The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show is the annual embodiment of all that is content-related including the creation, management, commerce, distribution, delivery and consumption of audio, video and film. It’s only natural that they would entertain the idea of offering a virtual trade show and conference at some point.
On January 20, the show organizers will launch a one-day virtual event called DigitalVision 2010. Obviously, they need to demonstrate that they are proponents of digital content and its related delivery systems in order to fulfill the face-to-face show’s mission to service the “broader-casting®” industry. Still, they are approaching the virtual launch with a healthy dose of skepticism.
DigitalVision 2010 will offer up to twenty virtual exhibitors (Including the NAB Show that will use the platform to promote its large face-to-face exhibition and conference scheduled for April 10-15 in Las Vegas) an opportunity to connect with at least 4,000 visitors (projected). Admission is free of charge.
NAB’s virtual show will utilize a platform from ON24. In addition to the virtual booths, the event will feature live Q&A, keynote presentations, online chat, downloadable materials, moderated chat and a virtual lounge for idea exchange and social networking.
Brad Williams, vice president member benefits and development for NAB, has been researching the virtual option for at least three years to address the need to create a year round experience for show participants. “We do a great job with the physical event, why not utilize technology to touch our audience year round? Exhibitors want to touch prospects year round and attendees want information year round,” he says.
NAB Show organizers worked out a relatively low risk (no net expense) way to test the concept, earn some revenue and experiment with new (for them) technology. They are partnering with NewBay Media to provide conference content and moderate the chats and lounges. The two will share revenue (they are already in the black) on the virtual event.
NAB chose to kick off DigitalVision in January because it’s the time that exhibitors normally kick off their sales seasons and face-to-face attendees start thinking about the April exhibition. They are hoping that the virtual show will help drive attendance to the physical show.
Williams and his colleagues will analyze specific metrics to determine the virtual show’s performance. The ON24 platform provides reporting on event activity such as the amount of time a visitor spends at the show, number of log-ins per person, materials downloaded, booths visited, sessions viewed and chat session activity.
Organizers will also look at virtual attendees to see whether they attended past NAB Shows and match virtual attendance against physical attendance at the April show to identify who attended both. During registration, they will ask virtual attendees, “Do you plan to attend the NAB Show? Yes/No/Maybe,” Williams says. Virtual attendees will receive coded (complimentary) exhibits-only passes as well as some coded discount codes ($100 off) for conference registrations for the April Show. When the coded passes and discounts are used to register for the face-to-face show, the information will be recorded.
Despite the fact that virtual shows offer a “nice business model with serious revenue potential,” says Williams, the NAB Show organizers have their reservations. Cannibalism is a concern. The organizers don’t want to see exhibitor budgets shifting from the physical show to the virtual show or for attendees that are accustomed to attending the face-to-face mega show to suddenly decide that the virtual event is good enough.
When considering potential revenue opportunities via a virtual platform, the Association itself (as opposed to the NAB Show) is less involved in the deliberations. Although the NAB Show is, in terms of income, “the tail that wags the dog,” Williams says, only 20% of the association members attend the annual trade show because the association represents free, over-the-air radio and television broadcasters and broadcast networks. “The show is about content, which includes our membership base, but we want to create business opportunities for entire show community of digital content professionals, he adds.
Despite its trepidation, the NAB show wants to extend its brand and create a “mix of technologies driving year round engagement” for its customers. They are hoping that the virtual show will be an extension, NOT a replacement, for the face-to-face show. “We would rather be seen as an organization that is trying to do some new and creative things for its customers. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else,” Williams says.
The Takeaway: The NAB Show really has no choice but to experiment with virtual events. Digital content is what they do. Fortunately, they are approaching the issue prudently. They reduced their risk and investment by partnering with another company. If the virtual show is a success, everyone wins. Either way, it’s important for them to determine what works and what doesn’t for their specific audience.
Apart from whether the virtual show will or won’t cannibalize the physical show, the NAB Show and others have to utilize different mediums for growing their shows now and in the future. Traditional marketing, including email has its limitations. Virtual outreach is one way to touch the customers you already know and tap into the growing number of “digerati” who don’t know you.