The nuts and bolts of webinars—console layout, speaker format and content—aren’t likely to change drastically this year, despite growing popularity. And they likely won’t in 2010, either. Economics and diminishing T&E budgets have made the Webinar model an attractive savior of otherwise ailing events. Case in point: With low registration numbers for its annual Digital Velocity conference, American Business Media turned to a live webcast model instead of cancelling the event entirely. While some use Webinars as a last resort, others have spent the past few years fully embracing the model, like Penton Media, which produced hundreds in 2006 and banked over $1.5 million in annual revenue. But now that many have found a provider and created a basic format, it’s time to refine, expand and leverage the model for more revenue.

A Growing Medium

In a 2008 report, American Business Media and research firm Booze & Company found that 73 percent of b-to-b publishers used Webinars, right behind such online essentials as like e-newsletters, downloads and online directories. James Bohi, director of online sales for 1105’s Government Information Group, says the number of its Webinars have increased from around 80-90 in 2007 to 100 in 2009, due to the “push for lead gen.” Webinars now account for around 30 percent of the company’s overall online revenue.

While the first quarter was a challenge for United Business Media’s Everything Channel and its “netseminars” (the company’s version of Webinars), vice president and managing director Chris Sullivan says that in April they will host nine, the most the company has done in a single month. “Of course, basic funding challenges are impacting the virtual space,” Sullivan says. “This year will probably be slightly up [in online revenue] as opposed to the tremendous growth that I was hoping for.”

While online revenue is the bottom line, more than ever leads are playing a significant role in converting advertisers. “Everyone has fear of list fatigue,” says Bohi, who’s become more involved with registration databases and providing contextually relevant content to narrow audience and increase the value of client lists. While narrowing leads seems like the antithesis of what publishers should be doing, the numbers support a different theory; general open-call lead generation Webinars only see 30 percent attendance, while specialized targeting sees close to 50 percent attendance, and thus more leads.

Everything Channel’s approach to netseminars and video netseminars is fairly standard. “It just seems to work for us,” says Sullivan. “We’re seeing 1,800 people registering per event and 850 attending live on a given day. In 2009, we didn’t change the structure of what we were doing, but we have gotten better at refining it.” For its virtual trade shows, the publisher allows platinum sponsors to deliver an audio PowerPoint in a 45 minute session. Each virtual trade show has six content sessions, including three videos produced by EC’s editors and three audio for platinum sponsors.

Refining the Model

While Webinarland has taken a bit of a financial hit, Sullivan is still bullish on the business, as is 1105, which continues to host hour-long Webinars in both vendor and editorial formats. Its editorial format allows one vendor to sponsor a Webinar, keeping the staff in control, whereas vendor Webinars allow the brand carte blanche. Vendor webcasts produce around 220 leads, with editorial webcasts generating 330, says Bohi. In 2009, Bohi expects the number of editorial Webinars to increase threefold to 40 (out of a total of 100 Webinars).

Despite the shift from vendor to editorial format, the name of the game is sponsor satisfaction. As such, Sullivan says, “All of our pre-show marketing is co-branded, and once the Webinar is over we leave it up on our site for a year with the sponsor logo for both a pre- and post- Webinar advantage.”

F+W Media’s How, a magazine focusing on serving graphic design pros, began offering Webinars in 2007 with provider WebEx. It’s also maintained the basic, one-hour format. The twist? It’s live and registrant-based (with consumers paying $69 a pop). “Due to the success of the program and advertiser interest, we are now beginning to offer sponsorship opportunities,” says Larry Zimmer, online advertising and business development director at F+W Media. The Webinars will use a co-branded approach and be promoted in their e-newsletters, the magazine and on its site. Its registrations have become a primary source of online revenue.

Everything Channel has decided to take its Webinars’ live recording process in-house. “We used to record in an outside studio, but recently made an investment in lights and cameras for our Manhasset, New York office,” says Sullivan. By taking it in-house, the company will save 15 percent of the total cost per virtual event show in studio time on editing and prerecording.

Publishers often plan Webinars that coincide with print calendar topics. However, 1105 has had a different experience: “In the past we we’ve tried to do this [coincide print and Webinars] but it was extremely difficult in terms of speaker commitments,” says Bohi of his niche audience of government personnel. 1105 now works with its events team to repackage event speakers as Webinar contributors.

Past the Online Seminar

Alternative Utah lifestyle magazine In has found that a complement to its “around town” webcast model is an embedded, sponsored calendar via provider SpinGo. Whole Foods Market acts as the single sponsor to this calendar, which stays constant as the reader clicks on different events. “We are in a MySpace world, so the calendar gets lots of participation. In terms of revenue-generation, this sponsorship has been most successful,” says advertising and product manager Joel Shoemaker.

Last year, Everything Channel grew to include virtual events, which may end up being a goldmine for the company. In only a year of hosting virtual events, its revenue stream is 35 percent of what the company has made overall from Webinars in the past seven years. Bohi is also looking at more involved in virtual events: “We’ve dabbled in the past, but it’s something we need to do more of. The next play will be in terms of lead generation. We’re looking at registration-based communities and user generated/controlled content platforms.”

F+W Media will soon begin recording its live Webinars with plans to make them available through its e-commerce sites and online stores. “They may be digital downloads in online stores, or links to streaming video,” Zimmer says. “We’re hoping to repurpose these [Webinars] into CDs and DVDs for $69 each.”


Webinar Vendor Breakdown: Which Is Best For You?
As webinars continue to gain traction, larger, more established vendors may be key to bolstering basic offerings and providing turnkey solutions and technologies for your brand. A selection of vendors that can help take your brand to the next level:

Provides both live and on-demand Webinars. Recently launched iEncodeT, a turnkey webcasting solution that operates inside a customer’s corporate LAN environment. Polling and Q&A features allow for virtual participation, confirmation and hand-raising.

Cost: Internet broadcasting services from $99 per month.
Publishing Clients: Bonnier Corporation, National Press Club, Rodale Publishing.

Offers a suite of Web-based self-publishing applications, including a Webcast Center for interactive audio and video, and a Demo Webcasts Solutions Suite for
adding software or product demonstrations. The company says that webinars go hand-in-hand with its flagship offering, ON24 Virtual Show, a large-scale virtual events platform.

Cost: Varies based on webinar feature set.

Publishing Clients: Automotive News (Crain Communications).

Packaged as part of the company’s virtual events solutions, Webinar features include Web-page sharing, real-time reporting integrated with an attendee’s virtual event activity, and multi audio and video feeds for live events.

Cost: Varies based on scope and level of branding.
Publishing Clients: PennWell, Source Media, Ziff Davis Enterprises.

Online seminar solutions provider handles all pre- and post-event details, including registration and qualification, e-mail confirmation with reminders and post-event follow up reporting to help in evaluating the effectiveness of each event. A plus is no new hardware or software is required for the presenter or participants.

Cost: $3,500 for 60 minutes for up to 250 people with streaming audio and slides (includes registration, e-mail, reporting); $2,500 for 60 mins. for up to 100 people.
Publishing Clients: 1105 Media