The information relies on virtual events as the media industry joins the rest of the world into a new season of the Covid-19 pandemic. And the technology-oriented digital publisher can point to an early commercial success, so that no future event can do without a strong virtual component.
By the end of the year, The Information will be hosting 50 virtual events and exceeding the ticket targets for each of them, although it would not state what those targets were. The publisher is fresh from testing two marquee events that are usually held in person: the Autonomous Vehicle Summit in June and the WTF Summit in September.
“I was really nervous about how they would translate, but they worked incredibly well,” founder and editor-in-chief Jessica Lessin told Adweek. “And I think it comes back to who is in the room and what they’re saying. Our strength has always been our community. “
Therein lies the challenge most companies face when converting their physical events business into virtual equivalents: re-creating the digital interaction with the community. Prior to the pandemic, events were viewed as a critical source of life for media organizations. According to event software company Bizzabo, publishers like The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and CNBC generated around $ 22 million in event registrations last year.
Virtual and physical events have a different economic model: while the cost of scaling virtual events is significantly reduced, collecting ticket prices for online content that was free in the past is a model that has not yet been proven.
The WTF virtual information conference took place over two days in early September and, according to Lessin, consisted of a number of speakers including Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Maxine Williams, Chief Diversity Officer. In total, over 500 participants bought tickets for USD 1,000. For comparison, the 2019 event had fewer than 200 attendees in Times Square.
To reestablish interactions among participants, The Information used Hoppin software to chat with people at five-minute intervals during set network breaks. The publisher also uses Zoom for its virtual events. Most of the speakers’ sessions were recorded, which was helpful in preparation but limited their timeliness. In the virtual world, participants were more likely to interact, ask questions, and chat. According to Lessin, this model generated higher revenues and far lower costs than its physical event.
At both the Autonomous Vehicle Summit in June and the WTF Summit in September, sponsors were held back by their physical equivalents, which included Helm.ai and Roku. “It was unbelievable,” said Lessin, adding that she cannot imagine a world in which the publisher would again only offer personal events without a virtual component.
The information is not alone. Other media companies are investing in virtual events, creating a competitive industry that seeks to gather the feeling of gathering in a conference room on a computer screen.
Ann Marinovich, who just joined Time as Time’s Vice President of Brand Partnerships, noted the low barrier to entry for companies to get into the game (for example, it’s much easier to set up a zoom room than rent a living space in one Big city). Even so, the engagement of the audience and ticket sales “says a lot that people are willing to pay to come to them,” she said.
“Commitment remains by far the greatest challenge. With Zoom looming fatigue, attending another online event is just too big an undertaking, ”said Julius Solaris, Editor-in-Chief of EventMB, part of travel news brand Skift. “Hopefully a mix of better event strategy and technology platform development will have a positive impact on overall engagement.”