How to monetise digital and hybrid events

Going digital will take the industry back to its roots for monetisation.

GEVME Overview
While potentially costly to set up, 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.

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 events.

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.

GEVME Live Booth
While a physical event may be a short-lived, though memorable, two- to three-day experience, digital iterations have a longer life as the event owners choose to keep it online.

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, face-to-face events.

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.

Veemal Gungadin - Globalsignin
With virtual/hybrid the primary means of holding events amidst the pandemic, leaning on only outdated strategies suitable only for physical events is unfeasible.

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.