Over 17 million people watched with Wimbledon final in 2013, whilst around 400,000 attended in person. The event was first televised in 1937, and I wonder if back in those early days people worried that no one would come to the tournament in person if they could watch from the comfort of their favourite armchair. It’s an interesting analogy for me because many event organisers I speak to still worry about streaming their events and haven’t made the leap of imagination to thinking about their event in broadcast terms. But if you think how many huge, live events are televised and how tickets to be there in person still sell out, then you have your answer to the burning question of whether making something available online will be detrimental to ‘bums on seats’. It’s highly unlikely because it’s an entirely different proposition. In my view streaming or broadcasting your event should be seen as a massive opportunity, a marketing activity at the very least. And if you don’t start experimenting, then how can you see what works for you?
Herb Kim who runs the hugely successful annual conference Thinking Digital told me, “There’s something about a live event that people respond to – and that’s what you should take advantage of. You should see the live stream as a big advert for next year’s event. It’s a wonderful way to engage people whilst all the twitter activity is happening. Letting people have a look at what’s happening and what people are tweeting about will incentivise them to go in person the next time. As you’ve spent all that time and money getting people into one place, and particularly if you’re filming the event anyway, streaming doesn’t cost too much extra and you’ve got the opportunity to capture people’s attention and leverage the buzz.”
We all go to live events because we want to soak up the atmosphere, be close to other humans or maybe just get a day out of the office. The reason so many live events happen is because they focus attention on an industry, issue or product at a particular point in time: they draw people together and create a timely buzz. So why not ride the buzz and make the most of streaming and virtual event technology? I believe people will always want to attend great events in person if they can. But others may only have time to tune in for an hour or catch up on a session of specific interest. If they can see a stream, live image uploads and a twitter conversation, people may well be influenced to attend in person next time. There is mounting evidence that this is the case.
One of the first stats I ever found on this was from the Virtual Edge Institute as mentioned in a past blog I wrote called Can online events *really* enhance your business?. This survey said ‘…that 82% of the online audience found the virtual environment helpful in making a decision to attend in-person next time.’ And I have heard this anecdotally from a lot of event organisers I work with. Justin Lebbon runs Videonet and two annual conferences for the broadcast sector, Connected TV and Future TV Ads. No stranger to using video and webinars within his publishing business, he told me, “I suppose it’s difficult to prove that streaming hasn’t impacted physical attendance, but the fact is our delegate numbers have continued to rise and our conferences always sell out even though we stream events live and on-demand afterwards.”
A US survey highlighted by tradeshowexecutive.com last year points to 20% of event organisers “using an online and/or hybrid event solution as a tactic for attracting and retaining more [in person] attendees” and a more recent case study from Virtual Edge talks about a medical company called ARSS who have started adding different virtual offerings to their annual meetings. It’s worth reading the whole article, but one of the key things that jumps out at me is that ARSS agreed after some experimentation that, “the virtual element was having no negative impact on the physical attendance” and they have continued to develop both physical and online models.
I spent a day at TechFest recently where Jon Schaffer, co-founder of Conferize shared a case study about a very traditional conference, which ‘went virtual’ out of necessity during the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. This conference had 150 booked delegates, supposed to be attending in person, but due to the volcanic activity, the conference was turned into a ‘hybrid’ event at the last minute, using live streaming and chat rooms to connect people globally. By the end of the three-day event, 1706 people had attended online, and now the conference has grown both physical and online attendees year on year. Jon shared a stat in his presentation (which you can see on slideshare) that says: “Research shows that up to 18% of virtual participants buy the ticket next year.” And he also said that when people livestream on Conferize, the audience spends three times longer on the site and the event goes twice as viral.
We need more stats and case studies like this that show the real benefits and opportunities of all the tech and platforms available to events organisers. Please do share anything you have if you are reading this! The events industry, like most others, is facing major changes, and digital business models will have a big impact on financial as well as environmental sustainability. I have over ten years’ experience of collaborating with event organisers who have embraced the possibilities live streaming offers – and most of my clients continue to stream their events once they’ve started and still sell all their tickets. In fact, they generate more value by packaging up the content for on-demand viewing and generating leads by asking people to register or even pay to access their archives of specialist content. Just as new broadcast technology offers more access, interaction and flexibility for viewers of events like Wimbledon (the likes of which people couldn’t have imagined back in 1937), streaming and virtual event technology offers huge opportunities, and we’re really just at the tip of the iceberg.