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Is there is a place for conferences to extend their reach and impact by blending the digital and the real with 3D interactive content?

2020 is gearing up to be a year that challenges and changes technology as we know it. One of the first surprises came as we all sat back and watched as the Mobile World Conference was cancelled for the first time in its 33-year history when it became “impossible” for the show to go ahead in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. 

Following the announcement, I found myself trying to understand the implications and reading a number of articles questioning the impact of the cancellation. Specifically one struck me with its closing comment: “In the end, we’re talking about Mobile World Congress: A show centred on digital communications. If any show can (should) be able to cope with conference calls, video streams and the rest, shouldn’t this be it?”  

Was this a call to action to finally move virtual conference experiences to a new high, rather than a second-best experience? Are we actually at a moment where technology could and more importantly should start to provide us with experiences that could build B2B brand moments, leading to delivering shows such as MWC in a whole new way?

Virtual conferences and streaming are nothing particularly new.  However, what we are seeing is a new evolution in offering at scale as an add-on to traditional conferencing.  For example, in September 2019, the Apple’s iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and Pro Max launch event kept 1.8 million people glued to their screens as the event was live-streamed for the first time.  Just over a year ago, it was one of the most significant moments in the game Fortnite’s history. According to developer Epic Games, 10.7 million people attended the Marshmello concert, the largest in-game event to date.

10.7 million people attended in-game

And those aren’t the only moments pointing us that something new is on the horizon. A survey by the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that 44% of the respondents stated that they watch more live-streamed events on their devices than live TV. And according to Cisco, 82% of all internet traffic by 2022 will be consuming videos. 

However, watching might be enjoyable or educational, but it’s still a passive experience. The power that still draws us to live events is our ability to interact with those around us. The challenge to bring something new, where we take the scale we’ve created and elevate a digital experience into something that can compete directly or at least partner with “live,” ultimately lies in how we bring real-time interactive experiences to the party.

What if we take our cue from evolutions in other areas to take passive streaming forward into real-time interactive experiences? For example, most industries are moving more and more towards simulation-based training also known as serious games. Are there lessons from there which could be brought into the events industry? Ultimately as one of the purposes of an event is often to educate and inspire, this isn’t a massive leap to take.

Last year, the University of South Australia launched a programme with the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, where students were invited to be a “geologist for the day”, and see several operations across Australia and interact with a number of projects.  In a different direction, the United States Defense Department uses a sophisticated 3D simulator to train military personnel with conflict resolution, how to use regulatory equipment, communicate with the rest of the team or act in a war scenario.

Using our imagination taking a lead from those types of activities that are already happening, it’s not hard to see a future MWC where there could be a new digital ticket for those who may not need or desire the live social aspect of attending but still want the interaction of product engagement. The digital ticket could give access to sessions where collectively you could participate in 3D interactive product release sessions in addition to the standard “streamed” sit and watch sessions.  Think of product release sessions where an unlimited number of delegates together could play with new products leveraging interactive experiences that take their lead from online gaming. Now you’ve got something that could give participants reach, the ability for a wide range of delegates to engage on multiple levels and textures not just a passive experience.

As 3D content and applications become smarter and more interactive and the technology to deliver this content evolves the future of an MWC type events could look very different. But at the heart of this and currently holding us back from this brave new world is the requirement to build a next-generation network infrastructure to deliver these experiences at scale. Right now, there is no pathway using existing technology to provide a Fortnight type Marshmello concert that is interactive and could still be commercially viable. Read more here to understand the challenges. 

If we use the recent cancellation of MWC to push ourselves into exploring a new approach, we have an opportunity to step into the future.  Ultimately, the opportunity for the future of events to exist at scale is only with a mix of digital and real delegates. Helping us as we fight back against global warming and the desperate need to cut our impact on the environment as well as reduce costs and even provide more opportunity for inclusivity. While everyone believes in the power of face to face, there is a place for conferences to extend their reach and impact by blending the digital and the real with 3D interactive content.  If we take this view across all aspects of a traditional conference event to expand how the event interacts and engages to an even a wider audience than ever before leveraging the power of 3D real-time experiences we could find ourselves with something even better. And something that will always be better than just a cancelled conference.

MWC 2020 cancelled, so what now?

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