What is a Hybrid Experience?

Productions are always evolving and innovating, that’s for sure. Yet we’ve never seen innovation explode the way it has worldwide during the pandemic.

We have all been thrown into the deep end of remote work and virtual meetings, and now calmer waters are taking us upstream into hybrid experiences.

For most of us, and perhaps now more than ever before, much of our lives are online and so it makes sense that our events should be experienced there, too.

Onsite productions are (cautiously) becoming an option again, and these days the benefits of a virtual production are more widely understood and experienced by both the industry and the general public. So hybrid experiences, it is your time to shine.

Hybrid events are basically productions that are curated for both in-person and online audiences. There can be a few different types of hybrid events, however, the most common is one event produced for those two audience experiences.

The measure of a quality hybrid event is the amount of value and detail put into catering for each type of attendee, so no experience feels secondary to the other. A hybrid experience should not feel like an onsite event that is simply live streamed. Both the onsite and virtual audiences should feel seen, supported and valued.

Worre Studios in Las Vegas, photo by Jerry Metellus

Image: Worre Studios in Las Vegas. Photo by Jerry Metellus.

A hybrid event is not the same thing as a hybrid experience

Simply put, most hybrid events at best will connect in person and virtual audiences to a stage but will fail to connect virtual and onsite audiences with each other.

In a hybrid event, the onsite audience might see interactions from the virtual audience, but they can’t engage unless they log into a virtual platform to interact in the same environment that the virtual audience exists. Technically, once you log into a virtual platform, you are a virtual attendee. This ultimately disrupts - not enhances - the onsite experience.

In order to move from a hybrid event to a hybrid experience, we need to create ways for onsite attendees to stay out of platforms and hands-free from their devices. And we also need to find ways for virtual attendees to more freely navigate online to build ideas and relationships that emotionally tie them to the community.

Is that even possible?! Yes, with the right technology for broadcasting in place.

Happily Types of Events

Why broadcasting is the magic ingredient

In the diagram above, the happy face in the circle represents the audience at an onsite event, and the rectangular faces are a virtual audience.

At an onsite event, it is much easier for an attendee to build a shared experience. They can navigate through spaces with more fluidity, host an unofficial event on the fly, and have more sensory inputs to feel connected to the people around them who are sharing the same time and space. If you’ve ever sat around a firepit to hear someone tell their story, you’ll know that things just hit differently. The glow of the light, the smell of the flames, the heat warming your skin, the tiny vibrations you hear in the narrator’s voice… All of this contributes to really experiencing a story.

With virtual events, technology reduces our ability to create shared narratives to a ‘call and response’ format. Sure, you might be able to hop from breakout room to breakout room or you may be able to spin up a new Discord channel to kick-up a new interest-based conversation, but you are dependent on a bunch of 0s and 1s to get you there. And, oftentimes, in a virtual space you are reduced to a username in a chat box.

Adding a virtual event platform as an offering to your onsite event will technically make a hybrid event, but you’d be still very far from developing a colorful hybrid experience. Virtual guests in a platform are simply never seen and heard by an onsite guest unless the onsite person logs in (effectively making them another virtual attendee) OR we bring the virtual attendee to life in the physical space.

Happily adds an interactive layer to broadcasting to join the onsite and virtual audiences together in the same room - whether that’s online or onsite. This fixes issues on both sides of the platform: virtual guests are now visible to onsite guests without requiring those in-person to glue their eyeballs to a personal device.

Happily Types of Broadcasts

Broadcasting is the critical component that closes the loop and can turn a one-directional hybrid event into a multi-dimensional hybrid experience. So let’s first break it down a little into the basic kinds of broadcasts.

A Studio Broadcast happens in a controlled, indoor space, and with the possibility to have a live audience who can be heard clapping and laughing, etc. The content is being made in and broadcasted from the Studio.

A Field Broadcast is brought to where the content is, and broadcasted from that location. For example, a live sports event, a festival, summit etc.

A Virtual Broadcast is where the entirety of the production - the audience, the team, and the talent - all meet in the digital space. The production is not exactly broadcasting from an anchored location in the way that Studio and Field do. Virtual broadcasting and livestreaming is the most recent innovation in the industry.

A Hybrid Broadcast pulls from any number of these broadcast studios.

Happily Hybrid Experiences

This is a hybrid experience

A hybrid experience allows the embodiment of everyone in the same space. Video games like Fortnite are wildly successful experiences because everyone is together, roaming free to express themselves. Of course not everyone is willing or able to fire up a gaming console or put on a VR headset and show up to a professional event as an avatar. And the technology to allow thousands of individuals to stably show up in HD camera quality at once exists primarily in Zoom.

Virtual guests are going to be ok - maybe even prefer - not to be seen by onsite attendees, but churn will slowly rise the more that they are not engaged. Event organizers who partner with creative production teams like Happily who are testing the latest interactive video technologies and programmatically know how to evoke social behaviors across media platforms will be the most successful at turning hybrid events into hybrid experiences.

The immediate future of hybrid productions lies in our ability to embody both virtual and onsite participants in the room. This can be either onstage, with large screens behind a presenter but it can also be on the sidelines with screens in the room perimeter.

Happily Hybrid Experience

In the diagram above, the stars represent the talent, the happy faces in the circles represent the onsite audience, and the rectangular faces are a virtual audience. The boxes are the broadcast as a whole; the solid one is the Studio and the hollow one is the virtual, both working in sync. By bringing everybody together in that same place, built around and feeding into and out of the broadcast, is when a hybrid experience can happen.

Talent is also able to come in either virtually, or into a studio and onto the main stage. The talent, onsite audience and virtual audience are all able to see each other and feed off each other's reactions. For example, there would be chats, comments, faces and emojis from the virtual audience brought into the physical space, via screens curated into the set design. This would all be seen and interacted with by the onsite audience and talent. That is when we actually are starting to have a high rate experience again and the central broadcast element is vital for that.

Happily brings the best of being online and onsite together

We’ve already learned the hard way on hybrid events so you don’t have to. For more on producing a hybrid experience with Happily, please reach out to us below click here.