Michael Doyle, VP of Customer Service, Engagez
As we’ve covered in other articles, there are a lot of options for hybrid events and they basically come down to what it is you want to achieve and what you can afford. This article focuses on the budget implications of various approaches to hybrid events.
Live Streaming and Internet
The live stream from a venue is generally the most expensive aspect of a hybrid event. Although some venues are pretty good about prices or even offer free internet connections to event organizers for streaming, most charge, and the majority charge a lot for a single hardwired, dedicated internet connection with enough bandwidth to stream your sessions without disruption. That’s why we recommend that you never sign a venue space agreement until this cost has been negotiated (even if you are not planning to live stream your event). Visit our Onsite Internet Requirements for Hybrid Events page.
We know how rapidly the in-person event climate can change and if, at the 11th hour you are forced to offer your attendees a remote participation option, you will have no negotiating power and may be quoted tens of thousands for a simple internet connection.
Internet could very well be your highest cost of going hybrid but additional equipment needed could quickly add up. You’ll need camera and sound as well as a feed from the projector (if slides are being shared). The sound, camera, and projector feed will then need to be brought into a device that can splice all those feeds into a program (mixed) and encode the program feed to be sent over the internet (live-streamed) to your event platform that is serving the program to the remote audience.
Venue Hybrid Costs
The streaming and capture cost (not including the engagement platform) is generally looked at on a cost per room per day basis. The cost elements typically include labor (camera and streaming operator), equipment rental for the camera, encoder, switcher, and lighting if needed. Usually, you have the AV team already capturing the audio from the presenters and you can just get a feed from their soundboard. A good general rule of thumb for budgeting is $5,000 per room per day for this element of the stream and recording (capture of the complete program feed). You will find that this cost can range up and down depending on how the room is being produced (one camera versus multiple, lighting, graphics operator, quality of cameras, etc.).
One way to lower the cost per room per day is to use a single operator that has and operates a PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) camera, operates the encoder (and graphics), and monitors the audio input. This can lower the labor cost per day significantly. This approach does add some additional risks that coordinators should be mindful of including the operator not being able to produce that room due to sickness, injury, or travel challenges for example. A ballpark range for this type of solution might be between $2,500 and 3,000 per room per day depending on things like location, travel costs, and length of the program as the cost per day tends to drop as the total number of days increases.
Depending on your situation and appetite for DIY projects, you can do live streaming on a pretty tight budget. We have clients that do this from their own buildings, hotel ballrooms, and even convention centers. If you have the stomach, read on, if not click here to see how Forrester is doing it as that was part of my clickbait title.
First, we need to deal with the internet as you are going to need to stream. You can bypass expensive internet in venues using what is called bonded cellular. What is bonded cellular? Bonded cellular is the process where multiple cellular internet connections are combined or meshed together using software so that you get a better internet connection and failover protection. Failover protection is key here because if you are using a single cellular connection and you have any tiny packet loss of data, your stream will likely drop. You can restart it but it is not a great experience for the viewer as you’ll have to ask them to refresh their browser.
If you are in a venue and you can get cellular coverage, you can use bonded cellular to create a robust 5G internet connection. You can buy or rent these products and services at affordable rates (note: affordable if you are purchasing for multiple events, as a one-off it may still be less expensive than venue internet offerings, but the price to value ratio shoots up when you do multiple events). I would rent first and see how you like it before buying. We have a list of bonded cellular providers here.
Audio is the next area to look at because in live streaming, people will put up with less than good video but they will be less tolerant of bad audio. There are many options for low cost, good quality lapel microphone solutions in the $150 to $200 per set (receive and wireless transmit) with two options being Rode and Movo. The receiver will USB into just about any device or mixer and allow for audio controls.
Video capture has many options from your mobile device, DSLR camera, and really, too many options to cover. The key is to test the various options and see what you are liking the best. Lighting may need to be added when shooting from a distance or in a darkened meeting room depending on the camera you are using.
The final input you need is from the projector if you are showing slides. Here too, you can use an inexpensive, wireless splitter for $150 to $250 depending on your requirements. You need a device where all these feeds are going to be collected and combined into a final program stream (the encoder). There are low-cost options out there like vMix (for as low as $60) or a free tool like OBS or Open Broadcast Software (with both, you’ll want a decent laptop computer to load it on). OBS and vMix are powerful tools but can be used quite simply and OBS has many useful apps that can do things like turn any phone device into a wireless camera (OBS Ninja) and bring it into OBS directly for free.
The platform you are going to stream into is the next and final step. Engagez offers a self-service robust solution that is highly customizable and offers lots of features created to make your event engaging, and a great experience for attendees, speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, and, of course, the organizer. We also offer a service to the event organizer where we can manage the full hybrid experience or teach your team how to execute the event flawlessly.
What is Forrester doing?
Forrester is requiring all their speakers at their upcoming conferences to pre-record their session in advance even though they will likely be onsite to make their live presentation. Forrester’s B2B Summit will feature 3 days of sessions and will be offered to both in-person and remote attendees in their hybrid at the same price for either option. Though we don’t know if the remote participants will be connected with the onsite participants (something you can do with the Engagez hybrid option), the remote attendees will be viewing the pre-recorded session at the same time as the onsite attendees. The onsite attendees will also have access to the pre-recorded sessions after the event is over.
This is a great solution in my opinion, as it reduces the onsite cost to zero, provides the content people are looking for, ensures that if the speaker or speakers can’t travel to the event last minute, they still have their session available to onsite and remote attendees. It also ensures that the session content will be properly rehearsed and ready to go!
Pre pandemic, this might have been a big ask and gotten some push back but today, no way. It makes sense in so many ways and should be standard practice for your event and will save you a tremendous amount of money and, as in Forrester’s case, probably be a very high-margin profit margin solution.