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Heading towards more digital and virtual events

Asia's US$500 billion events market needs more than "Zoom calls" to be a digital success.

Tens of thousands of people attended the Singapore FinTech Festival at Singapore Expo last year. For the first time this year, the fintech extravaganza will be predominantly virtual.

Large technology companies like Apple, Microsoft and Facebook are known to be developing their own AR headsets aimed at consumers.

THE Covid-19 pandemic during the first half of the year has triggered an onslaught of digital and virtual events, including in Singapore, but the winners and losers remain to be seen.

Master event organiser and self-help guru Tony Robbins, who works with celebrities, top athletes, and Fortune 500 leaders, has for the first time launched a virtual edition of his wildly successful business and personal growth seminar.

Not limited by location, users tuned in from around the world in August.

In Asia, the region's most popular events - including in fields like technology, innovation, and startups - will similarly need to be smart about transitioning to virtual delivery.

Asia's events market is estimated to be worth a half trillion dollars by the middle of the decade (2026), according to Allied Market Research.

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However, those organisers unable to create dynamic and immersive experiences for viewers, tuning in from their home offices and living rooms, will find themselves with a much smaller slice of the US$500 billion pie.

Governments like Singapore's have a real stake in this space, too, with annual technology and innovation festivals to showcase national success stories.

The upcoming Singapore Fintech Festival, a staple of the Asian events scene, draws a global audience including senior delegates from the private sector and government.

For the first time this year, the fintech extravaganza will be predominantly virtual - even as the government slowly raises the cap on public events to 250 attendees.

Last year, the Singapore Fintech Festival drew tens of thousands.

A new role for augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) has proven to be a key technology in industries like manufacturing, logistics, and engineering, but it also has a new role to play in the burgeoning virtual events world.

The technology most famously hit the mainstream consciousness with the release of Pokemon GO in 2016, a hit mobile game that overlaid virtual Pokemon characters onto streets, living rooms, and parks.

But cute Pokemon aside, large technology companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple are known to be developing their own AR headsets aimed at consumers.

One day soon, AR glasses and headsets may become as commonplace as our smartphones - but for now it remains a relatively niche technology category for specific industries and gaming.

For event organisers, and specifically presenters delivering their keynotes over a streaming service like Zoom, AR creates new opportunities to be something different than just another talking head on a screen.

Indeed, AR is allowing for more immersive and visually-striking events and presentations to be delivered virtually, whether it's a TED talk or keynote at a regional technology conference.

Whether it's a 3D model of a Formula 1 racing car engine floating next to the presenter, or a PowerPoint slide showing graphs and data, AR can create more engaging experiences for audiences.

As with any emerging technology, this space will blossom as more awareness of the possibilities becomes available and mainstream.

Right now, too many event organisers and presenters are still unaware of the relative ease of broadcast AR-powered presentations from their smartphones - even though the technology exists.

Virtual events: a passing fad?

And as with the apps ecosystem that evolved around the iPhone, as more developers create AR models and capabilities for events and presenters, the category will become self-sustaining.

The real question is whether virtual events are here to stay, or simply a passing fad.

Our view is that this is the beginning of a longer-term trend for the events industry, and by implication for AR's role therein.

While physical events will eventually resume, a whole new segment of events - the virtual event - is being created as we speak.

If we look even longer down the road, the world is going more rather than less digital and virtual.

As economies and technology develop, especially in high-growth markets like Asia, the day will come when virtual events alone command half trillion dollar market valuations.

Those looking for a slice of that future digital pie should get started now, dig in for the long haul, and commit to delivering more immersive virtual events for audiences.

Augmented reality will place a key part in achieving that.

  • The writer is founder of Hiverlab, a Singapore-headquartered media technology startup

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