The State of Virtual Events in 2016

The State of Virtual Events in 2016

Whether you’re trying to reach a broader audience, cut costs, raise revenue or repurpose event content, virtual events can be a great way to bring people together, while keeping overheads low. And with so many recent advances in virtual event platforms and supporting technologies – right now is the best time to bring virtual events to your organization. Here’s what you and every planner should know about virtual events and livestreaming in 2016.

In a chat with Teri Clay and Melanie Pensinger from the American Cancer Society – part of Lanyon’s meetings and event planner interview series – we discussed how, during periods of flat budgets, they turn to virtual events as a way to bring people together while keeping their overhead low.

It got me thinking about virtual events – and live streams in particular. Sure, the meetings and events industry has been dabbling in virtual events long before Zuckerberg got into the game – but how is the widespread adoption of streaming technology changing the way people experience live events? And what even counts as a virtual event in 2016?

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few observations on livestreaming in 2016 and the impact it’ll have on virtual events.



The state of virtual events is strong. And getting stronger.

Livestreams Are Getting Bigger

It’s crazy when you think about it, but it’s been nearly a decade since Netflix launched its streaming video service in 2007. The model proved so successful that a whole crop of competitors have entered the streaming game, and more and more consumers are ditching their cable subscriptions in favor of these services. And it’s a trend that hasn’t escaped the notice of event planners.

Now, we all know that event planners in the corporate sphere have been hosting virtual events for decades. But now that streaming media has become so commonplace, it’s catching on among planners of large spectator events.

Just in the last year, we’ve seen virtual events move from the event space into the entertainment realm. CNN’s live stream of the Republican primary debate peaked at over 921,000 simultaneous viewers in September – and they went so far as to pose the candidates a few questions that had come in from Twitter. This past February, a record-shattering 1.3 million cord cutters tuned in to watch the live stream of Super Bowl 50. And most recently, the New York theater scene is getting in on the action – BroadwayHD is now livestreaming theatrical events alongside their catalogue of pre-recorded performances.

The investments that these big players are putting into virtual event technology are sure to reap solid advances in the near future – and it’s only a matter of time until those advances wind up on every event planner’s wish list. But the breakthroughs in livestreaming aren’t limited to massive, spectator events.

They’re Also Getting Smaller

While big media organizations are developing ways to scale up streaming technologies in order to reach a rapidly growing audience or cord-cutters, mobile app developers are taking the power to broadcast live to hundreds-of-thousands (if not millions) and putting it into the hands of literally anyone with a mobile device.

Today’s mobile app startups are doing to streaming video what earlier mobile apps did to blogs. (Sorry, blogs.) These apps let people “micro-stream” live video – in which they most often share personal stories (or clips of their awesome vacation) with anyone tuned into their feed. And since these apps are as much a part of social media as they are streaming apps, the audience can communicate fluidly with the broadcaster and other viewers.

For event planners, these apps – especially when paired with a GoPro or similar device – mean that you can quickly and easily share a POV experience of your event for people who can’t be there in person. Adventurous planners might consider having their onsite support team broadcast from multiple points around the event all at once, creating a rich, 360-degree streaming experience.

Things to Consider

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when planning to incorporate these new technologies into your virtual event strategy. Some of these are nothing new: intellectual property rights must be respected; and you should keep your budget and technical know-how in mind when considering how how many streams you want to run.

If you’re interested in bringing micro-streaming apps into your virtual events (this may seem a no-brainer, but…) you need to make sure your “stream team” has a good network signal. Ideally, you won’t rely on wireless service to handle the load. At most events there are simply too many people using their devices at the same time –  and a clogged network is kryptonite for mobile streaming. If you plan to use mobile streaming at your event, you’ll want to use a stable network – preferably WiFi. And if negotiate with your venue for a dedicated router – one that’s used exclusively for your livestream – that’s even better.

You’ll also want to consider your micro-streaming strategy. Do you supply a number of your onsite staff with devices that they can use to stream different parts of the event? Or do you simply provide your attendees with an event #hashtag where they can send their own streams? Personally, I’d use a little of both. That way, your remote audience can tune into your channel and experience your event from a wealth of perspectives.

In Conclusion

For the vast majority of us, our events are nowhere as big and complex as the Super Bowl. At the same time, mobile streaming apps aren’t likely going to be robust enough to stream all our educational sessions. However, by harnessing our creativity – and the abundance of technologies available – there are myriad ways we can make our virtual events more beautiful, interactive and engaging.

The American Cancer Society controlled meetings spend by implementing a virtual meetings program resulting in “literally millions and millions of dollars” in savings.