I have been involved in the tech, media, and live events industries for more than 30 years (20 of those 30 years include some sort of digital media element into the equation) and I must say that sometimes, during these days, I’m more confused than ever. But apparently, in the middle of this confusion, I’m starting to understand and believe that we are experiencing some disruptive initiatives where both worlds (digital and face to face) could interact and generate value like never before and this is happening faster than any of us could imagine.
After many years producing and organizing live events (I stop counting at 500 events), I started to invest (time and $) in digital media, marketing/tech, and live events tech startups. My simple thesis back then (2012) was that, finally, the live events industry was ready for significant changes and digital technologies will have great opportunities to be part of many of those changes. Like many other industries (finance, hospitality, transportation, and the list goes on and on) the live events industry is big enough in order to be very attractive for smart entrepreneurs to find clever solutions for many big problems and inefficiencies and hopefully I could be lucky to help some of these guys and build some of those great solutions that could be successful companies.
This year, I co-wrote The Face of Digital book as a way to try to organize some thoughts on key technologies affecting the live events industry, and as part of our research, we discussed some important challenges and opportunities that live events organizers, sponsors, exhibitors, and visitors could face in the near future. Let me be 100% clear on this: I’m convinced that the live events industry is not going away and will continue to grow and evolve but I’m also pretty sure that this time change is going to happen and it’s going to be bigger and more dramatic than any other change that we’ve seen in the past. Why do I think this?
The trade show and conference industry continue to grow on a global basis but not at the same amazing rates that we saw in the past, based on many industry reports coming from CEIR and UFI, which are domestic and global recognized sources for industry statistics, we should see growth around 2% on a global basis and, of course, some specific markets and organizers will continue to grow at a healthy double-digit pace but those situations will be more and more the exception and not the rule. Inside this modest industry growth event tech and digital revenues at live events continue to grow 25%+ year after year and is starting to generate interesting new revenue sources for events organizers and also exciting cost efficiencies on different areas around the business. This is happening across many different live events like trade shows, conferences, corporate events, festivals, sports events, etc.etc.
Not only that, digital media players are experimenting more aggressively with live events than ever before and also pure digital companies like Spotify, Facebook and YouTube are doing their own experiments and partnerships around live events. Let’s go a bit deeper into these thoughts.
Traditional Digital media companies (B2B and B2C ) raised money at amazing valuations during the last ten years promising investors to keep growing super fast and converting that growth into nice and profitable companies after that. Unfortunately, very few of those investments are moving in the right direction and there is a very difficult path to being a successful, high growth and profitable new media company and a good example is the fact that BuzzFeed IPO plans could have serious setbacks based on not achieving their revenues projections or Mashable having trouble to justify their previous valuations and looking for a potential serious down round at exit We’ve also seen similar stories with GigaOm and other new media companies in the past. The reality is that competing with the FB and Google advertising duopoly is clearly not an easy battle and many digital media companies are experiencing the pain.
Because of all reasons previously explained, I think that digital media companies will continue to go offline and pursue live events revenues as a nice way to improve their company top line and traditional event organizers should be open and interested to analyze strategic partnerships with leading digital media companies as a way to launch new events opportunities faster and reduce risks. As a result of these partnerships many event tech companies should be able to capitalize many other opportunities working with live events organizers and leveraging their technologies into a much wider audience in partnership with digital media companies.
Media companies organizing events is not a new thing at all and we’ve seen and attended conferences and exhibitions organized by traditional media companies for decades (Forbes, Fortune, NYT, DMG, etc.). But now, we have a new generation of digital media born companies that are starting to organize events but based on their digital origins and culture and the benefit of the enormous amount of data and contact points with their audiences could work and analyze live events from a completely different angle.
How can we identify and learn from each other? Which are successful partnership models? We are still in the early day’s phase in order to understand the perfect fit or partnership but we are starting to understand natural benefits and synergies. ComplexCon is a good example between Reed POP and Complex but there are many other “digital to offline” partnerships and new models we can look like Spotify selling tickets for Who We Be or YouTube partnership with Ticketmaster for converting youtube videos into tickets for live events.
Many event organizers want to become more “digital companies” with the right skills and capabilities but also many “digital companies” recognize the amazing benefits that live events could bring into their business. Doing both at the same time is not as easy as it sounds since management, company culture and industry skills are very different. When these sort of situations happen, it’s very clear that strategic partnerships should be the best way to go and I think that we are going to see many of those coming during the near future creating incremental added value for all parties involved.
As always, the most innovative, entrepreneurial and creative companies will be brave enough in order to try and find the right model but the reward will be big enough in order to justify those “early days risks”.