Back in August, I jumped the gun a bit and wrote a â€œyear in reviewâ€ posting about virtual events.Â Now that weâ€™re in December,Â I think itâ€™s high time to peer into the Magic 8 Ball and speculate on whatâ€™s in store for the virtual events industry in 2010.Â Away we goâ€¦
Widescale adoption and integration of video conferencing
Virtual events have incorporated a lot of on-demand and live video â€“ however, to date, the majority of attendee interaction has been via text (e.g. private text chat, group text chat, etc.).Â Many platforms have enabled the use of attendee webcams (a la Skype) and that was a nice start.Â In 2010, I believe that the virtual event platforms will integrate with third party video conferencing technologies in a big way â€“ stirred largely by client demand for it.
Think about it â€“ multinational corporations have adopted high-end video conferencing to encourage collaboration and save on travel costs.Â They have the budget to invest in Cisco Telepresence or HP Halo.Â As those same corporations look to adopt virtual events (e.g. for an annual virtual sales meeting), itâ€™s only natural that they incorporate the video conferencing technology that they already have running.
To capture mid-market and small business interest, virtual event platforms will look to integrate with mid-tier video conferencing systems, such as Tandberg (whose acquisition by Cisco is pending) and Polycom.
Another interesting player is LifeSize Communications, an Austin-based provider of â€œmainstream telepresenceâ€ that was acquired by Logitech in November.Â LifeSize recently launched an offering called Passport, which they term â€œa portable telepresence-quality systemâ€ that fits in the palm of your hand.
I see continued use of consumer-grade webcam technology in 2010 virtual eventsÂ â€“ however, the game changer will be the incorporation of multi-party, HD video conferencing.
Emergence of global players
Weâ€™ve already seen the emergence in Europe of virtual event platforms â€“ IMASTE in Spain and Ubivent in Germany.Â I expect to see another European-based platform emerge in 2010, along with one or more in Asia Pac.Â In addition, weâ€™ll see services companies launch to capitalize on the demand (for virtual events) from publishers, corporations and event marketers.Â The companies will provide both strategic and logistical services around virtual events.Â Youâ€™ll see some start-up companies and youâ€™ll also see physical event marketers spawn service offerings around virtual (or more logically, hybrid) events.
Weâ€™ll see the merging or acquiring of virtual event platform companies.Â Some providers will look to acquire/merge out of platform capability gaps â€“ while stronger players will look to complementary/synergistic technologies offered by the competition.Â As the economic environment comes back around, companies (and their investors) will be more apt to combine forces to fuel the next phase of growth.Â Lastly, larger and more established players in the â€œcollaboration spaceâ€ may look to acquire virtual event platform companies, to add a complementary piece to their product portfolio.
Decrease in â€œrelative response ratesâ€
Virtual events had a great run in 2009, but weâ€™re now past the novelty, â€œwow, this is coolâ€ phase.Â In the B2B market, we now have plenty of users who have attended two or more virtual events.Â If virtual event show hosts continue to use the same graphical templates, organize the same presentation agenda and re-create an identical experience to their last event, then â€œrelative response ratesâ€ will drop â€“ meaning, it will become harder and harder to recruit users to register and attend.
Decreased response rates are natural as any new â€œcontent typeâ€ grows beyond infancy â€“ and the supply/demand ratio begins to tilt towards having more supply than demand (e.g. lots of virtual events).Â Virtual event show hosts will need to consider the incorporation of gaming, the creation of affinity programs and more.Â The solution to decreased response rates will be fun to watch â€“ innovators will step to the table to find creative ways to engage and attract virtual event attendees.
Platforms take first step towards immersiveness
While virtual event attendees may not â€œrequireâ€ the immersiveness of Second Life and other 3D virtual worlds â€“ immersive capabilities provide real value in a B2B setting.Â The most obvious use case is an immersive rendering of a complex product â€“ consider the high-end video conferencing system, the high-end router, the latest luxury car model.Â Instead of a 2D PowerPoint slide that highlights the capabilities of the video conferencing system, how about an immersive experience where attendees (aka prospects) get to experience the system and interact with it?
Client interest and demand will drive some platforms to add immersive capabilities in 2010.Â I donâ€™t expect a software download, however â€“ it would serve platforms well to support the immersive experience within their existing framework (e.g. Flash, JavaFX, Silverlight).
Those are my 2010 predictions for virtual events.Â Iâ€™d love to hear yours!