Events / Resources

Virtual events skyrocketed in 2020. Can they make money?

In a new report, Pixilated pulls together takeaways on learnings from 2020's shift to virtual events.

A virtual group pic at Addventure's final meeting. (Courtesy photo)

Back in March, the 2020 calendar got torn up. From happy hours to conferences to fireworks, the events of the year that were supposed to bring folks together in person were canceled.

When we look back on the pandemic and how it moved across the world to the U.S., the cancellation of SXSW is likely to be remembered as the moment for many when it got real, and a biotech conference will be one of the early spreaders. It demonstrates the importance of events in our society.

This was on view again when events started happening anyway, just virtually. We still needed a way to get together, while apart. We saw this locally as accelerators finished out cohorts with Zoom demo days. Webinars became a useful way to dive deep on topics of interest to a team’s mission. And bigger community-building and visibility events like Baltimore Innovation Week went on virtually.

The rush of virtual events arrived out of necessity. But as we get used to being able to hop on a session from home and see folks from around the world on one screen, it’s easy to think that this format may not be going away with the pandemic.

As a new report gathering learnings on virtual events from Morrell Park-based photobooth software company Pixilated points out, “We must wrap our minds around the fact that we are witnessing a massive shift in the industry.”

In 2020, many of these events were free. Yet they still cost money to produce, per the report, which surveyed 500 event professionals.

“Though producing an online event does carry a lower price tag than in-person meetings, it is certainly not free,” stated the report, which surveyed 500 event professionals. “Unfortunately, there is a wide gap between revenue generation and digital production costs.”

So if they’re going to be sustainable and part of strategies going forward, one question becomes: How might they be monetized?

The report identifies a few areas where organizers are experimenting now. Some are simply setting a value and asking attendees to pay it. Others are trying a freemium model, where organizers offer different levels of access, or incorporating sponsor videos into the content of the event as part of a package.

Ultimately, shifting to a paid model will require a “seismic shift” by the industry, the report states.

It’s one of a handful of areas the report says must be considered. Other takeaways draw attention to the following:

  • Defeating Zoom fatigue
  • Differentiating virtual events
  • Navigating event technology
  • Hybrid events, which blend in-person and virtual aspects
Download the report
Companies: Pixilated

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