From live streaming to virtual audio—perspectives on the virtual event tech options available to event organizers from the CTO at a leading event agency.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post and does not necessarily reflect the views of Bizzabo.

Over lockdown, events organisers have been working frantically to find ways to keep their clients engaged with their audiences online, attempting to stay ahead of the curve on what’s achievable, cutting edge and practical. As social restrictions tighten across the UK and fluctuate worldwide, Marble LDN’s CTO, Robbie Parry, explores the pros and cons of the technology currently available for digital and hybrid events.

1. Live streaming & video conferencing

One of the simplest and most cost effective ways to take your event online, is live streaming and video conferencing. The very nature of online viewing means your ‘venue’ is accessible to a much larger audience, making the potential reach of your event much larger than its physical counterpart. This is coupled with the opportunity for those who didn’t watch live to watch the event on demand at a time convenient for them, providing trackable brand awareness and invaluable audience insight benefits. 

Inevitable internet glitches and busy talent schedules can make pre-recording content essential within some industries. However, while this can provide a more slick and professional appearance, you then lose the ability to engage with your viewers live, by running interactive Q&A sessions for example. Pre-recording is a fairly popular move for B2B online award ceremonies and online gigs or concerts, as it gives you the opportunity to edit and change the camera angles to get a ‘TV’ style result. 

It only takes looking at the various annual events that have ‘gone virtual’ using live streaming technology such as Notting Hill Carnival, the viral industry mash up from Fortnite with the Travis Scott concert and Christopher Nolan film screenings, and ‘Secret Sofa’ – Secret Cinema’s cool collaboration with Haagen-Dazs – to demonstrate how popular this live streaming method has become. 

 

There are a multitude of apps out there that can facilitate branded live streaming and audience interaction, including social media apps such as Instagram or TikTok, in addition to platforms which can give a more professional feel and more in-depth analytics. 

This is one of the most frequently requested event mechanics from our clients, as the best option for getting content out to a large multi-geographic audience in a cost-effective manner. All in all, there are many options out there, but we recommend putting your audience first and prioritising what they will find engaging. 

2. Virtual event platforms

In many ways, we could ask the question why virtual event solutions have not been in use more up until this point. To be able to create a hub where meetings, round tables, conferences and masterclasses can all take place and be stored seems like such a practical solution to events. And indeed there are many platforms out there to explore, but each one has a focus on different areas. 

One clear benefit to this event tech is the sheer amount of insight and analysis you have access to, in addition to the branding and sponsorship opportunities. Virtually everything is trackable, you’ll be able to understand the performance of your content, the movement around the platform, the most popular platform areas, the ability to profile your audience (contributing to consumer LTV) and you can even integrate an online shop (or your sponsors online shop) to learn more about purchasing habits and to attribute ROI to your event. 

Pot Noodle’s ‘Virtual Freshers 2020’ has apparently digitised the freshers’ experience for the first time ever, creating exact replicas of UK university campuses and letting new students explore their lecture theatres, play games, use augmented reality, and even meet their peers through an integration with Messenger. 

 

The offerings on Pot Noodle’s virtual platform are specifically tailored to a student audience, but each event platform can be personalised to suit what your users are looking for: networking, Q&A sessions, talks, direct messaging between visitors, and more.

Another recent digital activation example is our HenkelX Ventures ‘Xchange project. We were tasked with creating a virtual event platform that exceeded a simple roundtable or Zoom call; it had to be brand-centric and incorporate all the aspects of experiential events that our client felt important, for example having networking opportunities and direct messaging, with interactive profiles for each delegate. 

For me, I believe that the best way to facilitate virtual event technology is to combine it with live experiences when they are able to take place; this will be how you bring it to the next level. 

3. Virtual reality

Virtual reality is receiving a bit of hype at the moment, and it’s certainly true that you can create exciting, cutting-edge, immersive experiences using VR event technology – if it’s done well! To create a good virtual reality experience is not something that happens overnight, and can come with a hefty price tag if used to its full potential. However, this is another challenge that can be overcome with the solution of a hybrid event. 

To create a virtual world from scratch is a momentous task, and one that will always look ‘computerised’. Instead, we recommend filming your actual events space with 3D cameras prior to the activation – or make use of currently empty spaces like warehouses and clubs to bring your ideas to life without restrictions to scale. By the time this is translated into the VR technology, users will have complete free reign and control over their experience, which is ultimately what makes physical events so popular. 

The benefits of VR technology are endless; from tracking who is engaging with which products, or looking at how long people spent in particular areas, brands can learn a lot from not only the technology but the data capture that comes with it. 

We particularly loved Verizon Media’s virtual fashion show, ‘The Fabric of Reality’, where each designer worked with a digital artist to create a self-contained universe where users could explore their garments by wearing a VR headset and walking around the space. We don’t doubt we’ll see more high level, mind-blowing concepts like this in the future, but there’s always the limit of your senses. Feeling yourself wearing an actual headset will never compare to the live experience. This is why we recommend fusing virtual and digital realities to give your audience the best of both worlds. 

4. Augmented reality

88% of mid-sized companies are already using AR in some capacity, which speaks volumes to its capabilities and diversity. It’s even predicted that by 2023, the AR marketing revenue is going to hit $70-$75 billion per annum, so both our current events and the future of our industry will be impacted by AR technology (figures from vxchnge.com). 

 

AR has become more and more usable, especially in a sales capacity. During lockdown, this becomes even more of a necessity, as you’re able to see what a pair of trainers is going to look like on your feet before buying them, or what that sofa looks like in your house without having to find a tape measure. 

AR is also very accessible to a range of users, with apps like Pokémon Go having over 1 billion users when it rushed into the spotlight in 2014 (figures from vxchnge.com), many of whom were children. More recent AR activations have brought brands closer to their consumers during lockdown, with both Ikea and John Lewis using augmented reality shopping experiences to help customers visualise their purchases before buying. The possibilities of AR technology are endless: from gamification, to product placement, advertising, wellness and training, and in many respects it will lend itself to human interaction. 

5. Audio reality

For me, audio reality is what ties the whole thing together if you are wanting to go for hyper-realistic mixed reality or virtual reality. The technology delivers an extremely natural and vivid audio experience that heightens emotions and senses and invites the listener to enter a fully mixed reality world.

The use of this technology can bring watching a film on your laptop to life by adding an extra dimension to popular visual activations. And with events like drive-in cinemas and socially distanced concerts becoming ever more popular, using audio reality through headphones will provide audiences with that high-quality experience people are craving at the moment. 

Software like Orcastra offers spherical sound and binaural audio to give the impression of 360 degree sound, creating a transformative and heightening experience. We’ve already seen this kind of tech being activated at festivals, with the ‘Gas Tower Stage’ at Glastonbury using a 8:1 sound system – surround-sound taken to a new level! 

Audio reality - Virtual event tech options

Source: Glastonbury Festival

The only drawback of audio reality technology is that it is quite cost prohibitive for smaller projects, and on the whole you would want to tie it in with the use of some of the aforementioned tech to create a holistic and cohesive experience for your audience. 

The adoption of event technology has accelerated across most industries over the last few months as brands compete to gain the attention of their audience. It also continues to reduce the need for attendee travel and non-biodegradable materials at events, instead bringing experiences to the home at the click of a button. But while online is becoming a more saturated marketplace, the creative applications that are possible with this tech is limitless, and as the online space becomes more widely used we’re seeing an explosion of new technology start-ups and tech features fast tracked, in combination with more competitive pricing. 

At Marble LDN, we love having a much broader choice of tech at our fingertips, and seeing the creativity and imagination from brands who are adapting their physical events to the more immersive online world. We are of course keeping an eye out for what else is emerging in the field, as we integrate more innovative technology into hybrid campaigns for our clients; using these digital touchpoints to provide true value and insight within both our digital events and hopefully more physical events very soon.

Staging a virtual event is hard. We put together a kit of virtual event production templates to make it easier.

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