Commentary

Publishers Find Pockets Of Strength With Virtual Events

The pandemic last year led many publishers to cancel live events that had shown promise in boosting revenue, strengthening bonds with advertisers and engaging readers with memorable experiences.

Those in-person events are due for a comeback, though virtual get-togethers or a hybrid of the two are likely to remain as viable alternatives for publishers that seek to extend their reach.

The health crisis forced a variety of publishers to either embrace or expand their virtual events, and several managed to salvage those businesses in surprising ways, as reported by Mark Jacob at the Medill Local News Initiative. His profile of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Texas Tribune and The Houston Defender provides many insights into how local newspapers responded to the pandemic.
The Texas Tribune, the 12-year-old nonprofit media organization based in Austin, not only brought its live events online, but it also hosted them more often. Instead of livestreaming its in-person events, it reformatted them to be narrower in focus and shorter to maintain viewer interest.
The publisher generated a bigger profit, even as revenue was little changed from the prior year. It held its sponsorship rates steady, and raised those for single events from $3,000 to $4,000, though some events didn't sell out their sponsorships. The virtual format provided more visibility to sponsors with on-screen messaging before the event, along with pre-roll and post-roll videos, according to the report.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune exceeded its goal of preserving 60% of its ad revenue from the Minneapolis State Fair, which had been canceled, by creating a online event that lasted 12 days. Among other changes, it also reworked its Top Workplaces event that showcases the best places to work for an online format and created a webinar series that consulted advertisers on how to cope with the pandemic.
The health crisis has made it difficult to make bold predictions about what to expect for the recovery of the events business. There are encouraging signs that airline travel continues to bounce back, though passenger volumes are still down significantly from pre-pandemic levels.

Live entertainment is rebounding as sports fans return to stadiums, though restrictions on attendance vary by state. New York's Broadway theaters will reopen at 100% capacity in mid-September, and it will be interesting to see how many people are ready to come back.
About half (51%) of people said they're comfortable socializing with people in public places, with (40%) are willing to go to a party or social event -- record highs for both measures since the onset of the pandemic, according to a tracking survey by researcher Morning Consult.
The trends are encouraging for publishers looking for a rebound in live events, while virtual events can remain a viable way to reach incremental audiences, sell sponsorships and boost income.

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