Feb 11, 2021

Hybrid & Digital Events: What We Have Learned From 2020


It is no news that the Coronavirus will be affecting the production of live events in 2021. So what have we learned from 2020? In this article, we share the experiences organisers of Europe’s leading showcase festivals and conferences have gained with the production of digital and hybrid events.

To get a better understanding of what worked and what kind of challenges were encountered, we spoke with members of the INES network, among them the organizers of Monkey Week (Spain), Waves Festival (Austria), FOCUS Wales (UK), PIN (Macedonia), BuSH (Hungary), Live at Heart (Sweden), m4music (Switzerland) and Kontakt (Serbia).

Expert Tips: Hybrid & Digital Events

Which Streaming Softwares to Use?

First and foremost Zoom Webinar. The advantages are that it is easy to use and setup and for conferences, it offers the easiest way to engage with the audience via video chat. Networking is supported with different break out rooms that can be used to speak about a topic in smaller groups.

The OBS software is also free and easy to use and used for Twitch, Youtube or Facebook live streaming – or all 3 at the same time. The engagement here comes from the chat and it is possible to co-host other streamers in the same video for a panel discussion. 

Restream.io can be used to stream to different social media platforms like Youtube, Facebook and Twitch all at the same time with only one stream. This can save a lot of time and increase the reach of your stream. It is available in a free as well as a standard ($16/month) and professional version ($41/month). An upgrade allows for more channels, more graphics options and up to 10 hours recording of the streams.

Which Streaming Platforms Work Best for Digital Events?

Most INES festivals were streamed via YouTube and Facebook but some also used other platforms such as Twitch & Mixcloud, local platforms like the Welsh AM platform or the festival websites themselves. Using multiple platforms is helpful, as different audiences can be reached on each, but it is important to keep in mind that social media platforms like Twitch and Mixcloud need to be built up first in order to gain followers.

So What Is Better: Pre-Recorded Or Live Streamed Shows & Conference Panels?

Many festivals used a mixture of pre-recorded and live-streamed content, which worked well for them. The advantages of using recorded material are greater flexibility in scheduling, the ability to correct mistakes and easier organisation of conference panels with international speakers.  On the other hand, live streams allow for interactions with audiences, which creates more of a “festival feeling”.

Some of the festivals got creative and implemented some new formats to deliver their music and conference contents. PIN Showcase & Conference, for example, aired a 13-hour programme of pre-recorded artist showcases and “panels” with 150+ delegates who were interviewed individually via zoom and whose answers were then edited into videos on various topics. The programme can still be watched on Facebook.

Instead of presenting the artists through live-streamed or prerecorded performances, BuSH relied on a video campaign to present them in short 2-4 min videos on Facebook and YouTube, in which they answered unusual questions and a presenter introduced them and their music. 

How Many People Are Attending Digital Events?

A great advantage of digital events is the availability to people all over the world that couldn’t otherwise attend. Due to this, many festivals reported a better reach than a regular live event. For example PIN had 30.000 viewers online, most of them on YouTube and Facebook. On Facebook, high viewer numbers could be achieved due to many crosspostings with other festivals. In addition, approx. 1 million viewers saw their programme through a broadcasting on a national TV channel in Macedonia.

Digital showcasing can be very effective in reaching a wider audience, even for unknown bands!

Monkey Week also created a TV show, which was broadcast during 5-days and with a total of 80 hours of programme. On average, 400 people watched their stream on YouTube at the same time, with a maximum of 800 viewers at once and 3500 unique viewers per day.

BuSH was able to achieve a reach of 20-30,000 per video with their artist video campaign. This shows that digital showcasing of artists can be very effective in reaching a wider audience, even for unknown bands.

Digital Solutions to Enable Networking

For both delegates and artists, an essential aspect of showcase festivals and conferences is networking. The organisers found innovative solutions to enable this also digitally. For example, Zoom breakout rooms can be used to connect preselected groups.

This way, FOCUS Wales realized their artist accelerator sessions, which are 15min. speed meetings between artists and delegates. Monkey Week even created a dedicated app, where delegates could create their own profiles and arrange video calls. 

It has to be noted that it is important to be able to select delegates that one wants to meet in advance and that random chat-roulette type networking opportunities mostly don’t work at digital showcases and conferences.

What Are the Challenges That Need to Be Overcome?

One of the big challenges of digital events is to resolve copyright issues. This is very important in order to ensure that all content can stay available online.

Also, as we all know, technology is sometimes unreliable, so some festivals experienced technical problems, e.g. the broadcast breaking up sometimes and having to restart it. To avoid this, it’s recommended to use a stable cable internet connection instead of WIFI and to have a back-up stream with another device ready to be able to switch in case something goes wrong.

Another challenge that has been identified is that it can be difficult to keep the attention of the audience and to engage them, especially in the conference panels. For better audience engagement, it is helpful to have a chat where audience members can engage with the speakers and with each other. 

And of course it is not really possible to replace and recreate the experience of live music at digital events. Therefore, this should not be the goal and different approaches to create something valuable for audiences in these times need to be found.

How Are Digital Events Funded?

Last but not least, an interesting question is how expensive digital events are? How are they funded? Of course, the production of high quality videos and the streaming setup brings new cost factors with it. For digital events, most of the costs are incurred in hiring a production company or buying equipment if the production is being done in-house. But on the other hand, many cost factors like travel-related costs are eliminated or greatly reduced. Therefore, some festivals could realize their digital events out of their regular budget, without any additional funds.

Others received some funding by public bodies or embassies, for example if foreign bands were included in their line-up, they could apply at embassies to cover part of the production costs. In general, there does not (yet) seem to be much interest from sponsors in digital events – but looking at the viewer numbers and the innovative ideas organizers are bringing forward to create special and memorable events, this may well change in the future.

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