The New Normal In Events – Virtual Tech And the recorded roar

The Durga Pujo pandals in Kolkata last month wear a deserted look. The goddess looms majestically, staring over an empty space, which in other years is milling with crowds now forced indoors by the pandemic. 

All except for a bunch of men and women huddled in the corner over a computer screen. From their id cards and general look of efficiency you can make out that they are the organisers. 

They are trying to set up Facebook Live for the pujo. They look a little ruffled because while they are used to handling the large crowds they are a little flummoxed by technology. 

Finally, the 50-year-old general secretary lets out a shriek of joy and does the Eureka dance. The award winning pujo will not disappoint its many ardent fans this year – it will be live broadcasting everything from the Anjali to the Arati directly to every pujo-loving, pandal hopping Kolkatan’s living room. The country’s biggest carnival is all set to go online, thanks to some out of the box thinking and smart tech.

Speaking of carnivals, there are few sporting carnivals attempted on the scale of the IPL. Flashy commentators, gorgeous cheerleaders, world’s best cricketers all on display in front of a frenzied crowd. That crowd, that madness, that euphoria take IPL to the dizzy levels of a carnival. Yet in 2020, the IPL debuted its crowdless avatar. The tournament is playing out in empty stadiums in UAE. Crowded stands have been replaced by giant fan ‘walls’, the crowd’s cheers by pre-recorded roars, live streams are filling the void of actually being there in person. Tech again has been the savior of the sporting event, building virtual experiences that best approximate the real thing.

For let’s face it - the real thing, the old normal are still miles off as the pandemic still rages on. The impact on events is unmissable. From events on the scale of IPL to the local club meets, it is evident that old world practices can no longer hold. As enterprising humans looked for ways around the situation, event tech rushed in to fill the space. Zoom which has become the de-facto hangout zone for everyone including family get-togethers and political meets has transcended from being another startup by a Chinese-American founder to the world’s virtual meeting place. Facebook live sessions grew by 50% in the first months of the pandemic and that is just counting the US audience. As people huddle inside, pining for a semblance of the social fabric that keeps us ticking, event tech has come to the rescue. The space has seen overnight pivots, large investments and some amazing innovations to keep events going and the audience hooked.

Hubilo an Indian startup offering event technology on a SAAS model raised from Lightspeed Freshdesk founder. Globally eventtech companies such as Rain Focus, Bizzabo, Gather have raised millions in funds. Besides new players getting funded, the online event space has also seen pivots from large players.

AirBnb whose core business centers around traveling millennials was hit badly by the pandemic. They attempted a mini pivot by opening up AirBnB events which let its hosts perform or hold shows for the travelers stranded at home.

Book My Show collaborated with IPL to sell tickets to the giant fan wall, the virtual fan gallery erected in the stadiums to simulate the live audience feel.

In January 2020, when the pandemic was still a distant nightmare, we at were preparing to roll out a series of campus contests across major colleges in India. By February, the schedule had been finalized, the coordinators roped in, the banners and standees had gone for printing. And then the pandemic hit and evacuation notices shared across campuses. The pandemic soon turned into a black swan and it was obvious campus contests will not be happening for a long time at least not in the form we know.

We took the crisis as an opportunity – going into a huddle with our tech team. Bang in the middle of the pandemic we raised an investment, buoyed up the team and built in 3 months a full stack virtual contest platform with live contests, videos, networking, voting and leaderboard all built in. 

By August 2020 Spotle rolled out a global AI challenge which had about 10,000 participants from India, Singapore, Malaysia working together to solve the COVID19 challenge with AI. The platform has been acting as the virtual event zone for major campuses across India and a great venue for corporate-campus events.

We did what other forward-thinking players whose core proposition intersects with events are doing – innovate and work around the physical restrictions. Book My Show has commissioned a series of broadcast shows, using interactive tech to give viewers a feel of the live experience. 

Monetization remains a challenge for virtual events, as an average viewer is more likely to pay to enter a physical event than shell out money for an online show. However, players like Netflix have shown that with good content, user experience and sensible pricing it is possible to make people pay online for traditionally live experiences. The old normal is dead but the new normal is not so unhappening either.

Rimjhim Ray, is co-founder and chief, product and marketing, | member Advisory Board, NASSCOM Community

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