Digital Publishing Reader Revenue Top Stories
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“We can sell infinite tickets to a global audience”: How publishers can create engagement, build brands and generate revenue through virtual events

Live events – a trillion-dollar industry – were one of the first casualties of COVID related lockdowns, according to FIPP’s latest report on virtual events. However, businesses and individuals rapidly shifted to working from home, and integrated video conferencing software into their daily lives. This has created huge opportunities for virtual events.

“The once-zestless videoconference has been reinvigorated”

“After the initial shock, it became clear that media companies had been left with a huge opportunity,” according to FIPP. “Into the vacuum of physical events flowed an array of online offerings, from webinars and casual meetups to full-scale, multi-week conferences.”

Opportunities from brand-building to securing a lucrative new revenue stream can and do emerge for publishers navigating the new “virtual world.”


“TechCrunch has tied Extra Crunch Live – its series of investor Q&As – to paid membership and seen huge growth,” writes Sadie Hale, author of the report, Virtual events: How to thrive in the new normal. “Meanwhile, NYTLive has reaped success with virtual events, with significant proportions of the more than 250,000 attendees from 110 different countries not being New York Times subscribers.”

Further, FTLive drew 5,500 attendees to its four-day FT Digital Dialogues digital event in April 2020. And FT Global Boardroom, a fully live, global digital event, had 100 remote speakers and 52,000 delegates.

Despite the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, consumers still want high quality output from their favourite media brands – and are more open to trying new brands. 

Sadie Hale, Author, Virtual events: How to thrive in the new normal

“Publishers have shown resilience and innovation in the face of this rapidly shifting environment,” comments Hale. “The once-zestless videoconference has been reinvigorated, showing itself to be a playful, dynamic format.”

The report explores online event formats, revenue options and the wider ways publishers can benefit from entering this space. It also features practical tips on getting started, running events smoothly, and avoiding potential pitfalls.

180,300 users on Instagram vs an expected 700 paying attendees

Many publishers rapidly modified their physical events into webinars and online conferences. FIPP itself began hosting free webinars within weeks of the lockdown measures coming into force in the UK. It has had over 1,000 attendees, from India to North America, tuning in each time to listen and contribute to various topics.

Publishers like The Atlantic, Axios, and The Wall Street Journal have altered their conferences for online delivery. In such cases, instead of live streaming a traditional panel, speakers can be encouraged to deliver shorter presentations, suggests Hale. She adds that the engagement of physical conferences can be replicated via chat functions and breakout room features of video conferencing software.

Other formats that have shown impressive ability to replicate physical events include podcasts, social media meets, social get-togethers, fun challenges and virtual reality. Their advantages can range from being easy and inexpensive to produce, to the ability to reach out to a much larger group of readers. 

Cherry Bombe, the female-focused food magazine expected 700 paying attendees at its in-person Jubilee event in New York. It reached 180,300 users on Instagram when it streamed the event via Instagram Live.

The most effective and inspiring media brands are capturing both the pull of escapism and the compulsion to stay constantly and reliably informed. 

Looking Beyond Lockdown – Changing Consumer Behaviour in Response to Covid-19, report by Condé Nast Britain  

“The audience is potentially limitless”

Another significant advantage of an online event is that it can be planned relatively quickly compared to in-person events which can require several months of preparation.

Some things publishers need to consider while planning an event include whether the event is going to be free or paid. Many publishers have started with free virtual events. This allows them to get to know their audiences better and make changes as required. It also gives them a better idea of whether and how much the readers are willing to pay. “The audience is potentially limitless,” writes Hale. 

I don’t see the same level of pricing power we are able to charge for physical events… but we now have unlimited inventory and seats in our virtual conference rooms. We can sell infinite tickets to a global audience. That is pretty powerful. Revolutionary, even. 

Orson Francescone, Managing Director of FT Live

Since audiences are used to getting things for free on the internet, the report recommends video platform and virtual events solutions company, INXPO’s suggestion. It is about finding a suitable combination of attendance and sponsorship. “We’ve seen customers doing different blends of each side of the equation,” writes Trilby Lawless. “Free attendance but heavy sponsorship, paid attendance and light sponsorship, paid attendance and heavy sponsorship, etc.”  

Other things to account for while planning an event include: costs related to setting up the event, demand for the content (are participants going to sign up on their own, or because they have been asked by their employer to do so) and whether the event is expected to generate revenue, or build engagement for the publisher.

Opting for the right technology is important, there are plenty of options apart from Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. These include SwapCard, an app and desktop site that has been specifically designed to facilitate online networking. Then there are Deal Room, Webex and vMix. Each offers some distinct feature(s) which may make them more useful for specific publishers.

There’s no right or wrong platform, but make sure it’s one that you trust and is user-friendly, and corresponds to your business objectives.

James Hewes, CEO, FIPP

Getting to know and use the technology well is critical so that any unforeseen issues can be readily dealt with. “All the usual rules about good speakers apply – they need to be saying something that’s different and interesting and arrests the audience,” says journalist and Executive Editor of Hub Culture, Edie Lush. “But they also need an ability to navigate the digital platform, and some people just aren’t good at it or think it doesn’t matter. The ones who take the time to figure it out with speakers in advance – those are the best online conferences.” 

“Focus on the conversation and get to the point”

The report offers useful tips on keeping the proceedings engaging, how to measure the success of the event and following-up with the attendees. 

Holding onto people’s attention in a virtual event, when they are sitting in front of a computer, is more difficult compared to a physical event. Communications consultant Andy Bounds recommends 20 or 40 minute speaking slots, which are more digestible than a full hour or 30 minutes. “If it can be shorter, do it!” he says. 

Ditch the lengthy slide decks and use slides sparingly, as a prompt. Your audience will lose focus otherwise. Focus on the conversation and get to the point.

James Hewes, CEO, FIPP 

Having a script is a must, adds Hewes. “Pauses and hesitation are even more apparent on video than they are in real life, so make sure your script helps you navigate your way through the event.” 

Regarding measuring success, he recommends examining, “the number of registered delegates versus those actually attending; how long they stayed on; how much attention they were paying; and transcripts of questions asked and chat.

“Post-event, consider splitting webinar recordings into shareable clips that you can then use on social media to drive more traffic and awareness.”

“An established part of the ecosystem”

“During the pandemic, many online events have been pulled together on the fly,” notes Hale. “Yet even if imperfect, the online events space has many advantages which are becoming clearer as time goes by.”

The scope for online events is, in theory, endless, and the playing field appears wide open for the foreseeable future.

Sadie Hale, Author, Virtual events: How to thrive in the new normal

She adds, “If necessity is the mother of invention, the lockdown has certainly been a source of experimentation – and media brands will be keen to keep hold of the new audiences and global reach they have acquired during the past couple of months.

“After all, if online events have been a success, why stop now? Even as the strictest lockdown conditions ease and physical events begin to return, online events are now an established part of the ecosystem.”

The full report can be downloaded from FIPP:
Virtual events: How to thrive in the new normal