ON24, an industry leader in webcasting, entered the virtual event space last year. They are utilizing their extensive experience to great effect in the exhibit space, having launched their Virtual Show platform to take advantage of existing resources and propel them to the forefront of the comprehensive virtual event industry. Their numbers for the past year show great promise. They have delivered about 40 virtual shows in the first quarter of 2009, and they expect to produce up to 200 by year’s end.
ON24’s webcasting expertise has allowed them to make the transition to virtual shows seamlessly. ON24’s Denise Persson explains it this way: “The main difference between a virtual show and a webcasting program is that you have more sponsors and exhibitors involved. There is an added layer of complexity with virtual shows. Otherwise, the whole process, from concept, timing and promotion to delivery and event follow-up, is exactly the same.” The growth and upgraded service capacity have required additional personnel, many of whom specialize in consulting around virtual shows. ON24 has also partnered with conferencing providers, production companies and digital marketing agencies.
Persson is proud of the level of quality ON24 brings to event production. Its long history with webcasting and its marketing pedigree have given it the kind of rock-solid underpinning that makes the transition to virtual shows both feasible and advantageous. “We’re committed to providing an experience for virtual events participants that is truly superior,” she says, “so we have put a lot of effort into our customization capabilities and interactivity features. All ON24 virtual shows have a unique look based on customer requirements.”
Although difficult economic times make the virtual event space more desirable to many companies because of its cost-effectiveness, this is not a rainy-day trend. Assuming the economy rights itself within a year or two, does Persson expect companies to forgo the virtual world and opt instead for the tried-and-true physical event? No, she says. After only a few years of working virtually, companies will come to appreciate the advantages of that alternative.
Persson also sees a growing number of companies experiencing the dual advantages of mixed or hybrid events, a combination of physical and virtual. She estimates that approximately one-third of ON24’s events are mixed. She sees both added efficiency and significant cost savings in mixed events; further, companies can generate greater demand with mixed events than with more limited in-person events. And, although many companies will be able to produce these events themselves in a few years, the industry is still new enough to require a more full-service approach.
What does the future hold for the industry? Persson foresees more interactivity and more compelling environments, as well as greater networking capabilities between producers and participants. One thing she does not see as part of that immediate future, however, is video chat. ON24 bases its product development priorities on customer feedback, and customers are not, as yet, requesting this feature. ON24 will have the capability to offer it, however, if and when demand arises.
The future may hold great promise, but the present holds great demand, and ON24 is prepared to meet that demand. With strong growth in the previous year and a generous share of the publishing industry as clients, plus large multinational corporations, ON24 is poised to be a dominant player in the growing virtual event industry.