Bloomberg Media is testing paid tiers for virtual events

discussing money

Like many publishers, Bloomberg Media had to adapt its events business by pivoting to putting on virtual events last year, when the pandemic brought an end to in-person gatherings. Now that the publisher has established itself as a competitor in this space, Bloomberg Media is beginning to test charging for attendance.

Like other publishers that sought a lifeline as the Covid-19 pandemic enforced stay-at-home orders, Bloomberg Media began offering virtual events in March of last year, but were free to attend to keep its captured audience engaged, in addition to the ad inventory that came along with it. The company is now experimenting with ways to take its virtual events strategy to the next level, as the vaccine rollout continues and a return to in-person events draws nearer.

The point of a “freemium” model — or one that includes a free offering as well as a paid one for access to additional features — is not to replace Bloomberg Media’s sponsor-driven events business, but is seen as a growth tactic, said Patrick Garrigan, global head of Bloomberg Live. It is an opportunity to bring audiences closer to Bloomberg’s content, journalists and stories — virtually right now, but eventually in-person too, he added. It can also drive subscriptions.

Bloomberg Media began testing paid event tiers with its annual “The Year Ahead” event, held Jan 26-28. The company gave attendees three options: register for free to access live main stage sessions and Q&As, or sign up for one of two paid offerings. The $125 “New & Networking” tier included a three-month subscription, whereas the $475 “Premium Pass” included a full-year subscription. Both paid tiers also provided additional on-demand access to main stage sessions, networking opportunities with other attendees, two books talks, a live podcast recording and trial subscriptions for Bloomberg.com and Bloomberg Businessweek. The hope is that the paid attendees to “The Year Ahead” who received free trial subscriptions will continue their memberships after the trials expire.

IBM and AlixPartners LLP were sponsors of the tiered pricing event, which the company says attracted 1 million live views on the Bloomberg platform and across social media. Paid ticket sales for “The Year Ahead” event surpassed Bloomberg’s target numbers “by 4X,” according to Garrigan, but a Bloomberg spokesperson declined to provide actual numbers. The company also declined to say how many people registered for each pricing tier.

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Bloomberg plans to continue to use the paid tier model in a pair of upcoming events: the Bloomberg Green Summit in April, and the Bloomberg Businessweek event in May. The details are being finalized now, Garrigan said.

Overall, the first quarter of 2021 is “pacing ahead” of events revenue compared to 2020, predominantly due to an increase in sponsorship revenue, according to Garrigan. By last July, the Bloomberg company sold all of its events’ sponsorship inventory for the rest of 2020.

Hosting free virtual events has its challenges. A large publisher client of experiential agency Hawkeye transitioned one of their annual events to virtual with free registration, and “attendance dropped by half, and engagement bottomed out nearly entirely. This was in part because offering the event for free lowered the value perception,” said W. Joe DeMiero, CEO of Hawkeye, who did not name the publisher client.

Bloomberg Media has also used its virtual events to experiment with new offerings. At “The Year Ahead,” as an example, it hosted a live recording of an existing Bloomberg podcast. It garnered enough positive feedback that the publisher plans to host more of them in the future, either as part of existing events or as a standalone offering.

It has become “a new model for us,” Garrigan said.

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