In September of 2021, we explored a potential downward trend for virtual event tech as the sector dealt with a largely transient client base that was not looking beyond the Covid pandemic; as a group that looked to virtual event tech primarily as a stop-gap solution, this share of the market is sometimes even referred to as “the Covid cohort.” Hopin’s recent workforce downsizing was almost certainly linked to the waning demand for virtual event tech. With this in mind, we explore this topic with five event tech leaders.
The Next Chapter of the Event Tech Journey Is Hybrid
SpotMe CEO Pierre Metrailler describes the evolution of the event tech market during the Covid pandemic as a “double whammy churn,” starting with the Covid cancellations in March 2020 and later the shrinking of the so-called Covid cohort. He has now seen the demand shift over to hybrid event solutions and firmly believes that companies with established credentials before the Covid pandemic are now better positioned to thrive. “It is hard to join the hybrid game when your DNA is virtual, and I can imagine some growth extrapolations made between 2020 and 2021 no longer add up anymore for virtual event platforms,” said Metrailler.
Eran Ben-Shushan, CEO and co-founder of Bizzabo, has been laser-focused on building for a hybrid world since the summer of 2020. He believes that the company can “continue growing rapidly and building the best products, technologies and services for all our customers — no matter what ‘cohort’ they fall into.”
Others agree that growth may be possible for companies well-positioned for the hybrid market. “We’re still growing because we have great tools in the on-property world and in the virtual environment,” said MeetingPlay founder Joe Schwinger. However, Schwinger sees what he describes as “headwinds” ahead for any event tech company that lacks strong onsite experience and the ability to demonstrate how the different components of hybrid event technology work together.
The Accelerated Event Tech Evolution
How much of the shift over the last two years was simply a response to the pressures of the pandemic, and how much of it represents a more long-term increase in demand for event tech solutions? Despite the apparent consensus among many established players, there is no way of knowing for sure.
Still, there is a sense among event tech leadership that much of the sector’s evolution would have happened anyway without the Covid pandemic, albeit at a slower pace. “Events were the last analog channel for Marketers, it was going to get digitized […], and virtual/hybrid was inevitable,” said Cathy Song Novelli, SVP, marketing and communications at Hubilo. In the eyes of Ben-Shushan, the Covid pandemic was a “forcing function for the events industry — a pivotal moment that pushed event planners and technology platforms alike toward new, innovative solutions.”
Notified President Ben Chodor sees an understandable eagerness from planners to want to get back to in-person events and expects some level of consolidation going forward. He also believes that technology has transformed the event industry so much that it won’t now back down from digital transformation.
In Chodor’s view, the event tech category will soon be redefined as “communications technology” as this will respond to the expanding needs of planners. “Vendors in the space will need to adapt and adjust to meet the evolving needs of the meetings industry – those that can do this will continue to drive progress and innovation forward.”
Plenty of Opportunities Remain
Metrailler was keen to point out that the “Covid cohort” effect only applied to small and mid-sized companies. SpotMe’s enterprise customer retention rates are over 140 percent and he expects the trend to remain solid for the next 18 to 24 months. “Over the last 14 months, we have seen a surge in RFPs. The Great Enterprise Retooling is happening right now,” said Metrailler.
A recent poll suggests that only 7 percent of events in the third and fourth quarters are planned as fully virtual. In the same poll, 50 percent of respondents selected hybrid as the main format going forward, which gives Schwinger plenty of confidence that planners are willing to invest in flexibility to offer attendees a choice in how to participate. “Tech companies that can provide that flexibility while elevating the attendee experience on all levels will continue to thrive,” said Schwinger.
Event tech leaders across the board believe that planners, and particularly the organizations they represent, are coming to terms with the huge benefits of two years of largely virtual events. The main attraction being cost savings, which they are now keen to find ways to preserve, potentially by using hybrid event formats. Song Novelli believes that benefits live reach, the democratization of content, nimbleness to market-driven events, and ROI will make brands think virtual or hybrid first, with in-person only for cases requiring it. She adds, “I do not see this shift going backward to “the way it used to be.”