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Going Virtual: Tech-Enabled Conferences and Events

· August 28, 2020

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As this year continues, with the ongoing need for precautions and changes to operations due to the Coronavirus, many major events have shifted from in-person to virtual. The most recent of these significant events to follow this pattern are the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, which were held last week and this week respectively. Even without the physical, in-person aspect of these conventions, these events are innovating and garnering massive viewership through the offerings of many tech services.

A recent Axios article by Ashley Gold and Ina Fried outlined multiple ways in which technology supported these conventions. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Prime Video and Microsoft’s Bing all offered varying means of watching the conventions. For those who weren’t able to watch certain speeches from the conventions, Spotify partnered with C-SPAN to put key speeches from both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions on its platform as podcasts. And as for technical support, Facebook provided “virtual technical support” to both conventions and their digital teams, Microsoft made its Skype TX platform available for use, and Amazon donated tech support and services to both conventions. Finally, Cisco worked with the host committees to adapt their in-person convention plans to virtual, and Cisco networking technology was used for speakers, delegates, meetings and operations, while Cisco Webex was also used for many of the live video meetings.

These political conventions are just two recent examples of major events with a range of foci that used to happen in person but are now going virtual with the aid of technology. In March, NVIDIA announced that their upcoming GPU Technology Conference (GTC) in early October would be a virtual event. More recently, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) announced that CES 2021 is going digital as well in January 2021. 

There are also many other notable events outside of political conventions and tech conferences that have been going virtual. Two large events that recently occurred were Comic-Con at Home and the DC FanDome (returning with more content next month), both of which were created in response to the cancellation of this year’s San Diego Comic Con. While Comic-Con at Home struggled to reach numbers close to its previous in-person incarnations, the more recent DC FanDome received 22 million views across 220 countries and territories over its 24-hour run. The virtual nature of the event allowed DC FanDome to achieve success across the globe; the event itself was eight hours but it ran two more times for a full day, videos were subtitled in 9 different languages, it took place in virtual dome (a special-built, green-screen space) with speakers displayed on a virtual stage and guest video streams placed on the walls of the dome, and it boasted a long list of noteworthy international hosts, presenters, and special guests. 

In addition to events focusing on comics, multiple awards shows have gone or are going virtual. Both the 2020 Daytime Emmy Awards and BET Awards went virtual this year. The Daytime Emmy Awards received just over 3 million views while the 2020 BET Awards received 3.7 million views. Furthermore, the 2020 Tony Awards (first postponed, then moved to digital) and Primetime Emmys are going virtual as well. The 2021 Oscars have been postponed from February to April, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also recently extended release date eligibility rules for films aiming to qualify. 

While there are obstacles to events being held virtually rather than in-person, many of these events have taken advantage of the capabilities that technology has to offer to create new and meaningful ways of attendees interacting with the programming and each other. For example, NVIDIA has said that GTC will “run continuously for five days, across seven time zones… You can interact with researchers, engineers, developers, and technologists… Attend live events in the time zone that works best for you, or browse an extensive catalog of on-demand content.” CES 2021 is also emphasizing a more personal and immersive virtual experience, giving you a “a front-row seat for groundbreaking announcements and insights from the world’s tech leaders completely online,” and the ability to explore products and services throughout the CES show floor based on your interests and “engage with the brands, thought leaders and business connections you care about with live interactions, meetups or roundtable discussions.”

Innovation

New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better. These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, and give consumers a voice. And the pace of innovation has only quickened in recent years, as the Internet has enabled a wave of new, inter-connected devices that have benefited consumers around the world, seemingly in all aspects of their lives. Preserving an innovation-friendly market is, therefore, tantamount not only to businesses but society at large.