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Win at Hosting Virtual Experiences, With Ali Rifai

Updated: Apr 1

Episode 12: Win at virtual experiences, with Ali Rifai

Hi everyone,

Since the onset of COVID-19, we all know that all events have moved to a virtual format. I was skeptical about the long-term impact of this, because I caught “zoom fatigue” quite quickly, but the world seems to disagree!

The globally popular video calling app Zoom (who has achieved converted-to-a-verb status this year) recently launched an online platform, OnZoom, to compete with other online ticketing platforms such as Eventbrite, though it has not yet fully followed suit to develop a virtual event platform itself.

Meanwhile, the most popular event platform at the moment seems to be Hopin. In fact, several startup-focused events in the region this year have operated on Hopin, such as the Step Conferences and Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival. By the way, Hopin has been valued at US$2bn as of Nov 2020!

In this episode, we’ll be talking about events and how the event management industry has changed over 2020. We sit down with is Ali Rifai, who has spent over 10 years organizing events of all scales in the Middle East whilst working for one of the largest live entertainment event management companies in the region. Together we discuss:

  1. How the music and sports industries have been adapting to virtual experiences

  2. Key takeaways what others can learn from this

Big Picture: Nothing will replace live experiences, ever! Though virtual adaptations are a means to keep people and companies relevant in lieu of live and in-person experiences (e.g. concerts, workshops).

How has the music industry been coping?

Many musicians have been found on virtual stages throughout 2020. Typically, they've been pre-recording performances and streaming those live on streaming platforms like YouTube, and gaming platforms like Fortnite.

In fact, Epic Games created a studio for musicians specifically to record performances in order to stream these artists on Fortnite — following the success of having DJ Marshmello & Travis Scott on the popular gaming app, a move which drew in millions in the audience. These collaborations provide the opportunity for the producers and hosting platforms to sell merchandise to countless more people than they could have at in-person experiences.

Though studio-quality productions do not compete with concert-quality performances, they're good enough for streaming. But what's the appeal of watching a studio-quality pre-recorded performance vs. a music video? For music artists, roughly 75% of their income comes from "gigs", and in lieu of being able to perform live due to the pandemic in 2020, artists are given a new way to monetize their craft as well as stay relevant when everyone else seems to be "going virtual".

Other companies in the music industry are also following suit. For example, Spotify, a company that aims to connect people to all kinds of audio, is now also planning to provide its users access to exclusive live-streamed concerts. A company that initially focused just on providing access to music, Spotify evolved to connect listeners to podcasts as another form of media and thereafter expanded further to make recommendations for nearby concerts to listeners (based on their historic music tastes and geographic locations).

But beware! Your streaming experience is only as good as your internet quality. Once you sort that out, you can throw a party at home and enjoy the concerts in your comfort zone and around people you want to be close to (as opposed to unwanted crowds at in-person concerts!).

What about the sports entertainment industry? How have they been coping when unable to fill their massive stadiums out with thousands of fans?

Unlike musicians, athletes cannot really "compete" virtually against each other. And so, instead of having to adapt to fully virtual experiences, sports teams have had to adopt a hybrid approach to facilitate the athletes to compete in a "safer" environment, whilst the fans get to spectate virtually. There was a UFC fight held in Abu Dhabi in 2020 in this format.

However, game organizers have been getting creative and have tried out different ways to integrate fans into the game — for example, the NBA & Premier League have been seen putting images of people on the audience seats (whether live as screens or pictures).

Does the hybrid model take away from athletic performance? Not all athletes need fans there to do their best. There are no fans watching during practice after all and they need to do their best there!

Until next time,



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