Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How digital technology can save industry events from coronavirus cancellation

As industry events are cancelled or rescheduled due to Cornavirus, we are talking to experts across the industry to discover how digital tech can step in. Are virtual conferences ever an effective alternative? And what other digital solutions are viable?

Tariq Duff, Head of Client Partnerships, UNIT9

The potentially looming ban on big gatherings poses a serious threat to anyone involved in brand experiences and sponsorship. When creativity and advertising dollars have been invested in developing unforgettable events and brand experiences, and when millions have been poured into sponsorship and television rights, the show must go on… even if it has be ‘behind closed doors’.

So it’s time we took a leaf out of the Boiler Room and esports playbooks to flip the script and imagine a world where two-way interactions can happen without a physical presence. By mashing-up live streaming, sound and social interactions, we can virtually transplant an audience into the heart of a live event.

HBO took this ‘Behind Closed Doors’ approach when hiding the GoT season 7 premiere date in a 4,000lb ice block and handing control to a Facebook Live audience who virtually powered real-life flamethrowers via emojis and keywords until the ice melted.

Garnering over a billion impressions, 16,000 comments/minute and the #2 worldwide trend on Twitter, the campaign shows that ‘Behind Closed Doors’ brand experiences can break the internet.

What could be an upside for the climate, is a potential disaster for experience-based businesses, unless, that is, we usher in a new generation of what I like to call ‘Experience-X’ activations; one that exploits technology, platforms and live-streaming to create innovative ‘Behind Closed Doors’ live experiences that audiences can enjoy and control from the comfort of their sofas.

Paige Rigas, Marketing & PR Manager, Americas, Grabyo

There are digital technologies that still allow anyone to host engaging seminars, conferences or large-scale industry events remotely.

Browser-based video technologies allow for entirely remote, yet high quality, live production in the cloud. This is an effective alternative to physical conferencing. With advanced real-time editing, closed captioning, camera switching and audience interactivity features, these platforms can provide valuable and engaging experiences to audiences online.

Speakers and panellists can be featured on screen from wherever they are located, the events team can work remotely on the live production by simply logging into the online platform, and viewers can tune in from any device – completely eliminating the need for travel.

Cloud-based video tools are built for all of the major social media platforms and can even be integrated with websites and custom OTT destinations, depending on where and how you want to stream your event. You have options to create a free stream on the web, put the virtual event behind a paywall so that only those with tickets can view it, or set up a combination of the two – making parts of the event complimentary and others exclusive for clients and partners. 

Furthermore, because digital audiences can participate from anywhere in the world, one might argue that virtual conferencing brings in new insights from a previously untapped audience – those that may have not been able to attend the physical event.

Tom Bourlet, Marketing Manager,  The Stag Company.

Live streaming at conferences and big events is rapidly increasing, with a growing demand from people who are unable to attend. An added benefit to this is for the videos to be edited down afterwards and saved individually based on set talks.

If the concept of virtually signing in to a conference or event seemed appealing before, the Coronavirus has certainly peaked interest, with many events still set to take place but attendees worried about being around such large groups of people.

Key events like WTM London are still lagging behind when it comes to embracing technology to run virtual meetings. Eventually, it would be an interesting concept for those who either have or have not attended to sign into an online platform and virtually meet others they would like to have meetings with. This also works quite well when meetings are quicker than they might expect or they haven’t had the chance to meet someone they were looking for.

Eventually I can see VR being introduced to both conferences and events. The ability to watch a conference in VR can help you to feel enveloped in what is happening onstage. Technology has been slow due to the slight lack of demand or initiative in this area, but we’re not a million miles away.

Even thinking slightly differently, whether it’s a music festival or seeing your favourite band, the ability to have a 360 virtual reality view at a much smaller price might appeal to many, especially those that are less mobile.