The cost of hybrid events

by Adrian Segar

ECTC equipment 2Reading Sam Smith’s frank article about the resources and effort that went into the production of the remote component of EventCamp Twin Cities (ECTC) got me wondering.

I counted ten full-time staff needed to create the remote component of this amazing event, which delivered an impressive participative and immersive remote audience experience.

1 Virtual Event Design Consultant / Project Manager
1 Virtual Emcee: The Host of the Remote Broadcast
1 Tech Director: Calls the show, video camera shots and switches
1 Twitter Moderator: Captures questions, comments and ideas from the audience
1 Soundbyte Tweeter: Tweets Out Speaker highlights under the event’s Twitter ID
1 Main Session Cameraman
1 Studio Cameraman
1 Mediasite Tech: Manages video, audio and VGA feeds going into Mediasite system
1 A/V Tech: Manages the House signals
1 A/V Tech: Manages the Video and Audio Switches for Remote Audience

Most, if not all, of these people needed to be around for at least half a day before the live event. And none of them (I hope) are normally paid minimum wage.

Then there’s the equipment and technology that was used:

2 Cameras: One for the main room and a second for the studio
2 Camera Tripods
1 Riser – to make the tripod sit over everyone’s head
2 Studio Microphones (These are linked to webcast – but not house sound.)
3 House Sound Microphones
1 Media Site Player (this is the webcasting gear)
1 Video Switcher
1 Interview Studio (Table, Chairs Backdrop, Professional Lighting)
1 Twitter Hashtag
1 Event Twitter Account
1 Webcast Player (Mediasite provides this – but can be configured)
1 Intefy System (Virtual Front Door that shows video, schedule plus twitter streams)
1 Hosting Server for Storing and Hosting Streaming Video
3 Laptops for Virtual Emcee, Twitter Moderator and Fact Based Tweeter (if not the same person)
Various and sundry cables to connect and power everything

All this does not usually come for free. I’m not privy to the financial details of EventCamp Twin Cities, but I do know that much of the above was donated by the companies and personnel involved, and that this generosity is and was much appreciated by all of the local and remote attendees. These substantial sponsorships of the event made it possible to offer free remote passes to the remote audience, making it easy for 500+ people to tune in and enjoy a superb remote audience experience.

What I’m wondering about is the economics of creating hybrid events when the time of donations disappears, and the fine folks at companies like Intefy, SonicFoundry, and Allied Productions & Sales, need to get paid for their time, equipment, and expertise.

I’m guessing that the regular price tag for a setup like the one used at EventCamp Twin Cities might run in the region of $30,000. (Please, those of you who actually know what these costs are; stop laughing and enlighten us.) If so, that translates into a cost of around $60 per remote ECTC attendee.

Perfectly justifiable if that attendee would otherwise have to pay for a plane, accommodations, travel time etc. to attend in person.

But not free.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the costs to provide the two-way interactivity that was a hallmark of ECTC were largely fixed; they’d be more or less the same if 100 or 1,000 people had showed up. In the former case, the cost becomes $300/attendee—an amount that might be a concern for many event planners working with small or highly specialized target audiences.

I don’t see many possibilities for reducing the personnel numbers and outlay required to run a good hybrid event. I expect that equipment and bandwidth costs will decline in the future, but I’m willing to bet (and would love to be proved wrong) that the expense involved to add a remote audience with the capability for meaningful participation will remain a significant component of a hybrid event’s budget for a long time.

What do you think of the hybrid economics I’ve described? Can you provide better figures for the expense to add a remote audience to a hybrid event? Will the relative costs and rewards act as a deterrent to you to add a remote audience—or do you see them as an income producing opportunity?

Image attribution: Noah Wolf Photography

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  • Adrian:

    I can appreciate that you want to understand how this was done for your own experiences. I would submit to you that there were plenty of places where you could have read more about true costs of livestreaming an event than walking away from one event and making these assumptions.

    Your post had me questioning your motives. Instead of ignorance and asking for clarification, it came across as a veiled attempt to explain why something won’t work. It was an over exaggeration of the truth. Was that your intent?

    • Hey Jeff, lighten up! You’re reading motives into my post that aren’t there. I’m sorry you’ve misinterpreted my intent; let me try to be clearer about it.

      I don’t understand how you could see what I wrote “as a veiled attempt to explain why something won’t work.” I described EventCamp Twin Cities as an “amazing event, which delivered an impressive participative and immersive remote audience experience”. Does that sound like I think hybrid events like ECTC “won’t work”?

      For the record, I’m a big fan of what ECTC did, and of hybrid events in general.

      My post is actually about the economics of hybrid events. My central point is simply that adding a hybrid component isn’t free, and could be a significant add to an event’s budget. I’m clear about my ignorance of the costs involved, and, after offering a guess at the cost of the ECTC setup, jokingly ask “those of you who actually know what these costs are; stop laughing [at my guess] and enlighten us”. If you look at the URL for the post, you’ll see that its original title was “Wondering about the cost of hybrid events” which reflects my intent and lack of knowledge of the costs. I, and I suspect many of my readers, want to know more about the costs to stage events like ECTC.

      I don’t have a problem asking for answers to questions on my blog. That’s one of the ways I learn stuff.

      In addition, my understanding is that ECTC’s livestreaming/PODs/remote audience/virtual emcee/participative format has not been used before. If I’m right, there aren’t going to be any sources for what the event would have cost without sponsorship besides getting quotes from the various vendors involved. Since ECTC involved far more than livestreaming, telling me there are “plenty of places where you could have read more about true costs of livestreaming an event” seems irrelevant to what I wrote.

      Anyway, I hope this clarifies my intent for you, Jeff. I have great respect for you and your expertise, and hope you no longer see my post as “an over exaggeration of the truth.”

      • Nancy Largay

        Hi Adrian, 

        Here is my 2 cents in this discussion: as much as we all “love” new technologies and hybrid events, there is the hard facts of ROI and ROO.  If the costs are prohibitive and prevent community and event organizers from engaging with the hybrid solution, you get a half ass result.  Dana is right about the math, it is expensive and hard to justify the ROI.  Our love You also have to honest with yourselves that for those in the “for profit” space, the math has to make sense relative to costs and true value of the community is serves.  The reason hybrid events aren’t always thoroughly embraced is because it can be very expensive, sponsors don’t always see the value, it’s alot of work for everyone involves (sponsors have to really take on alot to fulfill their commitment) and is a potential distraction to the core mission.  On the other hand, for those who get it, they love it.  

        It’s all a balancing act, and for the hybrid event to work, there needs to be the right balance within a given event community.  

        • Thanks Nancy for your 2 cents. I’m impressed that this post is still getting comments a year later, though not surprised; hybrid events have the potential to radically change what we think of as an event over time, and the issues of cost and feasibility are not going to go away.

          I think some of the expenses and concerns are going to lessen as technology costs decrease and our experience with hybrid events grows. Just as “desktop publishing” moved from a professional specialty requiring an expensive investment in the early days to something that most of us do to some degree as part of our jobs, perhaps producing a hybrid event will eventually become work that enough people will find familiar. When this will happen, however, I’ll leave to others, more knowledgeable, to predict.

  • Traci Browne

    Adrian, I appreciate your putting the time and thought into breaking down the costs of a hybrid event. This information is extremely important to event planners. I’ve read the post twice now and do not understand Jeff’s accusation of “a veiled attempt to explain why something won’t work” or “an over exaggeration of the truth.”

    Since when are budget considerations not a part of planning a conference or event? What I took away from your insightful article was how very important it is to add value to your remote attendees in a way that ECTC did so that you can monetize the virtual component. I’ve said many times I would have paid full conference price as a virtual attendee and it would have been worth every penny and then some. The key is how to you communicate that value when so many are doing virtual/hybrid events poorly (overcoming perception).

    I also would love to know the true cost of creating the virtual component of an event like ECTC…I expect it is more than $30,000 to do it right like they did. I also thought that EventCamp was a platform for people to learn and ask questions such as this so we can all improve our events in the future. Are we here to learn from each other and improve the attendee experience or are we here to tear down people who don’t do things exactly the way we want them done?

    Obviously we’re not looking for people to quote AV for an event here…just get an idea of what we might be getting ourselves into.

    • Traci, I love how you say what’s on your mind and don’t beat around the bush. It helps that I agree 100% with everything you said :-).

  • Ok, so I’m off base!

    Let me explain what struck a nerve with me and felt like an over-exaggeration…it takes 10 FULL TIME STAFF to pull off the remote experience of a hybrid event. Camera operators, Twitter moderators, people tweeting from the event, the AV crew, the emcee, etc are not full time paid staff. That’s what really ticked me off and is misleading to anyone reading this.

    As a matter of fact, livestreaming can be done with all volunteers. Anyone can livestream an event with their mobile device (if it has video) or their Flip ($0 costs), an internet connection ($0 costs, could be wireless internet card or wifi) and Ustream, Livestream or Qik (all free applications). People are doing it all over the world all the time.

    So the economics that you suggest are for a high-end production. That is not always needed. I’ve attended events as a remote attendee that were live streamed from Sam Smith’s mobile phone (or his Flip) and Lara McCulloch Carter’s flip camera that was on a tripod in the room. Sure the quality is different yet the experience is the same. We did it at EventCamp 2010 in New York from a wifi card and one camera. WordCamps livestream their events from all over the world with a video camera, tripod, internet connection and usually volunteers from the conference that take turns staffing the camera if it needs to be moved.

    Sure you and Traci can get bids from vendors with a wide range of fees. Just know it can be done very cost effectively. For more about live streaming, I suggest that you connect with the Virtual Edge Institute http://www.virtualedge.org/ and read some of their articles or white papers about the variety of ways to do it.

    • @Jeff: This is becoming clearer. It looks as though we may have different expectations (or perhaps definitions) of “hybrid events”.

      I think all of us who attended EventCamp Twin Cities, whether we were in the local or the remote audience, were blown away by the interactive and participative experience Sam, Ray & their team gave us. And this is the level of potential for hybrid events that I’m enthusiastic about.

      We saw at ECTC how adding professional production, multiple cameras, a virtual emcee, and dedicated Twitter personnel radically changed the remote experience from a largely passive one to one that Traci Browne eloquently described: “At 6 p.m. when the camera stopped rolling and the event closed down, I realized for the first time I was alone in my office. I looked around and wondered where the 174 people had gone.”

      By “full time paid staff” I mean people who are being paid for their professional contributions for the setup and entire duration of the event. I disagree with your comment—I believe all ten staff roles Sam lists for ECTC would fall in this category.

      Yes, I know it’s possible to provide livestreaming plus a monitored Twitter backchannel for very little or no money. But I’m concerned that this not become the norm for what we think of as a hybrid event. As Mike McCurry said in his blog post a few days ago “Pointing a camera at a speaker and then letting the webcast flow is not very engaging, by itself, for most remote attendees.” Let’s not set the bar so low for what we describe as a hybrid event. I think we can and need to provide more; otherwise we are in danger of selling our remote audience short.

  • Sam Smith

    Hi Adrian,

    First, thanks for reading my post and commenting on it. I appreciate you sharing the idea with your readers and creating a discussion around it. Also, I appreciate your openness in asking questions – there is no bad question.

    I shared what we did as a recipe, because it showed the people, process and technology that went into our design and execution of this first of a kind truly interactive hybrid event. This allows you to see the ingredients and figure out how you want to adapt it for your needs. In baking, think about it as substituting margarine for real butter or blueberries for apples.

    Also, I identified the people as roles – because you event producers will decide how to best source the role (if at all) based on your needs. As Jeff correctly points out – you can find “volunteers” to fill these roles.

    With regard to price, you have to look at quality of vendors, scope of services needed, project complexity and Timing. You can of course find sponsors, charge attendees or use other strategies to offset the costs.

    Hope this helps.

    • Sam, I loved your approach; the recipe metaphor was perfect—lots of great info on what it took to pull off the success that was EventCamp Twin Cities. I concentrated on the money angle because it is an unknown for many of us, and the numbers we come up with will be critical in assessing our abilities to create similar events in the future.

  • Hi Adrian,

    First, to be clear, I have a high regard for everyone that has commented on this blog post. All of you are thought leaders and #eventprofs that I respect and admire.

    In my mind’s eye it all boils down to what you, as the event organizer, established as your event objectives in the first place.

    There are, no doubt, different ways to ‘skin the cat’ when it comes to Hybrid Events and technology. The first question to ask yourself is what is the experience I am seeking to deliver to my attendees? The second question is how am I funding it? The third is how do I balance the two?

    For some events a low-tech approach, keeping it simple and affordable, may be the solution, while with others, such as ECTC, whose objective was to be an innovative leader in delivering an event experience, the quality of technology was important to the outcome. Then there are others, who want a “cadillac” but have a “Ford” budget.

    If you have the ability to fund your event with in-kind sponsorships from key vendors, or charge a hefty registration fee, or better yet, have sponsors willing to write a big check, then you can cut loose with the technology and make it a high end event, if that even matters. In some situations it may not.

    Its all about aligning resources with desired outcome, which should be based upon your customers needs, and then choosing the path that accomplishes your goals.

    The beauty of the events business, is by exercising some creativity in your planning there is most likely a solution to get you where you wanna be, at the price point you can afford.

    Thanks all for contributing your thoughts!

    Mike

    • All great points Mike. I agree that there are many ways we can approach serving a remote audience, and this flexibility allows us to respond to our clients in innovative ways. But, as I said in my reply to Jeff above, I’d hate to see the low-tech approach become the dominant way that organizations claim that their meetings are now “hybrid”, because I think a bare-bones streaming format short-changes the trend to participative events that we both agree is so important.

  • Adrian:

    We are in total agreement that you don’t just funnel the livestream experience into a camera to a remote audience and walk away.

    What do you think was so different for the remote attendee in Twin Cities that increased their level of participation?

    In my mind, a bare-bones format does not mean you have to short-change the degree of participation. Just look at WordCamps. Their livestreamed products look like high-end productions but are done very inexpensively and have high remote participation.

    We are both in agreement that the best of the best is when it is participatory. That’s when the experience level increases. But high-end production does not equate to high remote participation. Wouldn’t you agree?

    BTW, in the nonprofit, association and meetings industries, we call AV crew and other vendors used as contractors, not full time paid staff. Most AV, speaker, vendor contracts clearly identify that they are not employees of the organization or full time staff but contractors. That’s intentional for HR and legal reasons and to protect the organizing host. That’s why I made such a big deal about your language of full time staff.

    • Long conversation thread on this post, thanks for hanging in there Jeff!

      Thanks for the info on Wordcamps. I browsed the site for a while, but I couldn’t find an event site that offered opportunities for remote participation (as opposed to watching a live stream)—do you know which ones do?

      I agree that “high-end production does not [automatically] equate to high remote participation”, but I think that the elements that EventCamp Twin Cities provided, including an interesting innovative program, a free/low cost for remote attendees, and excellent pre-event publicity and outreach are (and proved) pretty compelling.

      Thanks for the clarification about the staff/contractor language. I personally prefer to use the word staff rather than contractors when talking about the people who are working to make an event a success, as it better conveys the kind of community I want an event to be, but I’m aware of the distinction when it’s time to put arrangements in writing.

  • Traci Browne

    I would love to see the conversation get back on track…those with a different objective could possibly write their own post. We’re trying to talk about how much it would cost to produce an event like Twin Cities as they did such an outstanding job…why not use that as the model for the discussion then break down into how you could cut costs from there without compromising quality.

    What did they do different? I think that’s been covered by so many posts already. They actually engaged the audience. Having Emilie Barta as the MC was a huge piece of that. I happen to know that she spent a good deal of time preparing. Plus at least two days on site and travel. Is that somewhere you want to go bargain hunting? Emilie is a pro…you probably could have got me cheaper but you would definitely have been compromising quality because I am NOT a professional presenter. You get what you pay for.

    As far as High-end production not equating to high remote participation I do think we all agree. But I also think that Adrian’s post in not about “how to plan an interactive virtual event” We’re talking about what would it cost to produce Twin Cities in the real world…given that the planner had a clue what they are doing when it comes to events.

    So can we move the discussions that don’t relate to the post to our own blogs or other forums. I think the topics being brought up are important and should be discussed…I just don’t think this platform is the place to do it. I am very interested in this topic and I’m sure there are others who are as well. Hopefully we can get it back on track.

    • Hi Traci,

      While I respect your desire to have a blog conversation go the direction you think it should, it’s not that simple. This article was full of statements and comments that merited discussion, not just the cost component.

      And… frankly, there is no way to put a price tag on an event experience and apply it to all other event scenarios. Each event is going to price itself out based upon the specific needs of that event, the market conditions that prevail in the city hosting the event, and the desired outcome by the organizer.

      Jeff Hurt has raised some good points, as has everyone else, and I don’t believe it is fair to stifle or limit the conversation. That is the freedom of social conversation. You can not control them!

      We all have a choice to participate, or not participate, in every conversation. I would hope this conversation will continue, in a granular fashion and lets focus on the issues at hand, rather than worry about “keeping it on track”

      Mike

      • Traci Browne

        I’m not trying to stifle conversation…just trying to put it back on track. I also think some of the point that are being brought up are way off track from what was said and it’s turned into a pissing contest. But you are right, it’s not my place (as in not my blog) to do that.

    • And in the red corner is @TraciBrowne & the blue corner @MichaelMcCurry… 🙂

      Well guys, this is my blog, I’m the referee here, and I’m easy (so far, at least) with us discussing what comes up for each of us. Sure, we may meander a bit, and I’m sympathetic to your concern, Traci, that there’s a little talking across each other going on. But my preference is for people to say what’s on their mind and respond to comments as each sees fit. I know that’s not going to be a problem for either of you, and I appreciate your willingness to state your opinions here.

  • This is why face-to-face will never die! Too hard to debate important issues via blog posts and emails.
    That said, the economics of a hybrid event are a tough sell. Organizers must see it as an investment in their community and in their future. It’s like putting on a new roof before the leaks sprout, not after. I just arrived back from DC where I spoke with several associations willing to make the investment, but at different levels. While we all recognize the Nacho Mama’s Deep Fried Hybrid Event Recipe is mighty tasty, we also all know there are Reduced Fat, Low Fat, Skim, Sodium Free, Gluten Free and lots of other variations appropriate to each of our palates.
    The last hybrid event I produced was over the $100,000 mark in terms of full-time staff time, contractor time, design and structure for the tradeshow floor, and rental equipment/technology tools. Will that be recouped? Certainly not immediately, I believe, but definitely over time. This will all be easier in a few years when we have proven metrics.
    Could it have been done for less? Yes. Could it have been done for more? Yes. But the expectations of the face-to-face and virtual audiences were managed to be on target with what was being provided, which largely contributed to the positive experience. Don’t lead your audience to expect Godiva and give them Hershey’s.

  • Interesting, Dana! Thanks for the data point. I wonder if, over time, as experience producing rich hybrid events grows, it’s going to become easier to ballpark costs using a twenty minute interview/checklist approach. I suspect a website where you could answer a questionnaire and then be given a range of costs could be a popular sales tool. But perhaps I’m dreaming…

    • Jenise Fryatt

      Wow! What a spirited and enlightening discussion!! First, thanks so much for raising this issue Adrian. It’s an extremely relevant topic, especially in these economic times. Hybrid events are certainly the “it girl” of our industry at the moment. It seems only fair to question how much it’s going to cost to take her out on a date.

      Discussions like this are really what make social media such a driving force in our industry. When we feel free to ask questions and hash things out, we come away with insight and answers that we didn’t have before. I think as long as we are respectful and refrain from personal attacks, we can get a lot accomplished this way.

      I think Dana’s comment (even though her event was on the higher end) was particularly helpful to give people a bit of an idea of the financial costs. Yes, I agree with Mike that costs will vary greatly with size, type & location of event. Nevertheless, research can be done and estimates made that might give event planners a better idea of the costs. This could be a very good topic for a white paper or in-depth report by some astute organization. More information would not be a bad thing.

      • Yes, Jenise, this is the longest comment thread on this blog, and I’m very happy to be the host for our discussion. Your suggestion is a logical next step for an enterprising organization to take; researched ranges of figures for various options would be very useful information for event planners, and such a report could help to establish the provider as a useful authority in what looks to be a rapidly expanding market for hybrid events.

  • Hi Adrian (et al.),

    Without going into too much detail on a topic that’s been weighed in on heavily, I’ll try and hit your original question regarding the economics of the hybrid event. As has been pointed out, there isn’t much of a change in costs whether there are 50 virtual attendees vs. 500 (though there may be some- 500 concurrent viewers is a LOT more bandwidth than 50).

    Likewise, however, the costs are the same regardless of the number of in-person attendees- a lot of the equipment listed would already be there for anything other than a small meeting. In most medium to large meetings you already have most of the camera and video switching equipment necessary. What you wind up adding to gain a similar experience to ECTC would be the costs of a company like Sonic Foundry (to stream it), the host (the voice of the virtual), and a second camera and camera op. The set behind the host is scalable to the client’s needs and budget, and could just as easily be a couple of potted hotel plants against a nice neutral wall.

    My point is that for anything other than the small meeting, adding a quality hybrid experience might not be as expensive as someone might think. And the larger the group, the more likely that more of the necessary equipment will already be on the scene.

    As for the smaller meetings, of course it’s going to be a much trickier proposition in the budget department- but then again, what isn’t for most small meetings?! That’s when you do your best to be creative and try to maintain the “spirit” of a quality hybrid experience- Just like we do in planning all of the other aspects of an event that has high hopes, but low budgets…

    Be well, my friends!

    • Brandt, you make an excellent point: the incremental cost to add a high-quality hybrid component to a large event may be relatively minor because much of the technology and staff needed will already be present.

      Thanks for adding a much-needed perspective from a 15 year event technology veteran (fair description?)

  • If you’re still reading these comments (I’m impressed!) you should check out a great article by Steve Gogolak that breaks down the budget for hybrid events into five key components. Well worth reading!

  • Kitti Whittaker

    With face to face events the cost does depend on the number of people attending. Looking at a business event in a 5 star hotel as an example, DDR (daily delegate rate) is usually between GBP46-56/head/day. Can be more of course depending on whats included but it will not be less than this. This will include the usuall tea/coffee breaks, lunch and the room where the event is held.

    AV usually comes on top. It is true standard AV equipment will cost the same regardless of whether there are a 100 delegates or say, 200. Other things, will however again depend on the number of people attending. (headphones for simultaneuos translation, interactive voting equitpemnt etc.) although that is now being replaced with mobile handsets people already own.

    With regards to hybrids, I think someone was saying it works out about USD 60/head, and I think that’s not bad at all.

    Having said that prices as usual, will depend on many things. As an example wine served in a hotel is expensive and also limited (usually cheap wine sold expensively), and when we took a wine tasting event into the hotel we also had to pay the hotel corkage to make up for what we are not buying from them.

    So while I understand why they do these things, a lot depends on the people/businesses involved and how they want to run the business.

    Because at the same time, while companies usually want to maximise what they earn they also need to make sure they can get and retain customers.

    All in all when it comes to hybrids, and any event in general, I think people need to feel that’s it’s worth their while in the first place.

    In terms of pricing, I find that the cheapest way to make anything happen is to have people who get on and want to get it done.

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