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Online Events After Covid-19: From Stopgap to Supercharger

During the COVID Crisis, online events are a way to fill a gap. But one day the pandemic will end, and people will return to venues, more excited than ever to see a show in person. What's going to happen to online live events then?

Some people assume that with the return of in-person events, there won't be a need for online events. After all, once normal conditions return, a stopgap won’t be needed anymore.

I disagree. Right now, venues and artists are using online events as a stopgap, but I believe that if we think about this more expansively, online events have the potential to be far more than just a way of muddling through the crisis.

As long as I've been in the live entertainment business, people in the industry have been searching for new ways to reach more people and build their audiences. They’ve followed every trend in advertising, they’ve made investments in social media content, they’ve hired PR firms and they’ve done outreach in the community. All of those things are valuable, but up to now, they’ve only supported in-person events and the business model of in-person events.

Online live events, especially when produced with creativity and quality, give us all a whole new way to reach people. They add an entirely new dimension to the live business model, and a deeper engagement with people who've never been — and may never be — in your building.

After COVID, that's still going to be true. In fact, it’ll be even better. The value of online events will be multiplied by having in-person events back!

That's because online live events are pretty good on their own, but as a new business that leverages and extends the core business of in-person events, they're even better.

Imagine you’re the executive director of a small but prestigious theater in Portland, Oregon. You’re putting out world-class entertainment, but your audience — up to now — was limited to locals or visitors to Portland. Portland’s a great town but it's not a big town. If a small theater gets 25,000 patrons a year, it’s doing pretty well. If the shows are truly exceptional, the potential online audience is ten, a hundred, or even a thousand times bigger than that.

As the proprietor of an extraordinary Portland theater, your options are limited. You’ll build the biggest audience you can from locals and maybe sometimes, somebody wanders into town and realizes that you're there. But that's about it!

When you properly put online events to work, all of that changes. Suddenly you have a global reach and potentially a global audience. You might have thousands or even tens of thousands of people who have never been to Portland tuning in to see your shows.

Sometimes live entertainment people worry that online events devalue in-person performances, making it less important to be there in person. But here's the question that you have to ask: Would a great online event experience make it more likely or less likely that a person would want to come to your venue?

Remember that many people out there won’t encounter your live event marketing. Those outside your market aren’t likely to see it, and even locals won’t always know what’s happening in your venue, or with your show, unless they specifically want to go out. Online live events are, in essence, an added marketing tool to entice people to learn about and see your work. The data from early adopters of online live performances shows that not only do they make money but they actually increase the chance that someone comes to your event in person.

Let’s repeat that: a person who sees an online event is MORE, not less, likely to come to a show in person. Don’t you think all that exposure on television makes it easier for the NBA or NFL to sell all those tickets at high prices?

Some of your worldwide fans will make a special trip to Portland because they want to see a show live in your venue! Why? Because they've been drawn in by an online event and come to understand the specialness of your work. Now they’re a fan. You’re welcome, Portland Tourist Board.

Once COVID is behind us, the online live event will be the best supercharger, the best booster of awareness and the most compelling new marketing tool that we have perhaps ever had in the live entertainment industry.

Until then, but only until then, online events are a stopgap, a way of keeping things going financially and with your audience. But it won't always be like this. We can’t just wait for things to go back to the way they were. And we can do more than just settle for a stopgap. We can use this time to get good at online events and put ourselves in a stronger and more stable position than ever before.

Online events are a supercharger, not just a stopgap.

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