I could have written this column a month ago, on February 27, when Facebook canceled its F8 developers conference scheduled for May. While I was writing, O’Reilly got out of the event business permanently. I could have also waited another month, and I’d have even more material. We have no idea how long the coronavirus pandemic will last and even less of a gauge on how long we’ll be feeling its impacts thereafter. Here at VentureBeat, we host at least two major events per year. We’ve shifted GamesBeat Summit 2020 (April 28 and April 29) to completely digital, and we’ll be clarifying our plans for our AI conference Transform 2020 (July 15 and July 16) shortly.
It would be foolish for me to tell you that COVID-19 will only impact this year’s events. It would be equally foolish for me to tell you how each event will look like in 2021. But here is what you — the tech event host, the business executive, the startup founder, the developer, or simply the casual event attendee — should think about. Going forward, tech events will never be the same. Some will cease to exist, some will change drastically, and, I think, some will stay as they were, but better.
Should I host a tech event?
Companies put on tech events for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s purely a marketing play. For others, it’s their whole business model. And of course, there’s a bunch in between. For those that are simply promoting themselves, their products, and their services, they will naturally compare the ROI of their events for 2020 versus other years. Whether they cancel their event or put on an online-only version, they will judge that against putting on a physical event.
That’s a very hard comparison to make, given that one can’t discount market conditions. The coronavirus isn’t only resulting in health-based decisions, but economic-based ones too. It would not surprise me if some companies choose to not host tech events anymore, or to permanently shift online. But each company will decide what makes sense for them — we won’t see all companies that put on tech events about themselves conclude the same thing.