Questions roadmap for virtual and hybrid event design
This roadmap is a list of questions to consider as you design your virtual or hybrid events. It accompanies our Designing Inclusive Virtual Events e-book.
Like all planning, virtual or hybrid events design involves a kind of needs assessment. By committing to accessibility and inclusion in your event design, you are already almost undoubtedly better serving your communities, audiences, and your own staff or volunteers. These questions provide a few starting points for you to consider at various phases of your virtual or hybrid event design. Depending on your needs, each of these areas may inform the others:
- Designing the event format
- Choosing production technology
- Selecting a streaming platform
- Designing your ticketing model
Designing the Event Format
Fundamentally, virtual or hybrid event design, like any other programming or organizational decision, reflects the mission of your organization. The pandemic has rendered clearer than ever the fact that arts organizations that thrive fill a need within their communities. Who are you serving and what do you do, uniquely, that can start to be the basis for making decisions about the kinds of work to prioritize as you move forward?
With so many puzzle pieces to all fit together, inviting as many people from within your organization or community to the table, and prioritizing diversity, inclusion and access in your planning process, is critical to be able to see the complete picture. Having a clear idea of the goals you have for your event will guide your decision-making about logistical and technical choices.
- What are your strengths as a performer or organization?
- How frequently will you host events? This requires consideration of both feasibility as well as audience demand and interest.
- Who is your target audience? What mechanisms do you have to reach them?
- What interaction features or program formats do you or your audience want?
- Are there special guests or partnerships that could benefit your event design?
In particular for hybrid events:
- Can you increase the overall accessibility of your event (physically, economically, sensorially, or otherwise) by providing a virtual component alongside live performance?
- Will the live and online portions be simultaneous? Will you have the staff to support that?
Choosing Production Technology
As early as 2017, 67% of viewers said that quality is the most important factor when watching a livestream. Venues that want to embrace streaming will likely need to purchase specific equipment and train staff on how to run it to achieve a high production quality if they have not already. Ask yourself:
- What technology do you already have that you are comfortable with?
- What if any budget do you have for purchasing additional technology or hiring support?
However, particularly for resource-constrained performers or organizations, or those on a tight timeline, remember that “the most important thing is to be comfortable with the technology you’re using.” Don’t let perfection be the enemy of well-done. You can always increase capacity and complexity of your virtual or hybrid events piece by piece. This tension can be negotiated by planning ahead with a holistic approach to virtual event design and either:
- Adding new equipment and workflows piecemeal or after a period of learning and testing
- Partnering with others who possess this expertise
- Other venues or organizations with production equipment you could use onsite
- Libraries or media resource centers with equipment available to borrow
- Equipment rental services or technical consultants
- Developing event formats that will work well with the affordances of the technology and expertise you do possess
Where to learn more
- The Virtual Music Events Directory includes recommended free and paid streaming tools, virtual event calendars, and other support resources. It was written by music and tech journalist and educator Cherie Hu with the incorporation of additional crowdsourced suggestions
- Folk Alliance International webinars on topics like “Getting the best sound for your livestream,” “Access Points: Opening Doors to ALL audiences,” and more.
- Mary Gauthier’s “Folk Helper Live Streaming Kit” provides her quick picks for useful relatively low-cost quality production technology
Selecting a streaming platform
In most cases, your choice of streaming platform will be based on the event format and priorities you have already decided. However, if you need any of the following specific features, your options for platforms may be more limited so you may need to consider platform limitations as you design the format of your event:
- What, if any, integrations do you need?
- Online merch store
- Existing ticketing platform or payment processing subscription
- Do you require realtime audio permitting performers from different locations to synchronize?
- What kinds of accessibility features or integrations do you require? For example, not all platforms enable realtime captioning and even fewer have automated captioning built into the platform.
- Will you be providing livestreamed content, recorded content, or a mix of both?
- Does the platform enable simulcasting to other platforms and/or built-in recording of content?
- What kinds of sponsorship visibility is required?
- What features for audience interaction and/or management does the platform permit? For example, emoji reaction responses, chat comments, audio or video interaction, etc.
- Does this platform require attendees to have a specific social media account, operating system, browser, or device in order to use it? Is the platform easy to use on different devices?
- Where does your target audience currently experience events? This might include considerations of your existing social media presence, demographics research, knowledge of community practices, and other factors.
Where to learn more
- Members of the National Independent Talent Organization (NITO) can access their guides to streaming platforms and other resources.
- The Skift Event Management Blog “Virtual Event Tech Guide” includes feature comparisons tables of 94 different event platforms and additional recommendations and analysis (as of June 2020).
As with live performance, event costs, complexity, goals, revenue needs, and organizational strengths will together inform your pricing strategy for virtual and hybrid events. One unique affordance of online programming is that it scales more flexibly: after startup costs are accounted for, there is a much lower “per-person” cost as compared to live events, especially since you can accommodate in theory unlimited numbers of audience members.
- Can you offer certain features (e.g. interactivity, access to the recording afterwards) at a higher price tier, rather than increasing the general ticket price?
- Can you design ticket tiers to creatively express the values that your event provides?
- Could a subscription model make sense for your organization? This might be a subscription for an event series or in support of your operations in general, for example through membership platforms like Patreon or Ko-Fi. One model used by educational organizations and several independent artists has been to offer access to an archive of recorded livestreams in exchange for a relatively low-cost monthly subscription.
In particular for hybrid events:
- Will you start selling livestream tickets before in-person tickets have sold out?
- Will your livestream tickets be limited to a certain geographic area (e.g. more than 50 miles away from the site of the live event)?
- Can a significantly lower-priced virtual performance provide an option for engagement by a wider audience in an otherwise expensive live event?
Stories and suggestions about ticketing
Provide a pay-what-you-can option. One common concern early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, which now appears unfounded, is that providing a pay-what-you-can-option alongside a fixed ticket price may reduce the number of people opting to pay full price. Based on informal conversation with organizations whose online ticket costs averaged in the $10-35 range, providing a pay-what-you-can option alongside a fixed-price ticket, or alternatively a set of fixed pay-what-you-can tiers, tended to increase audience without decreasing overall revenue, particularly when the ticketing language makes a clear connection between cost and value.
Ground virtual ticket prices in real values. Vivian Chaves, community director at Eventbrite, suggests: “Grounding the ticket pricing in real-world monetary exchanges is a great way to get people thinking about the value of the event.” This isn’t a new technique— fundraisers and individuals alike have long asked supporters to “cover the cost of one scholarship” or “buy me a cup of coffee”— but some of the more successful and creative ideas this year emphasized the added community value attendees were getting by virtue of the online experience. For example, Skyline Artists Agency noted success with offering a $20 ticket with a $25 tier “if watching with friends and family, or just want to help the band.” It created an easy way for people to show additional support if they could afford to, and perhaps provided a subtle reminder that fans would have likely paid two to four times the cost, plus public transit, gas, or parking, in order to all experience the same event together in person, value which they were still experiencing in a different way.
If you’re wondering what the market will bear: the average ticket price in 2020 for an online music event hosted on the popular platform Eventbrite was $17; it’s worth noting that this was during a time when extremely few to no live events were available, so this may shift over time especially for the live music industry. Because of the potential global reach of online events, your pricing may look different than when pricing local events.
Whatever your cost, it’s most important that the ticket value be aligned with production quality and experiential value. A more complex event that uses multiple cameras, ensures a high quality of audio, or provides unique formats, themes, or locations can justifiably command a higher ticket price, as can a more intimate event with an artist who has great audience rapport. As Mark Lourie, VP of Contemporary at Skyline Artists Agency, said at Folk Alliance International’s 2021 Folk Unlocked conference, “You have to take into account what your strengths are and make sure you deliver that in the livestream.”