete other direction. Event producers, company HR managers, church pastors, etc., wanted to “foster in-person connections” and actively shunned streaming in favor of “encouraging” people to meet face to face. It was important to rebuild the personal connections that were lost during COVID, they said. Many people still didn't want to board planes, trains, or buses and share seats with hundreds of others for an entire day. But even those clients who were slowly expanding the streaming part of their meetings before COVID were no longer calling us.

Part of the reason is that online meeting tools like Zoom, Teams, and WebEx became essential during COVID. The demand for new features went through the roof, and the solution providers responded. What had been clunky tools with limited features and bad audio became much more capable. Now they can highlight/pin multiple speakers, do picture-in-picture, overlays, blur our messy rooms for privacy, provide high-quality sound, and deliver Full HD video.

These meeting apps became capable streaming event production tools. They added "Event" features like registration, schedules, meeting areas, chatting, and more. In time, these apps were providing a more involved and complex streaming solution than the outside company was providing before COVID.

So, what happens next? Will the IT and marketing people tasked with planning company meetings continue to run the virtual shows? Will churches and organizations continue to provide a hybrid services? Will big events continue to bring in outside companies to do their streaming, or will they be content with the new advanced capabilities the business chat apps offer?

I for one see the rapid growth of software solutions through COVID as providing “good enough” services to organizations who were only reluctantly bringing in outside services because they lacked in-house expertise. Now, a decent video camera and microphone plugged into a laptop delivers good results, and COVID’s demands provided the time to make it work.

But I also see a larger part of the market that went the chat-app route out of necessity recognizing that livestreaming production is hard. It's complex, confusing, and many times it just doesn't work the way you'd expect it to. Mixing good live audio is a mystifying process to many, as is delivering good lighting, adjusting compression bitrates, managing networks, and interfacing with IT for bandwidth and QoS, redundancy, and backups. It all comes with experience. Many people who were forced to provide these services in-house during COVID will be happy to return the job to the experts.

The pendulum has swung back away from streaming for a brief period, but COVID opened millions of eyes to the power, capability, and convenience of streaming—from the provider's reach to the attendee's convenience. It also helped a lot of people realize that it's not as easy as it looks. I see the end result moving that pendulum toward more streaming—and more kinds of streaming—in the near future.

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