Recently, we opened a new series of articles on how ad-funded publishers can adapt through the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, we’ve examined advertising trendsaffiliate revenue stream and digital alternatives to print in detail. In today’s fourth instalment, we’re going to look at how publishers are hosting their events virtually.

Many publishers, including the Texas Tribune and recently launched tech publication Protocol, took events planned for the immediate future online with minimal hesitation. Protocol announced a series of events called Protocol Virtual Meetups, which it hosted through video conference platform Zoom. They took place on four Thursdays from March 19, and essentially placed attendees in an audience for panel discussions between tech journalists and industry executives.

As a new publication, Protocol hasn’t yet revealed any advertising sponsors, but we do know that the team will include virtual events in the events package it sells to advertisers. Clearly, Protocol expects virtual events to be the norm for some time.

Head here to learn more about Protocol’s Virtual Meetups.

The Texas Tribune’s team have adopted a similar approach. A recent on-site announcement read:

“The good news is, we’re always innovating. In the events realm, as in the way we produce and distribute our public-service journalism, we’re going to leverage technology to raise the level of civic engagement at a time when we need more people thinking about the issues in play and the state of the world. Through our live streaming capabilities, we’re creating a virtual events series — online opportunities to hear from and engage with policymakers and newsmakers.”

This events series launched in March with Jason McLellan, an associate professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas at Austin and a leading expert on the coronavirus, interviewed by the Tribune’s Alana Rocha.

But what these solutions can’t account for is interactivity, product sampling and networking. There’s no easy way around this fact. Depending on what they cover, certain publishers will find virtual events more challenging than others.

A virtual event will likely bring in one-third to one-half the revenue of a physical event, said Larry Weil, events sponsorship consultant:

“I don’t believe you can take a three-day conference and put it online. Sponsorship is definitely going to take a hit. But those who have a digital strategy, and can scramble, can defer a lot of that loss.”

The Information has taken few financial hits, as its business model strived to build a monetized online community long before the coronavirus pandemic began. The Information’s subscribers are bound by exclusive conference calls, access to a private Slack channel, an annual summit and up to a dozen other subscriber-only events each year that foster engagement and information sharing. The publisher’s 2020 WTF Summit, scheduled for September will go virtual. Plans for their 2020 Autonomous Vehicles Summit haven’t yet been announced, but, given The Information’s track record, this seems entirely likely. 

On May 16, Teen Vogue celebrated those graduating from America’s high schools by hosting the Virtual Prom, “in an effort to bring some joy and normalcy to you high school students who are missing out on educational milestones at a time that they expected to be among the proudest and most exciting of their school experience.” Hosted on Zoom, Virtual Prom featured special performances, celebrity guests, live DJs, the live presentation of the “Teen Vogue Virtual Prom Court” and more. Virtual Prom’s sponsor AXE offered a “promposal”, while Chipotle created content on how to make corsages and boutonnieres from materials found at its restaurants.

Elsewhere, dance music publisher, ticketing platform and directory Resident Advisor has launched numerous initiatives under the umbrella banner ‘Save Our Scene’. The team has compiled every live streamed clubbing alternative by artists in its wheelhouse into one comprehensive resource. The publisher also created Streamland, a geo-tag that allows music fans at home to filter RA’s events listings section down to “virtual-only events, offering self-isolating ravers a helpful index for finding the best digital parties broadcasting from across the globe.”

Staple British music publication DIY recently used Instagram live to host an entire one-day festival, called DIYsolation, throughout which it took donations. All proceeds went to the charity Help Musicians, and the event proved that Instagram is an easy way to host an event with multiple remote speakers or performers for a large audience. Subsequently, DIYsolation has become a nightly stream on DIY’s Instagram featuring musical artists from all over the world.

DIY magazine DIYsolation festival Instagram artwork

Recently, the startup accelerator Y Combinator‘s Director of Events shared some advice on hosting a virtual event, grouping all the Dos and Don’ts of this often intimidating new practice into a simple, intuitive list. They also shared a useful infographic, which can be seen below and would be worth saving to refer to later.

Dos and don'ts of hosting virtual eventsWhen it comes to the software for hosting virtual events, for many publishers, Zoom will be sufficient. 

Zoom

Zoom has fast become the industry standard video conferencing platform for its ease of use and its video and audio quality. Whilst users must pay to exceed the unlimited free trial’s 40 minute limit on conversations with three or more participants, the host of the conference is the only one who needs the paid package; all other attendees may chat for an unlimited amount of time if the extension is granted by the host. As such, it’s the favoured video conferencing platform of many a top-tier publisher.

Here are a few apps that can supplement Zoom and other standard methods of hosting a virtual event. Hopefully, they’ll set the idea wheels in motion, enabling you to monetise with minimal extra effort.

Apps to enhance the virtual event you’re hosting

Stream

Stream is the simplest way we’ve found for publishers to promote, monetise, and live stream virtual events for their audiences. It was launched as its founders noticed friends and family members getting frustrated with having to text or email Zoom and Venmo links for events they were hosting with paying clients. So, they created an app that lets users, create a landing page, manage payments and start a Zoom live stream with 1-click.

Stream app Zoom extension screenshot

However, one app offers the potential for a pretty accurate recreation of conference experience as a whole. With it, users can quite literally take others to one side for a one-on-one in a larger virtual ‘party’. That app is SpatialChat.

Spatial.chat

Initially developed for events like birthday parties to be held remotely, Spatial.chat offers a blank ‘event’ canvas, on which each attendee is represented by an avatar. Attendees can choose who specifically they’d like to speak to, and can share content of all kinds within these inter-conference conversations. In theory, it creates an opportunity for a post-event networking session as good as the real, pre-coronavirus thing. 

Spatial.chat user interface example

As tough as COVID-19 will be on publishing, we hope this will prove to be no more than a bump in the road. The above publications have all found exemplar solutions that enable them to continue hosting the events they rely upon for portions of their income.

Click here for the next instalment in our article series aimed at helping publishers monetise through the COVID-19 crisis: Monetising Video