Mar 12, 2020

#canceleverything = adios tech conferences. Now what?

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Maybe its a good time to seriously rethink the ginormous trade show thing.

Nearly every tech conference, gathering or trade show in the next few months has been canceled, postponed or gone fully virtual. On Wednesday, the massive video game trade show E3 was canceled, which was scheduled for June. The National Association of Broadcasters canceled its April meeting in Las Vegas. That, of course, follows cancellations of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas; Mobile World Congress in Barcelona; and Google’s developer conference in Mountain View, California. Facebook canceled the in-person event for its F8 conference in San Jose, California, and will replace it with videos, livestreamed content and “locally hosted events.”

The tech industry loves high-profile product announcements and trade shows. So much so that some believe this could be a chance to scale back. I spoke with Connie Guglielmo, the editor-in-chief for CNET, and she told me that it’s the small companies that still need big trade shows. The following is an edited version of our conversation.

Connie Guglielmo. (Courtesy of Guglielmo)

Connie Guglielmo: Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple, they can drive attendance to whatever event they want to hold. They can put on a party and everyone will come. Those events are important to maybe some of the smaller companies, or the up and comers, because you might want to plan an event and invite a lot of people, but if you’re not well known, getting the attention today is very difficult. They lose a platform if the trend continues to move away from these big shows that they have relied and counted on to try to get the attention of reporters and analysts and even investors.

Molly Wood: Let’s take the case of something like South by Southwest, where the conference is the business. Have some of these events just gotten too big?

Guglielmo: When you’re faced with a situation as we are now, you have to come up with alternate solutions, but I also think this is an opportunity when tech can step in and shine. So if you can figure out how to remap those events and make them more accessible to more people, you could have, perhaps, an even more interesting or compelling event. There are always going to be advantages to having people in person, but this is the time to show some creativity, and I think tech affords the means to do that, especially with livestreaming and webcasting technology.

Wood: I agree. Could this also be a good time to reevaluate the relationship between journalists and these companies? [Sometimes] you might get an invitation from Facebook and then you come down and you spend an entire day and you get a bunch of free food and presents. That could go away, right?

Guglielmo: Right. I don’t think anyone else needs a Facebook bag or umbrella. Look, we live in a world of information overload, so what are people looking for? They’re looking for more meaningful content that they feel that they can invest the time and get something meaningful back. The conferences, as you say, have evolved over time. I think my very first conference was a COMDEX in Atlanta, and that’s the first time I ever came across people dressed up as show girls showing off hard drives. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. We’ve had that model as the basis for these conferences for years and years, so if this does a reset, that’s all for the good.

Karen Allen, consultant to artists livestreaming on Twitch

Karen Allen (Courtesy of Allen)

With South by Southwest canceled, a lot of musicians, filmmakers and techies have to figure out some alternative ways to get themselves out there.

Karen Allen, a consultant who works with musicians, says a big option for them is Twitch. You’ve heard of Twitch as a platform for livestreaming video gaming only. Allen wrote a book called “Twitch for Musicians,” and she works with artists who perform on Twitch, like Marina V. As she sings, you can see people commenting and donating money to her. Allen told me artists can make a living out of livestreaming and crowdfunding.

Related links: More insight from Molly Wood

Some talks from the canceled Game Developers Conference, which was supposed to start in San Francisco next week, will also be streamed on Twitch.

Apple closed all 17 of its retail stores in Italy until further notice. That country is under nationwide quarantine due to the outbreak of coronavirus there. 

And the Washington Post reported that the White House held a call with various tech companies to ask for help supporting workers who are telecommuting, spreading accurate information about what has now officially been dubbed a pandemic and even how data analysis and machine learning might help analyze the spread and the effects of the disease.

The White House has been talking with lots of industries, including the travel industry. Online travel companies have, like the rest of that industry, experienced tanking stocks, and companies like Booking.com, TripAdvisor and Expedia are all basically warning investors that things could be rough for a while.

The team

Molly Wood Host
Jody Becker Interim Senior Producer
Stephanie Hughes Producer

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