The Next Wave of Conferences is Here

I walked away from last week’s #alistsummit in Hollywood with everything you could ask for in a conference:  I sat in on a number of excellent sessions and had fruitful dialog with both presenters and fellow attendees.

The weird thing is, I wasn’t there.


StyleHaul’s CEO Stephanie Horbaczewski and Chief Content Officer Mia Goldwyn. Interviewed by Shira Lazar, What’s Trending

See, I watched the event’s live stream on Youtube and I think I’ve seen the future.  Or, at least a potentially viable product that offers event creators a way to extend revenue and attendance beyond the here and now.  We already have all of the elements.  What if we could bring them all together into an online experience that had value to offsite attendees, supporters, and presenters alike.

Let me back up for a second.  I found out about the The Ayzenberg Group‘s A List Summit from Ayzenberg’s Jay Baage just a few days before the event, way too late to reorganize the day.  Running down the agenda, it seemed like a great gathering of the know-hows and the know-whys.  With so much of my focus right now being on the packaging, promotion and distribution of online video (see SiteRoll), I resolved to follow the twitter stream and glean what I could.

Here’s a chart that shows the importance of great content.

I bring up the content because great content is at the center of everything.  And this show was clearly delivering some great content.

Early tweets the morning of the show offered the online stream and I approached it with a modicum of trepidation. I have been burned by that promise before.

Shows are, if nothing else, a gazillion details that get more and more frenzied as the show approaches. Day of, shows can be a mad-house of random details. With all the people who are at the show, thinking about the people who aren’t at the show is the LAST thing on anyone’s mind.

But, I found the experience to be quite extraordinary. The content was excellent and the production value was sufficient. The Ayzenberg Group clearly had put some forethought and planning into the stream, not to mention putting some resources behind it, too.  There were at least two cameras and a switcher — which means they had someone operating the switch, making decision, thinking about things — and it seemed as if there was someone actually directing because when a presenter was showing slides, one of the cameras shifted it’s gaze to the slides and the stream would cut back-and-forth between the slides and the speaker.

These might sound like minor things but I can’t tell you (seriously, legally I can’t tell you) how many shows I have been involved in where the online stream was either the first thing cut from the budget or was relegated to being as little annoyance as possible. In other words, just not happening.

But then along comes this A List Summit.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it was not a pain-free experience.  The feed dropped off between sessions and I couldn’t tell if I had just lost the feed or it was some planned break.  At one point, I lost my stream and then learned from Twitter that the conference had broken for lunch.

It was at that moment that the idea took shape in my mind: this streaming during the event could be a whole show in and of itself.

And I wondered where that tipping point is — how much value needs to be delivered — for the stream version of a conference to be a viable product that people are willing to pay to attend.  Is there not a way that the stream of the show can itself be a viable product?

So, I came up with a list of elements that such a product would have to consider to turn the stream into a show:

    1. The Streaming Agenda: The stream is not the event and the event is not the stream. Not every session should be streamed. That’s part of what differentiates the stream from the event itself.  But, it would make sense to have this information published at least the day of the show so that viewers could know what to tune in to and when.
    2. Packaging: I love Youtube as much as anyone but the way that this live stream is packaged is the gateway to a relationship for the entire year.  Pull the various elements together onto one screen so that they live somewhere canonical.  A user’s view would then include the live stream, the agenda, social feeds, and exhibitor area, and other relevant content.  Also, when someone tweets me asking if the content is still up, I could tell them where to go.
    3. Exclusivity: This one will take a bit of work but wouldn’t it be cool if the stream included some private interviews with some of the speakers?  I could have listened to Stylehaul‘s Stephanie Horbaczewski go on about her experience with The Vanity Series. Maybe even wrap that together with a little Reddit-style AMA…  Even some interviews with attendees…
    4. Trade Show Floor: I don’t know if they had exhibitors but you could do something quite cool in an online environment.  At the very least, a point-of-view walk-through of the exhibitor space, perhaps stopping at each of the exhibitors and getting a little demo.  I really missed the vendor part of the show.
    5. Guidance: This goes back to the streaming agenda a bit but when that feed went dark, I think it would have been great if there had been somebody there to let me know what was going on, how long the break would be.  Sort of a DJ for the conference of the future.

The great number problem.

You have to take a sober look at the content and distribution of the audience.  If you have content that has some generally broad appeal and a decent-sized audience that is not already primarily local to the event, I think you stand a good chance of making a business out of the stream.

Where is the money?

Besides all the other challenges, the biggest challenge face-to-face events [er, um] face is that attendees from far away must contend with travel expenses as well as conference expenses.  And therein lies the cash on the table.

If I lived in Boston and wanted to attend the event in Hollywood, I’d be in for a cool grand without even buying a ticket for the show.  Presuming I was convinced that they stream would have value on it’s own, would I not be willing to part with some money to have access?

And, what about people who missed the show completely?  Again, presuming they could be assured of the value, would they not be willing to pay to be able to tap into the event even months later?

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