The virtual rubber really hit the road in the third quarter of 2020. Suddenly we all realised physical events are unlikely to make a comeback any time soon, thanks to the disruptive impact of COVID-19, and if we want to keep having all the events and get-togethers we enjoy as social creatures living in a commercial world, we need to find new ways to do it.
Industry sectors from politics to publishing and beyond put together some great virtual events in recent months, challenging previous conventions, pushing boundaries and generally going the extra mile to attract and engage their audience.
Here are just a few of our faves.
Democrat National Convention
Industry sector: Politics
Format: The totally virtual Democratic National Convention (DNC) was held over four two-hour sessions across four nights in August. It was broadcast on 11 television networks and streamed online.
Why we like it: Reinvented one of the world’s biggest political events and attracted more than 80 million viewers including a record online audience.
When the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to the Democratic party’s plans to hold its 2020 National Convention at a packed stadium, the organisers shifted the whole shebang to a virtual format.
The production, which was both pre-recorded and broadcast live, included a massive 800 video feeds and 64 set designs.
While TV ratings were down compared with the 2016 event, the event’s first night alone shattered the previous record for digitally streaming video with more than 10 million viewers, according to a spokesperson for Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
CNN Digital reported nearly 31 million unique visitors and more than 9 million video starts on its desktop, mobile or other streaming device. Digital visitors were up 19% compared to the first day of the 2016 convention and digital streaming was up 28%, according to CNN Digital.
The event was praised for its ability to create a sense of intimacy and a feeling of personal connection compared with more raucous traditional events featuring large flag- and banner-waving crowds.
The producers reduced the traditional five or six hours of programming per day down to two hours, which meant some parts of the traditional convention were overhauled, while others were dropped altogether.
One change that received plenty of positive attention was the roll call — which is usually a somewhat tedious 90-minute affair in which each state and territory officially allocates its delegates in support of the nominee from the convention floor.
The producers instead used a montage of live and pre-taped video postcards from picturesque and historically significant locations in each of the 57 states and territories. Locations included the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, the site of an iconic civil rights march in 1965, while a masked Rhode Island chef posing on the beach with a plate of calamari instantly became a meme.
Intermedia: Hotel Management – The Recovery Starts Now
Industry sector: Travel and accommodation
Format: The event was broadcast live from the Redback studio and crossed to 12 remote guests in a series of short-form interviews and discussions.
Why we like it: The Recovery Starts Now illustrated how valuable virtual formats can be in a time of crisis and highlighted how receptive audiences are when the content is useful and relevant.
As one of the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the accommodation sector has been reeling since the lockdown of businesses, the shutdown of domestic borders and the ban on international arrivals.
In response, Hotel Management magazine, published by Intermedia, recently held a virtual industry update that surpassed all of its expectations. The event attracted 1,700 registrations and 1,100 (65%) live views, which is more than double the historical industry average of around 30%.
Hosted by editor-in-chief James Wilkinson, the complex event was filmed live in the Redback studio and crossed to 12 remote guests in a series of short-form interviews and round table discussions.
The event allowed the company to share stories from industry professionals about the changes to their business models they’ve been forced to make during the crisis.
Guests included the CEOs of hotel Group Accor and Tourism Accommodation Australia and connected from destinations across the Asia Pacific region including Hong Kong and New Zealand.
To generate more value from the event, Intermedia provided sponsors with MP4 files of the footage that they could cut and use as content on their own channels, and also cut them down into smaller chunks for on-demand and other content channels following the event.
The publisher, which also publishes titles in the FMCG sector, is now working on a new virtual product launch concept, which involves sending out samples and inviting people to log in virtually while the client talks, tests and even tastes the product.
Australian Marketing Institute Virtual Experience Marketing Awards Finalist Announcement
Industry sector: Marketing
Format: The AMI transformed a series of annual awards finalist cocktail-style events held in multiple states into a virtual, 45-minute, television-style presentation. It used a diverse mix of live and pre-recorded elements, with presenters in a studio conducting face-to-face and remote interviews and featuring past winners, as well as announcing this year’s award finalists.
Why we like it: Moving to a virtual format allowed the most established and respected marketing awards in Australia to continue to celebrate excellence in the marketing community and paved the way for the annual awards gala night to go virtual as well.
For the Australian Marketing Institute (AMI), running face-to-face awards events to recognise industry excellence is a key part of operations.
With the advent of social distancing, the organisation was forced to change tack and move its considerable events schedule online.
In the build up to its gala awards night in October – which will also be hosted in a virtual format, the AMI recently held a successful virtual event to announce its Experience Marketing Awards Finalists.
To boost engagement, the event was cut down to just under an hour and the format included a mix of live segments and pre-recorded videos, enabling it to refine the final event well in advance.
The hosts maintained a snappy pace, moving from standing introductions filmed against a green screen background to seated fireside chat-style interviews, with pre-recorded videos and remote interviews interspersed.
The event was highly engaging and paved the way for more of a broadcast-style approach to future awards events, rather than simply webcasting the usual awards format live online.
Pub Choir pivots to become Couch Choir
Industry sector: Social groups
Format: Participants record videos of themselves singing harmonies which are edited together to form one magnificent, international choir.
Why we like it: A move from the pub to the couch saw this social singing group double its online audience within a few months, while inspiring a whole new audience to sing, sing, sing during the dark days of lockdown.
After the social singing group Pub Choir was literally locked out of its traditional venues, (ie. pubs) earlier this year, instead of putting away the vocal chords it pivoted its offering to online.
The social organisation, which began in Brisbane in 2017, draws thousands of people together to learn harmonies and record popular songs.
Now known as Couch Choir, the organisation has drawn more than 1,000 videos from across the world as it aims to bring people together in this time of physical distancing and limited social interaction.
Singers are asked to visit the Pub Choir Facebook page where three videos of different harmonies are published which participants are encouraged to learn and then record themselves singing.
Once the submission window closes, the videos are edited together into one virtual choir.
Since the changes, Couch Choir’s online audience has doubled from 100,000 to 200,000.
Not surprisingly, their audience reach has also extended to regional, not to mention international, participants who would have never previously had a chance to get involved.
The organisers said the virtual space had also allowed people with chronic illnesses or a disability, who were previously unable to attend a live event, to take part.