Is on-demand content and ‘extended reality’ the future of events?
Vice President, Strategy, Global Activation

In the era of social distancing, event professionals need to harness technology to ‘rethink and reframe’ human interactions.

When moving events online, O’Callaghan warns against a cut-and-paste approach, which often leads to a clumsy, unsatisfying result. Instead, reframe the experience to consider new content styles and online interactions.

Q. How do you expect events will change in a post-covid world?

A. Workplaces may be shut down and entire countries under lockdown, but one thing that hasn’t slowed down as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic — the ongoing shift from offline to online. In fact, the shift has not only accelerated, but developed in ways that will impact the events industry and its clients for the foreseeable future.

A sign of the ‘new normal’ is provided by The Tonight Show, America’s long-running celebrity chat TV programme. In response to lockdown and social distancing requirements, it dispensed with the in-studio format and forged ahead with The Tonight Show: At Home Edition. Produced entirely online, it features videoconference hosting and guest chats, as well as novel content tailor-made for the new medium. The result was a hit with audiences that set a template for other chat shows to follow.

Tonight’s transformation is being echoed in the events industry, which is busy reconfiguring in-person events into virtual ones. Product launches by major car brands and names like Microsoft and Apple have gone online, as have cultural events such as Art Basel. A recent survey revealed that seven out of 10 respondents had already switched their in-person events partially or fully to virtual platforms.

Q. How has Pico helped clients pivot to virtual meetings/events?

A. It is important to realise that simply transferring all the elements of an original event to a virtual platform will lead to a clumsy, unsatisfying result. Again, the key is to reframe the experience.

The three key areas we look at are event formats, content styles and online interactions, and how these create a captive online audience. There are infinite potential distractions for people attending an online event from their office or home, so shorter sessions are much more effective. These could also be ‘always on’ sessions which allow people to consume the content when it suits them. Using pre-recorded content allows us to edit and deliver a higher-value production for our clients.

Recently in March, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Huawei reacted swiftly by transforming its Huawei Developer Conference from offline to online, creating an engaging new platform for global developers to exchange ideas. Pico played a supporting role to help Huawei deliver an immersive broadcast for the two-day event.

As mentioned earlier, we do not want to be encumbered by the limitations of some technologies, so we have been building a stack of our own solutions called Pico Virtuosity. This provides a wide range of audience interaction tools, such as broadcasts. We are also scaling up the capability of our teams – including our creative teams – so that they can design immersive online journeys and experiences like Alibaba Cloud’s experience as well as doing things like providing rendered online booths.

Q. How can we leverage technology to create offline connections in an era of social distancing?

A. Technology has come a long way in the last decade. Event professionals were already starting to dial-up event experiences through interconnected systems using smart badges, web apps, active tap stations and passive antennas. Importantly, the data and insight this provided was already allowing us to drive even richer interactions.

In the era of social distancing, I believe that more weight will be given to using technology to rethink and reframe what were traditionally human-based interactions. This could be capturing interest areas to drive digital wayfinding or electronic ordering of coffee, which could be picked up in safe areas that are regularly cleaned. It could also be using NFC-based technologies to activate ‘digital twin’ experiences — which can be had from anywhere — or digital handshakes for networking and one-to-one discussion.

A lot can be done to enhance the experience and improve the safety of events. The key is to have access to technology and teams that are flexible, so you can take an experience-led approach. That is, you are not designing experiences based on the limitations of the event technology. This is why Pico is investing in our own proprietary technology, such as our A1 Connect Platform, which was used at the 2019 Convention and Exhibition Industry Expo in Tianjin, China.

Q. Many event professionals are using this crisis as an opportunity to experiment with new event formats and creative technologies. What is Pico ‘experimenting’ with right now?

A. Taking an experience-led, digital-first approach has been fun for our teams. One area where this is happening is extended reality.

We have been working with some partners to develop multi-user VR solutions for smaller group interactions that can be easily set up and used in the era of social distancing. This allows us to consider how deeper, more immersive experiences can be used for launches or product education. These would also assist in converting pipeline opportunities.

Another area we are exploring is providing online ‘campaigns in a box’. These may include event components such as webinars, but are more focused on creating content journeys for audiences. Throughout the journey we can programme certain trigger events which in turn might launch specific content, invite audiences to special online events such as virtual fireside chats, or activate a sales call. Such an approach removes the need for costly and resource-intensive integration.

The article above was first published in micenet magazine in June 2020.