As the Industry Pivots, LA's Event Hub Aims to Bring Vendor Booths Back to Virtual Concerts
Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake
Event Hub began 2020 with optimism. It was picking up steam after graduating the mostly virtual 2019 Techstars Anywhere accelerator program and ready to launch into a booming events industry.
At the time, the L.A. startup was primarily a marketplace for connecting event organizers with companies and entrepreneurs to sell their wares and promote their brands at exhibitor booths.
"Then the bottom dropped out completely from live events," founder and chief executive Michael Bleau told dot.LA. "New sales disappeared (and) we saw a wave of cancellations and postponements."
As they watched organizers struggle to convert their in-person events to virtual get-togethers, Event Hub saw an opportunity. Since then, it has pivoted — not only to keep itself afloat — but to throw a lifeline to the sinking events industry and its many stakeholders.
The damage that the pandemic has inflicted on the event industry goes beyond ticket sales. Bleau notes that many events earn over half their income from sponsorships and revenue shares with vendors. Many craft vendors and artisans count on the summer circuits for their livelihoods.
According to a survey conducted earlier this year by IEG, an advisory and research firm, there is widespread concern that the events industry will never look the same. New guidelines from the Event Safety Alliance, a nonprofit trade group, highlight the need to limit event attendance in order to comply with social distancing. Bleau points out that this likely means fewer sponsors and partners as well, which further threatens the viability that event producers can cover their costs.
So Event Hub created a new digital platform.
The company will build on the traction it created from a pilot launch event with Seattle's Pride Parade at the end of June with the upcoming Retrospekt music festival, which is based out of L.A. and will be held virtually from July 11-12.
Viewers tuning in to the event will see a virtual "vendor village" showcasing exhibitors below the "main stage" at the top of their web browsers. Vendors will be able to interact with attendees who visit their "booths" via video chat or text, engaging with them in real time as they browse the offerings for sale. Exhibitors can also post their own media files and external links to customize their virtual stalls. And once the event is over, the vendor pages stay live for up to 30 days to allow for residual traffic.
The organizers can use the booths for extended programming, too, such as side stages or breakout rooms.
Bleau says that Event Hub serves clients in a way that current livestreaming platforms do not.
"YouTube livestream monetizes for YouTube," he says, "not the event organizer." In contrast, Event Hub allows organizers to retain control in exchange for a flat, per-event license fee.
Looking beyond the realm of entertainment, Bleau says he has been in talks with political event organizers. Candidates would be able to livestream their speeches and then meet with attendees via virtual tables.
He expects to see somewhere between 50-100 vendors at Retrospekt, and says he's in discussions with other event organizers interested in featuring up to 600.
"There's really no limit to how many vendors the platform can support," he says.
If and when in-person activity becomes more realistic, Bleau thinks Event Hub will continue to be an appealing option.
"This is a great virtual standalone venue, a great hybrid option, and a great supplement when in-person events return," he says.
However it plays out, Event Hub will be flexible thanks to its pandemic pivot.
Sam Blake primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA
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