What is the best virtual conference platform?
I want to start by saying that I’m not going to make a direct comparison between platforms as I think that I’m going to be biased for one, and for two, that isn’t something I believe to be very valuable.
What I would like to do in this article is to convey my thoughts on how you can best evaluate a platform for your needs. There are many platforms around now, and daily it seems to be getting more crowded, so it’s getting hard to see what the difference is between them all.
We’re going to make a few assumptions in this article, though, or it could go on forever, as there are so many variables to events, but the beliefs are:
- You’re charging for access to your event, but at a discounted rate to the in-person event.
- You usually run an in-person event with either one or two stages, some exhibitors and sponsors.
- Your event will take place over one full day in a studio or on-site, and you will expect to get around 1000+ viewers for the whole day.
What is your budget for the event?
The budget is, of course, a pretty easy one to start on. How much of your event budget do you have to put towards the platform? If you take into account the costs of production, your broadcasting cost can start to add up.
Most platforms will hold their pricing back until you enquire about the demo. Still, you can expect to pay between $2,000-$50,000 for a lot of the services depending on your requirements, so your budget is going to be a significant factor in what platform you decide you want to use.
If budget is a significant factor, you could do one of two things, build a WordPress website that has a user access plugin, then embed something like a Dacast player into the page. It’s very low tech, and with a website build and the Dacast cost, you’re at a minimum paying around $4000 for the day, and it’s going to be very basic.
The second option you could go for is a low-cost platform like Bettercast, and that will deliver you a far more feature-rich service at a 25% lower cost than the previous option *gratuitous self-promotion there.
There are three reliability factors you need to take into account:
- The quality of the internet at the source of your event.
- The failover options when sending your video stream up into the cloud for distribution.
- The platform’s ability to deliver video to your users at a speed that their local internet connection can handle.
To address the first, this isn’t something that your platform can solve in most cases. However, there is a service called bonding. In a live stream, bonding is where you will send out your live stream video over multiple internet connections, and they will then all connect to a single bonding server. Think of it as numerous highways all connecting to the same interstate. Once it hits the interstate, you get a massive increase in speed as the road is much bigger. Some platforms offer this as a service, so if you find one that does, it should be a big plus for you.
The second is failover. In most cases, when you are streaming to a platform, you are sending all your video data on one single connection. So if you have a problem with that connection at all, then your stream will stop. If a platform can provide your event with two or more connections, you can simultaneously send the video to the platform for safety. On the platform side, if one breaks, it will instantly switch over to your other connection, and your users will never notice.
Failover is different from bonding, but you can still send the two streams on two separate internet connections, so again if you have one as your mainstream and the second on a 3/4g connection, you can be sure that if your internet goes out, your stream won’t stop.
Lastly is the variable bit rate. Variable bit rate is a function where the platform created 3-5 different video streams at varying qualities from your one inbound stream. The varying quality means that if your viewer has a low-quality internet connection, then the video player they are watching your event on will automatically change the player’s video quality rather than start to buffer. This variable bit rate is super important if you are working globally or want users to view your content on mobile and desktop.
Flexibility of features
Not every event is created equal. Of course, you may have planned to do a single webinar for this week, and maybe a full day studio event in a month, then a series of live streams over the following weeks, all culminating in a single 2-day conference with exhibitors, sponsors, the main room and two breakout rooms. Or you could be doing something different than that! The point is that every event has differing requirements, so a platform needs to be flexible to your event.
I see many platforms forcing event managers to change their structure to match the platform and not the other way around, and I feel that that is the wrong way around. So when you are looking at the platform, make sure that you can edit the feature set they offer to deliver what you want!
The easiest way would be to think through all the features you want for your event, networking rooms, one on one calls, multiple stages, 15,000 guests, and so on, make a list of them all, and then as you are working through the feature list, tick them off. That is, of course, pretty self-evident however, I would encourage you also to review the other features that the platform has and make sure that the unnecessary features can be removed as well.
If you can’t remove a specific feature, you may find yourself trying to add things to your event you had no intention of doing and therefore aren’t planning on doing well, so it could bring the overall quality of your event down.
Is that something you’re willing to risk just because it’s a function of the platform? If not, then move on!
If you have run events previously, you would most likely already have a ticketing platform you are already using to manage access. Your existing service may also be linked with your email marketing or other marketing platforms, so the idea of moving everything onto another platform may be too much work even to warrant.
If this is the case, make sure that the platform will either work with your existing system with a direct integration or work with your system with a third-party tool like Zapier.
There are a few reasons why I would suggest that you evaluate the platform with this in mind, firstly you don’t want to make it hard on yourself. Managing the event is enough work, let alone do reconciliation on multiple platforms and billing to make sure you don’t lose any guests.
Also, reducing the barrier to entry for your guests is another reason you want to keep it simple. As an example, Bettercast has two options. We have ticketing built-in so that you can see 12 hours or 12 months (and everything in between) access to your event. We also have a coupon function.
It means you can sell tickets on your platform and then send your guests a code in their email. You upload that code to use, and boom, access to your event is granted, and that’s it. No matter what service you are using, it works.
While I have used Bettercast as an example here, it goes back to the previous point I made, make sure that the platform works to fit your event and not the other way around.
Lastly, I want to talk about the long term access to the content you create in your event, as I think there is immense value for events to continue to provide this resource long after the event has ended.
The simple way is to get the recording made by the AV team, and then a month or so later, post that up to youtube, and at that point, you’re pretty much-saying goodby to any additional revenue that content could make you. However, I would like to offer another suggestion on how to use that to stay engaged with your guests and generate ongoing revenue from it.
Let’s say that the platform you’re looking at does either cloud recording of the video or even allows you to upload a locally made recording of the presentation after the event. You could then continue selling access to all that content. You could even sell 12-month access to that content in your ticket price, rather than just access to the live stream. The value in this is that if a guest can’t make a session, two sessions happen simultaneously or similar, then your guests can now access that session at their leisure.
But now let’s say you edit some of the content and make a short version of it, then publish the short version to youtube and Facebook, with a link to “view the whole session on, “then you are starting to create an ongoing revenue stream to your event even after it ends.
There are two additional benefits here. Apart from the apparent income benefit, you also have a way to continually create smaller sessions or events, weekly or monthly, and keep generating interest in what you are doing year-round.
Also, if you can sell yearly access to that content and sell access at a monthly subscription, you are starting to amortise your income over an entire year rather than single bursts, and that always helps.
So with those five things, I think you are now armed with some evaluation tools when looking at a virtual or hybrid event platform for your next endeavour!