News

12 Jul 2021

The changing face of events

by Benjamin Powell, founder of BetterCast

How AV teams need to adapt to the new normal

I want to talk more about how I see live event production changing in the post-pandemic years, and the consensus from Event Managers and AV teams around the world about the direction of the industry.

Covid has decimated live events for the last 16 months. However, it’s birthed a different approach to access to events. The changing process may result in more jobs and services that teams can add to grow revenue, and a level of disability access to events that was never even considered. 

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The figures that I’m using come from multiple research reports published by the Skift Group, Business Events Australia, Tourism Australia, and surveys I’ve conducted for BetterCast over the last few months. Over 7000+ event production professionals were surveyed from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and America. While there may be some slight disparities geographically, globally, the entire industry is going through the same thing.

Many events shifted to self-produced desktop productions, or businesses’ marketing managers just created a Zoom call and emailed their client base. On the whole, it was a complete mess, but some lessons were learned. 

Why do people go to events and conferences anyway?

There are several reasons someone will travel to attend a conference, but it boils down to learning, buying, selling, or working. Most importantly, if they are buying or selling, the event’s networking is a significant draw point because if they know that X person will be there and want to get X person’s attention, it may be worth travelling.

If I can meet X person in a video call, what’s the need to travel internationally? Or even interstate to a capital city? Do you even know if this person will be at the event now, and not just dropping in from their laptop? With events online, travelling to an event becomes more unnecessary, leading to an opinion that 30% of events traditionally moved to a capital city will stay in their local area, resulting in an uptick in regional events remaining regional. 

Other reasons to travel to events are the conference program, papers presented, keynote speakers and workshops, however, none of that is geographically restrictive.  A survey by the Tourism Authority found that the destination plays a part in the travel, but if employers are now allowing more work from home and remote offices, travel to get away from work may start to decline as a deciding factor. It again moves to the quality of the content that drives people to attend events. 

Additionally, it found that travel decisions were:

  • Quality program content 72%
  • That you can extend the trip into a holiday 61%
  • A desirable destination 60%
  • Opportunities for professional networking 59%
  • Colleagues/Peers you know are attending 56%
  • Lots of activities at the destination 56%
  • Discounted accommodation around the conference 55%
  • Being able to take family/friends with you 54%
  • Contribution to professional accreditation 53%
  • People have recommended the conference 53%
  • Well-known speakers 49%
  • High-profile delegates 48%

How did events adjust over the last 16 months?

In 2019, 480,000 business events were produced in Australia, which plummeted to 19,000 just one year later. That is a drop of over 96%, just in the Australia and New Zealand region. Globally, over 49% of events either cancelled or were postponed. 

Of the 47% that pivoted to desktop produced events, only 50% of them made any money. It was an easy switch for event managers, however the move to self-produced DIY Zoom events completely dropped the production team, resulting in the sub-par quality product being delivered to viewers.

While 40% of the respondents felt that they could reach a wider audience, 1/3rd felt that their most significant issue was engaging the viewers. 

We see that while many opt to produce online, there is very little understanding behind what it takes to make the online production successful. I believe it is up to the visual production teams to lead the charge down the hybrid road.  

Creative production of the event video will increase the event’s engagement, reducing viewer attrition and delivering a higher quality show. But it also introduces more options for production teams to become critical influencers into the event creative.

Before Covid, 50% of AV teams I surveyed didn’t offer live streaming as a service, but almost 80% are now. So now landing the job is about how you can distinguish yourself as THE team to hire and not just A team to hire.
The shift to adding live services to the offering has been fast, with almost 80% using software (OBS) as their central vision switching solution and only 40% opting for hardware. This means that there is a potential for developing more dedicated and sophisticated solutions resulting in employment opportunities working compact hardware-based production rigs.

What was the result of that adjustment?

51% said that the biggest frustration was the inability to match the live engagement and experience for event managers. Which makes the most sense, and if trying to replace a two-day event with a Zoom call was the best that they could produce, then there isn’t much that they could do to replicate the event.

Data also showed that attendees spent 89% of the total time on even the most fully-featured event platforms watching the content, and guests spent very little time communicating with other attendees.

Only 5% and 6% of the time is spent networking during virtual trade shows and conferences, respectively. This again indicates a significant interest is in content consumption over networking during events. This means the quality of production for the online component of any hybrid event going into the future will have to be at a standard that only exists in broadcast productions. 

What is on the horizon for event professionals?

61% of event managers believe that they will be hosting in-person events again by Q4 2021, and 70% of event managers surveyed said they would continue delivering online. I think two long term outcomes will increase or decrease this number. 

If event content quality doesn’t increase and becomes more infotainment-focused, then event streams will continue to see viewer drop-offs, regardless of the amount a ticket cost the viewer. This will lead to event managers, even though they reduce costs with smaller and more locally produced events, forgo online from a lack of viewer interest. 

While 42% were prepared to spend up to $5,000 on the event tech and online production, the spend needs to show a positive return and would only increase with viewer numbers in the positive. 

In conclusion 

Two factors are apparent in the data that drove this outcome. First, it seems that event managers assumed that just the words they were saying were enough to engage an audience. The fact that they would lose viewers over the event with a single, locked-off shot of them speaking for two hours, with sub-par lighting and audio, was a surprise to them. 
The second factor is that while lead generation and networking are essential to attendees and event sponsors, a critical deciding factor for a guest attending an event is the quality of content they will get. If they know it’s a low-quality Zoom call and it’s not well-produced, then people aren’t going to pay for attendance. 

For teams to thrive again and build back to that half a million events a year, it’s becoming dependent on the production team to educate the event team on what makes good content and how it can be produced on-site. 
I foresee that in every conference event in the near future we will see mini TV production studios built to deliver an engaging experience online. And events that don’t put in the effort will lose untold millions to those that do. 
BetterCast is doing what it can to develop the tools that can help teams to produce better shows, but only with a focus shift and dedication to outstanding productions will we see growth again in the short term.

References

The State of the event industry – Event MB (Skift group) – https://www.eventmanagerblog.com/state-of-the-event-industry-report
The State of the event industry Q1 – Event MB (Skift group) – https://www.eventmanagerblog.com/state-of-the-event-industry-update/
The future is hybrid – Swapcard – https://info.swapcard.com/hybrid-events-research

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