How to Make Money From Online Events

Avoid the "free" trap and learn how online events can pad your revenue.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought out the best in artists and entertainment organizations all around the world. In February and March of 2020, when the situation was still developing and the future was uncertain, artists fired up their laptops and sang, told jokes, performed readings, and did whatever they could to cheer us all up.

As the crisis continued, we discovered that it wouldn’t be as temporary as we hoped. The live entertainment industry was on standby for an unknown amount of time. Shows went dark all around the world and it became clear that evolution was needed for producers and artists to maintain their livelihood.

To keep their audience engaged, many live entertainment producers began offering free online content. It’s a smart strategy for maintaining your presence while curtains are down, but the obvious problem is the lack of revenue.

Is the industry training customers to expect everything online to be free? Will this make it impossible to charge for online events during the pandemic and beyond? Not necessarily. Online events can easily become a cost-effective source of additional revenue if you properly invest in their production and if you market and price these events strategically.

These guidelines will keep you out of the “free” online event trap and help you make your online live events profitable.

  1. Focus on quality. Viewers want quality from online shows just like they do from in-person shows. The free online content available early on was created on the fly with whatever equipment producers had at hand. It had a DIY charm, but the quality was rough. Viewers would happily accept it as free entertainment, but when there’s a price for viewing, they expect something more. If you take the quality of your online broadcast seriously, the viewers will too.
  2. Master the necessary technical skills. In the age of YouTube and Twitch, there are lots of options available to make livestreaming content simple and accessible. You can easily learn how to use encoders like OBS Studio and the many other tools for creating a professional quality livestream. You can also hire a livestream producer for less than you think using freelance networks like Upwork, or local industry hiring networks.
  3. Make “live” an important feature of your show. People love a special occasion. Even when they’re not going out, something that’s happening right now is more exciting for viewers. The more you can leverage the live aspect of your event, the more your event is worth. Consider using interactivity, a unique happening, or a giveaway to make it matter that your online show is happening right now.
  4. Expand your marketing strategy. With online broadcasting, you’re no longer tied to a geographic market. The audience for your show is potentially everywhere. An online show can stream not just all over the country, but all over the world. Target potential customers everywhere and leverage ad platforms like Facebook and Google to reach similar audiences outside your usual market.
  5. Set your pricing appropriately. This is the most important step. You’ve created a quality show, made it a true “live” experience, and told the right people about it. Don’t undervalue your tickets just because it’s new and you want to draw viewers. People might not pay the same price they would for a front-row seat at the venue, but if you’ve done all of the above, they’ll happily pay for a top-tier entertainment experience. You’ll have to do some research and some experimentation. You can’t just copy your old model, but if you are savvy in your approach, you’ll see a return on your investment. You’re no longer limited by capacity and the whole world is now your market. The average price per ticket matters less than the overall gross potential, which could be very large indeed.

If you want to avoid the “free” trap with online content, or you know you have customers interested in online events and want to turn that into revenue, it can be done. Some people are already doing it, and if you invest the right resources, you can join them.

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Contributor to Stellar's Blog