Even as Singapore gradually reopens its MICE industry and people
start to trickle back into physical event spaces, the risk of community
infection and restrictions on participant numbers have kept the majority
out of these hubs and at home. Amid pandemic anxieties, digital
participation has become a lifeline for the event industry, with virtual
footfall making up for dwindling in-person participation.
As the term “new normal” suggests, all the norms that we previously
held are being challenged in the pandemic paradigm. The event industry,
previously on the up-and-up, cannot rest on its laurels. Limited
physical attendance has led to lower ticket sales. Furthermore, costs
associated with running physical events are going up, due to the
implementation of additional security measures and even the logistical
costs of setting up broadcasting technology for hybrid events. With
lower ticketing revenues, and higher operation costs, margins for event
owners are narrowing.
Yet, even as the digital/hybrid model takes centrestage, it won’t be
business-as-usual: It’s not just a new way of holding events, but it has
also changed how we pay for it — if we pay for it at all. The worldwide
move towards digital events has also been a move towards free events,
like Adobe Summit, which was broadcast online for free this year. Will
this chart the course for digital events moving forward?
For the industry to continue sustaining itself during this period —
and as it explores hybrid options for the future — it is imperative that
we relook at how we maximise value and monetise digital and hybrid
Making the most of the digital stage
In May, we held a digital event where we surveyed 503 attendees for
their thoughts on digital conferences. One of the key questions in the
survey was: How much would you be willing to pay for a digital
conference, if the price of the physical edition used to be $1,000 per
ticket? The good news: people do believe in paying for online
conferences, with only 10% of respondents answering that the digital
incarnation of the conference should be free. However, expectations for
what the price for a digital conference should be are significantly
lower. Of people who do believe in paying, 82% expect the price of a
digital conference to be 10-40% of the price of the physical equivalent.
This is a huge change. And despite access to a wider audience, with
participants less willing to pay for digital attendance, event owners
must look to alternative methods of monetisation beyond ticket sales.
And this might involve going back to the event industry’s roots: I
believe that sponsorships could once again become the main source of
revenue for hybrid and digital events for the foreseeable future.
The question now is: How can event planners build value for sponsors and exhibitors?
While going digital presents a new set of challenges for event
planners, it is also ripe with new opportunities. Digital platforms
allow event organisers to make comprehensive use of analytics, gathering
data on engagement better than they would be able to in physical
events. This information — including clicks, impressions and comments —
will give sponsors better information on their ROI.
Leveraging analytics also allows event planners to engineer
serendipity and create better meeting opportunities: With breakout rooms
or dedicated chat channels, it is entirely possible to craft an
in-person booth experience in a virtual setting — and personalise it for
the attendee. As they have attendee data on hand, event planners can
match sponsors with attendees, in a tailored and targeted approach that
generates high-quality leads.
Furthermore, digital iterations have a longer life. While a physical
event may be a short-lived, though memorable, two- to three-day
experience, digital events can last as long as the event owners choose
to keep it online. Taking a page out the playbook of streaming platforms
like Twitch, Youtube and Facebook Live, event owners can make the event
stream available indefinitely post-event, allowing attendees to rewatch
the event, or allow new attendees to register and view past archives.
They can even keep chat channels online, allowing attendees to
continue to share their views and network. This provides more branding
opportunities for sponsors, and continuous lead generation even beyond
event days — something that is not possible with traditional,
To capture these opportunities, event organisers need to reimagine
and rethink where and how they can incorporate sponsor branding. With a
customisable event platform, they can include sponsor banners and logos
on the webpage, alongside the stream. They can consider running ads
during the livestream and in the post-event, on-demand broadcast.
There are many ways to do this, such a transition between speakers or
segments, used in place of a holding scene, or as a scrolling banner
integrated into the live feed.
For example, in our hybrid event, we included a shoutout to our
partners and sponsors, including their logos in the livestream video.
And, they can even cross over into physical branding, by sending
personalised care packages or “event swag” sent to the homes of select
attendees or speakers containing sponsored items, giving digital
attendees a slice of the in-person experience even as they stay at home.
A field of new opportunities for monetisation
Leveraging the capabilities of digital spaces, event owners can
provide unique value to their sponsors that go beyond what they can
offer in a purely physical event — it’s a matter of looking into,
reconsidering, and creating new opportunities.
New avenues for building revenue will also emerge as the hybrid
industry develops. Monetising events does not have to be an
all-or-nothing deal. Going digital gives event owners an additional
avenue for monetisation: Event owners can hold “freemium” events,
following the Sales-as-a-Service (SaaS) models in tech, where the base
product is provided for free, and if the user wants more in-depth
features or flexibility, they can choose to pay.
In such events, the main session — helmed by well-known keynote
speakers — should be made available for all participants, for free. To
make full use of the virtual space, this main session should be streamed
on multiple channels, to reach multiple communities. Then, for
participants who want more in-depth knowledge or networking
opportunities with the speakers, they can pay to upgrade.
The free component allows event organisers to reach out to a wider
audience — including people who might be persuaded, via the virtual
event, to attend the physical event when it reopens in the future — and
the paid component allows them to provide exclusive, premium features
for attendees who are willing to pay.
It's imperative that event owners start thinking about how to make
the most of the digital components of their events. With virtual/hybrid
the primary means of holding events amidst the pandemic, leaning on only
outdated strategies suitable only for physical events is unfeasible.
And, that's just in the short-term.
Hybrid events are the future: While potentially costly to set up,
they provide opportunities for unprecedented reach and borderless
connection. The hybrid space provides new ways to draw the full value
out of an event, and this is a perfect time to test things out.
Veemal Gungadin is CEO of event tech company GlobalSign.In and VP, digital and innovation, at SACEOS.