Does offering free live streaming of an event cannibalize its face-to-face attendance?
Is it the responsibility of virtual attendees to share the cost of the face-to-face event? Should face-to-face attendees bear the full costs of the event including any expenses related to live streaming? What are the benefits of attending a face-to-face event versus virtual attendance? Why do people choose to attend a face-to-face event?
These are all great questions that people have asked regarding Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) WEC 2009 virtual access content strategy. Regardless the organization, these are the same questions every nonprofit association will eventually face.
Ok, WEC09 what is it? Is it World Education Congress or World Extreme Cagefighting? Given the current debate about MPI’s decision to charge for virtual attendance for its conference (after offering it free at January’s MeetDifferent), I suspect we could make some arguments that they are both one and the same. 🙂 Oh, I digress. Wanted to add some levity here even though they share the same Twitter #hashtag.
So does offering free content online, in this case live streaming, undermine the face-to-face event or experience? Will people choose to stay home to watch and not pay to attend the event? Let’s turn to the sports industry for comparisons.
The Face-To-Face Experience Versus Virtual
Does live streaming an event undermine the value of the face-to-face event? Consider the NFL and Super Bowls.
We all know people that purchase tickets to attend the NFL’s face-to-face events. I submit to you that they are not paying a fee for the content that they could get at home on their TV free. They are paying for the NFL experience, the opportunity to see it live in person. It’s all about the the thrill of adrenalin, the roar of the crowd, the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the live event coupled with the ability to be in one place with like-minded fans at the same time. It is a remarkable, unique and memorable experience like none other and people pay high dollars to be there in person. (Does this remind anyone of a book called The Experience Economy?) However, if the NFL team is doing poorly, few want to attend their face-to-face events or watch it live.
Have you ever heard anyone that is attending the Super Bowl complain that people are watching the event free on TV worldwide? Have you ever heard a Super Bowl attendee exclaim that they are paying thousands for travel, lodging and expenses and therefore everyone watching live should pay too?
No, that’s ludicrous. Everyone knows that the face-to-face experience is unique and people are willing to pay those high dollars for the experience, not the content. [Now if the WEC09 experience is not unique, unforgettable and remarkable, that’s a different conversation.]
I believe this is the same thing happening with association conferences and events. Members are paying a conference registration fee, not for the content, but for the face-to-face experience. They are paying to be there in person, connect with others and network. They are paying for the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of that conference experience and to be at the same place at the same time with a large body of like-minded individuals. Those that are not there would also like to take part and see the content free. They know they are missing the full conference experience.
What do you think? Why do you think people attend face-to-face events? Is it the content, the networking, the experience? A combination of those? Why do you think people are so afraid that the live-streaming of an event will undermine the face-to-face experience? Share your thoughts.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at two different business models regarding live-streaming content.