A post-pandemic shift by B2B conferences and trade shows worldwide to hybrid combinations of in-person and virtual events represents a major opportunity for developers of platforms that can support video-rich interactions in real time.
While virtualization of conventions and other business events became the norm when Covid-19 hit, the webinar and full-blown trade show platforms companies rushed into service were, by and large, a far cry from what the market needs if there’s going to be an ongoing role for digital. This was evident in the results of many studies tracking responses to virtual event platforms.
For example, the consulting firm Exhibitor Media Group recently reported that 86% of surveyed exhibitors found that digital trade shows didn’t deliver the leads they were looking for. And, according to a survey conducted by Freeman Company, another trade show consulting company, 92% of digital show attendees are frustrated by their experiences.
Yet these and other studies found that virtualization will be an integral part of trade shows going forward. Reporting on a recent survey of attendees, exhibitors, and trade show organizers, the marketing support firm SalesRoad said, “All of the event planning experts we spoke with predicted the future will bring a hybrid approach in which virtual attendance will be an option for those who cannot attend in-person.”
This is good news for developers who can facilitate the marriage of virtualized and in-person experiences in ways that meet the expectations of organizers and participants. The key is knowing how to create innovative approaches to utilizing advanced networking support for fully interactive, high-quality A/V streaming at massive scales in real time. As explained in this white paper, such support is readily at hand for developers who employ the capabilities of the Red5 Pro Experience Delivery Network (XDN) platform.
Let’s take a look at 6 reasons hybrid trade shows are a huge opportunity for innovative developers looking to take advantage of the current environment.
1. The Trade Show Market Is Massive
One only needs to look at the size of the global trade show business to appreciate just how big an opportunity this is for event specialists in the global development community.
Prior to Covid-19, the proliferation of trade shows across every segment of the global economy had reached a peak with exhibitors, sponsors and attendees generating an estimated $42 billion in revenue worldwide in 2019. The U.S.—the largest trade show market—accounted for $15.6 billion of that total with an overall impact on the economy calculated at $101 billion, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR).
When the pandemic struck, forcing cancellation of live events from early 2020 through Q3 2021, total disaster was averted by nearly universal adoption of virtual platforms, ranging from webinars to replications of full trade shows with conference panels, exhibit booths, meeting rooms and more. By mid-2020, 81% of the canceled live trade shows had moved to digital, the CEIR said.
While, by one estimate, global trade show revenue fell by nearly 65% in 2020, the virtualization of the events produced some upsides that have transformed how producers, exhibitors, and attendees are thinking about these events in the post-pandemic era. Reduced travel and exhibitor costs, along with some additional perks like increased access to speakers through digital chats and exhibitors’ access to better data about people interested in their wares were widely cited as upsides in surveys and press accounts.
But there’s no question that live events are roaring back to life. One recent press report cites two surveys pointing to a rapid return to live events. One indicated that 68% of exhibitors expected to be participating in location-based trade shows by October 2021 and that 86% strongly prefer them over virtual events. The other study found 78% of potential attendees were likely to be traveling to events in the fall, with the number climbing to 94% by early 2021.
2. There’s a Clear-Cut Rationale for Hybrid Trade Shows
The goal now is to benefit from both the live and virtual trade show experiences. The reasons for this are obvious.
Organizers and exhibitors have had enough experience with virtualization to know that, while it’s no replacement for the real thing, it’s a great way to make sure the event reaches the maximum number of people. In many cases during the pandemic, trade show producers discovered they had more people attending virtually than they ever did live.
Reporting on feedback from virtual trade show experiences in 2020, an executive at Kaon, a marketing systems vendor, wrote that, while “customer experience is substandard,” “registration numbers are through the roof, attendance is higher.” In one typical case in point, the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly, which drew 16,200 participants to Vienna in 2019, registered 26,000 users when it went virtual in 2020.
Moreover, as reported by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) in a wide-ranging survey of virtual trade show events, even when the all-virtual attendances were below average, organizers often found they were pulling people into virtual events who otherwise would never attend the live versions. Frequently these attendees included younger industry entrants who don’t qualify for live attendance funding support. For example, as PCMA reported, this happened with the registration of 1,200 newbies for the October 2020 virtual gathering of the National Electrical Contractors Association in Chicago.
Adding to the need for virtual components to live events is the fact that cutbacks on travel threaten to endure as companies remain less willing than they once were to cover trade show travel costs. Exhibitor Media Group reported that among the 75% of survey respondents who said they were keeping travel restrictions in place, half didn’t know when that might change.
3. Solutions Can Be Developed for Two Types of Hybrid Trade Shows
In a comprehensive survey of event promoters in the apparel, automotive, finance, food, healthcare, tech, and transport industries, the publication Investment Monitor reported, “If ‘virtual’ was the key word for 2020, ‘hybrid’ is the zeitgeist for 2021.” The media entertainment industry wasn’t part of the survey, but there, too, it’s clear the hybrid strategy is taking hold.
The Amsterdam-based IBC show, the largest broadcast media industry event in Europe, announced it was “embracing hybrid/ digital to give IBC more reach than ever before” in 2021. Digital components will combine “the best of the show floor with state-of-the-art online interaction.” The NAB Show, the main broadcast industry event in the U.S., has moved its 2021 convention to October with plans for a virtual connection that will make presentations from the cable industry’s Cable Tec Expo in Atlanta available to NAB attendees in Las Vegas.
These two examples highlight the two categories of hybrid trade shows that developers can target. The first, as in the case of IBC, involves creating a virtual version of the event that people can participate in without being there in person.
The second, so far less common but anticipated to emerge as an important way to save costs through consolidation, is the ability to bring two events together on the same date by enabling on-site attendees at either of the events to view virtual input from the other one. This is a step beyond the NAB instance where NAB attendees will be able to view virtual input from Cable Tec Expo, but it won’t work the other way around.
4. Existing Virtualization Platforms Fall Short in Many Ways
The hybrid phenomenon is taking hold despite the previously noted general dissatisfaction with the virtual platforms that producers resorted to in 2020. The question is, what can developers do to create hybrid experiences that are more effective for visitors and exhibitors?
A big clue can be found in some of the less-than-satisfactory characteristics of many commonly used platforms, as noted in a description of top platforms provided by trade show consultancy, EventMB. For example, rather than using live video connections for interactions, many virtual event platform providers rely on chat with on-screen avatar representations of attendees.
Often, whatever mode of interaction is in play, exhibitors have to rely on attendees to initiate engagement before they can be accessed via chat. And, to the consternation of event organizers, the connections that are made are often directed through the exhibitor’s website rather than within the event experience.
Frequently, when interactions via video communications are supported, the A/V quality is poor. And there is no scaling for live real-time Q&A engagement via video from attendees’ phones and webcams during conference sessions.
5. There Are Multiple Ingredients to Successful Hybrid Events
All these problems can be remedied by development of virtual components to hybrid trade shows that are anchored by real-time video interactivity supported by XDN technology. With no limit on the quality, scale, or distance of user engagement, developers can implement the types of enhancements that surveys and consultancies suggest will make a real difference in the experiences of all concerned. For example, they can support:
- Massive scaling of video interactions allows the aforementioned support for live video Q&A during conference sessions;
- One-on-one meetings that can be facilitated during virtual exhibit visits with an assist from data intelligence systems that let exhibitors know the identity of attendees looking at their wares;
- Exhibit spaces embellished with live demo presentations allowing video interactions with visitors;
- Spontaneous meetings in private virtual rooms that can be arranged when developers’ intelligent data applications allow mutual acquaintances and people of like interests to find each other;
- Pre-show interactive video sessions for purposes of training exhibitors and attendees on use of the platform;
- After-hours live entertainment and other video-rich experiences with interactive components;
- Extensions that make the event platform useful for engagements year round.
When it comes to consolidated show pairings, input from remote speakers can be combined in real time via big screen displays on stage with live presenters. And those screens can be used to display input from remote attendees during Q&A sessions as well.
Likewise, virtual versions of the exhibit floors can bring the halls of the remote partner to in-person visitors at the other event. And the virtual versions of both events’ vendors can be made available to people who don’t visit either event in person.
6. XDN Infrastructure Provides the Networking Support for Hybrid Trade Shows
One example of how a developer is using XDN architecture to support the virtual components of hybrid events occurred over the past year with various engagements in the broadcast television industry. Addison Interactive’s Eventuall Virtual Event Platform leveraged XDN technology to power the media center for a major U.S. awards show nationally televised in 2020 and Television Critics Award press tour events for The CW Network in 2021.
The trade-show types of hybrid events supported by Addison complement a wide range of consumer-facing events. These involve video interactions between musicians, comedians and speakers on stage or in sports broadcast booths with online viewing audiences, sometimes combined with input from people in the on-site audiences. “We’re opening up entirely new virtual experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be possible,” said Scott Clay, founder & CEO, Addison Interactive.
In the case of the major awards show, which Clay said he wasn’t contractually allowed to name, winners were able to interact online with distant press members in sessions that brought participants together on screen for real-time discussions synchronized with graphic embellishments and the feel of a professional TV news production. HD quality, an important attribute of XDN connectivity, was maintained throughout.
“Bringing everybody together was a complex challenge,” Clay noted. There were 128 servers powering the event and a control room enabling press and other participants to see all the winners’ videos as well as the live captures of individuals participating in the press exchanges.
Hybrid trade shows running on the Eventuall platform can be partitioned into different virtual rooms for various enhancements to the overall experience, Clay said. There can be speaker rooms for presenters to go over their roles; breakout rooms dedicated to specific presenters and demonstrations; party rooms where audience members can mingle with the ability to generate GIF “snapshots” aggregating screens showing people interacting at a given moment. Support for graphic and text overlays allows event producers to enhance conference sessions and virtual exhibit booths with material relevant to what is happening in the moment.
Clearly, XDN technology transforms what can be done to realize the full potential of hybrid trade shows. The configurations and experiences that can be brought into play with hybrid trade shows are boundless when all video streams from any point can reach all other points at imperceptible latencies in the 200-400ms range.
With automated orchestration of a hierarchy of origin, relay, and edge nodes under cluster management of the XDN Stream Manager, hybrid trade shows and any other live-video use cases are assured fail-safe performance with load balancing and full redundancy across all nodes. Those nodes can be deployed on any combination of IaaS cloud platforms leveraging pre-integrations with major suppliers like AWS, Google, and Microsoft as well as the multi-cloud integrations achieved through Red5 Pro’s use of the Terraform multi-cloud toolset.
Multi-cloud implementations make it possible to extend XDN real-time streaming reach to millions of people across multiple continents. As a result, developers can implement XDN infrastructure tailored to projected near-term, real-time streaming requirements with the flexibility to continue scaling resources as needed.
Any use case involving real-time streaming can be implemented on a Red5 Pro XDN utilizing WebRTC or Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) transport with preservation of ingested protocols like Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) and MPEG-Transport Protocol (TS). The platform also provides full support for the multi-profile transcodes used with ABR streaming by utilizing intelligent Edge Node interactions with client devices to deliver content in the profiles appropriate to each user.
Be sure to get in touch to learn more about XDN architecture and how it can be used to support compelling solutions for every type of event, from small conferences to major conventions. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or schedule a call.