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Virtual Event Platform Providers Get Hybrid Religion

This year, I’ve noticed many of the major virtual events platform providers have begun to tout the benefits of the hybrid model. It started last December, with this blog entry from Dennis Shiao, Client Services Executive for InXpo, proclaiming 2010 the “Year of the Hybrid Event.” It hasn’t happened, but we’ve still got four days to go—maybe there will be an explosion of hybrid event activity later this week.

Looking ahead to next year, in a Business News Daily year-ender, Sharat Sharan, President and CEO of ON24, doubles down on Shiao’s expired prediction: “In today’s cost-conscious business environment, demand for hybrid events—a physical event with a virtual extension before, during or after the physical event takes place—will continue to grow.” That’s a safe bet.

Finally, this webinar from Unisfair actually includes discussion with event organizers who have married virtual components to live events. These events are grasping toward a hybrid event model. I wouldn’t call them strictly hybrid, but they’re getting closer. The presentation by PJ Boatwright, VP of Live Media with Fortune magazine illustrates an opportunity to produce a ultra-high level “invitation-only” event and monetize it with a come-one-come-all simulcast and sponsorship component. One key point worth noting in the presentation by Fiona Bruder, SVP Client Services for George P. Johnson: Three-quarters of brand marketers expect trade shows to integrate virtual components. If this is true, then demand for these services is much higher than the supply. I would venture to guess that fewer than 10% of major trade shows integrate a virtual anything.

Why are the virtual event platform providers jumping on the hybrid bandwagon? Because of a growing opportunity and a lurking threat. The opportunity is obvious: Hybrid is in the air—it comes up whenever I talk to professional event organizers. The lurking threat for platform providers is commoditization of their services. A performance-based virtual platform model is already nipping at their heels. How hard would it be for Google or some over-caffeinated dorm-dweller to churn out an open-source virtual event site?

  1. December 28th, 2010 at 15:00 | #1

    Bill – while we did see some great hybrid events in 2010, you’re correct that I was early in my prediction of 2010 as the “Year of the Hybrid.” It’s better to be early, than late, however – and I now predict that 2011 will be that year!

    As for why virtual event platform providers are excited about hybrid events – it’s more about the growing opportunity – as conveyed to us by our partners and clients. They are driving us to create platforms that provide not just the virtual component – but integrate with physical event tools as well (e.g. registration, on-site video capture, social media integration, etc.).

    As for commoditization, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some open source solutions (e.g. perhaps coming from the Google Wave code base) – any viable solution, however, has to deliver 99.999% availability, scale to tens of thousands of simultaneous users, support multiple languages, integrate seamlessly with third party technologies (e.g. registration, CRM, etc.) and … much more.

    As a side note, here’s some recent and relevant news, which tells me that leading physical event producers will lead the way to hybrid in 2011, “Freeman Makes Decisive Move Into the Virtual Event Space to Help Clients Capitalize on Growing Trend to Add Virtual Elements to Their Trade Shows and Conference Programs” – http://www.virtualedge.org/forum/topics/freeman-makes-decisive-move

    Dennis Shiao
    INXPO Product Marketing

  2. December 29th, 2010 at 14:53 | #2

    Hi Dennis:

    Thanks for this insight from the inside! It’s exciting to see everything that’s been going on with hybrid, especially growing awareness and demand. I’ve got my own plans for hybrid events in 2011, so I hope your prediction comes true. Thanks for that info on Freeman.

    Bill Rutledge

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