Tomorrowland 2020 happened recently, and the result is something no one was expecting. Like many other high-profile events, the festival was forced to make the decision of either canceling or going virtual. Well, they chose the latter, and now the events industry has solid proof that not only can digital experiences be a success, but they can bring even better results than in-person events. And there’s a lot to be discussed and learned from the whole ordeal!

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So on this week’s Event Brew, Will Curran, Nick Borelli, and Dustin Westling got together to bounce some ideas around. What can event professionals take away from Tomorrowland 2020? And what does its success tell us about the direction the industry is taking? Press play and join us to find out!

What Is Was & What It Is

Tomorrowland is one of the most famous electronic music festivals in the world. And as Will explains, “it’s famous for its crazy physical stages of very mystical looking stuff and people from around the globe. So literally it infamous for having hundreds of country flags being out in the audience. And of course, hundreds of thousands of people being in front of the main stage. So big humongous music festival, obviously not possible happening right now in COVID land”.

“So they decided to go digital, and it was a huge success! They usually have a hundred thousand people come in person. And they ended up releasing all their numbers and they had over a million viewers, a million attendees who all paid €12,5 ($14,5) to attend. And this is normally a festival that costs something like 500 bucks to attend or something like that. So, obviously drop down in price, but their numbers went through the roof. Effectively $12.5 million in revenue”, Will adds.

Learning From Tomorrowland 2020

These numbers alone should come as a lesson to event planners everywhere. As Nick points out, there’s a misconception that people shouldn’t be charged to attend virtual events. But there’s more to pricing a digital experience than that!  “I think that in some instances for B2B, you can charge because it’s such a niche proposition”, he says. “So you can charge pretty much the exact amount of money and get away with it. Because you’re delivering niche value. But when you have broad appeal in B2C, I think that it’s harder to accomplish that. But your ability to go global with anything is really high because it’s not a niche”.

Setting The Precedent

Everyone in the events industry has been wondering how the future will pan out. And as time goes by, the realization that events have changed forever slowly begins to settle in. But not in a bad way! On the contrary, the benefits of virtual are becoming more evident with each day that passes. And Tomorrowland 2020 is a fantastic example of that.

“When you have a show for a hundred thousand people, you probably have a pretty good thumb on the pulse of where they’re from”, says Dustin. “And this sort of worldwide access changes a lot of things. Through different languages, cultures, access to a lot more younger people that wouldn’t be able to do that kind of travel. I think all of this, to me, really answers the question of will things go back to normal? No, never. They’re never going to go back to what we knew as normal. And watching things like Tomorrowland 2020 get a million people to watch their festival online changes so much”.

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Getting With The Program

Nick is excited about the future and what it will mean for events in the face of change. “I hope we’ll continue to have the ability to expose people who never would have come anyway. And that’s exciting because I want stronger communities. I want a more inclusive experience”, he says. He recalls when Thuy compared virtual events to the vegan meal at the table with a bunch of people that ordered the regular meal – and then the vegan meal was just the side dish.

“Technically yes, that is a meal. But it just wasn’t the designed experience or the forethought put into that wasn’t equal to the rest. So that person didn’t feel like they belonged at that table. And they didn’t get the intended design of the behavioral change that was supposed to happen from that. So I hope that there’s a cross mingling of face to face impact and virtual. Just so we have more inclusive community impact and have more diverse audiences that are able to experience the designs and ideas that we have”.

Why Did We Sabotage Virtual?

In the face of Tomorrowland 2020 and its incredible success, Dustin believes that there will be a push to make in-person events better. “With hybrid events and having the option to be in person or be online, that is going to put a lot more pressure to do in person better. Because now you’re going to say, oh, that event is okay. That conference is okay, I’ll do it online”.

“And now you have to make that in-person experience so much better because it needs to be better than what you can get online. And it has to be worth the travel. It has to be worth the costs”, he adds. “So I actually think that’s a positive thing that will come out of this. It’s gonna put pressure to do better events and you can’t cheap out anymore. You can’t just do what you’ve always done because people will just stay home and watch it at home for a fraction of the cost”.

But Nick has his doubts and a theory as to why event profs have sabotaged virtual. “I’ve been in meetings for years and years where people say I don’t want to stream this because then people will get it. And then they won’t come to the face to face. It’s one of those things where I don’t want to give people my best because then they’ll expect it”, he says. “And that mentality, I think, bled into the shunning of the potential for virtual. Because they didn’t want to have better competition and to only have great events”.

Reevaluating Our Role In The Industry

“There’s this idea that getting by is the answer and just doing the one little thing I know how to do well and then plateauing. I don’t think anyone who has the plateau mentality is going to survive the future. You have to be able to say I’m here to roll with the punches. Either I’m the best at this or I’m the most fluid at this”, adds Nick.

“It’s not about selling it once”, says Dustin. “It’s about retention. And it’s about getting people to come back. Very few things in our industry are one-off, and the game should be about retaining. So sell to the right people, give them the right experience, and get them to come back. And if they don’t come back, he screwed it up”.

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What Tomorrowland 2020 Did Right

“The majority of the industry has been canceling and not going up to the challenge. And they said that we’re going to meet that challenge. So I think that Tomorrowland is in a position to be a leader. And where everyone else probably had some justifiable fears of they couldn’t do it, that their level in a virtual environment, they wouldn’t do it. So being able to say, we’re not going to do it if we don’t do it at that level and then doing it is the real leadership position”, adds Nick.

“Many others will be able to mimic this”, says Dustin. “The technology will get better for those in the future. And we’ll see more of this and there will be more competition for these types of events as the technology access becomes easier. And it’s not quite as intimidating. So then the real game begins”.

It’s Time To Face The Music!

If Tomorrowland 2020 proved one thing, it’s that virtual can be a smashing success. And it’s about time everyone in the industry realizes that producing unforgettable digital experiences is possible. “It’s fair to say that those that are not interested in technology and those that are sticking their heels in hard… this is going to be a really rough time for them”, Dustin says.

Nick agrees. “It’s an extinction even for the technophobic event professional. If you say ‘I’m just not a technology person’, then you’re painting with four crayons. And the rest of us have markers and colored pencils and you’ve got those four colors. And, you know, if everything happens perfectly, then you get to do the thing that you do. But if not, and you’re in the real world, I think that moving forward is going to be all around the idea of disruptions. Then you need to be disruption proof. And that means investing in things like design thinking or more fluid ways of thinking, as opposed to just saying, I only do this”.

How Can We Go About It?

Dustin explains that it’s not necessary to be prolific in current technologies to excel in this new paradigm. “You don’t need to understand how it works, you don’t need to understand every piece of it. What you need to understand to be a great event prof, and to serve your clients, is what is possible. And you need to find the right people to do the job. That’s it. That’s what you need to know. If you want to learn, that’s great, but that’s not necessary to live in this world of technology. You have to align with the right partners. You have to be brave enough to learn what you can and can’t do And that’s quite simple”, he concludes.

Conclusions

Not many people saw the incredible success of Tomorrowland 2020 coming. But it’s here, and it’s here as a reminder that even if we can’t bring people physically together, we can still design mindblowing experiences. And come out of it winning, whether it’s on a financial or professional level.

So head to our blog to read more about successful virtual and hybrid events, or click here to speak to our incredible production team. And don’t forget to tune in next week for another exciting episode of the Event Brew!

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Nick Borelli

Author Nick Borelli

With 20+ years in the industry, Nick Borelli is passionate about helping event brands communicate stories that result in achieving strategic goals.

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