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ASCAP's Annual Conference Went Virtual and Reached 10,000 Members: Here's What Organizers Learned

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The event formally known as the “I Create Music” EXPO had to retool due to the pandemic. Now it's planning to keep the new format.

On March 9, ASCAP officially canceled its rebranded ASCAP Experience music conference (formerly the "I Create Music" EXPO) due to COVID-19’s growing spread in the U.S. In the aftermath, ASCAP executives began strategizing on how to pack the traditional three-day schedule into a virtual format.

"Those were some of the early discussions: 'Can we do that? How do we do that?'" says ASCAP executive vp and chief marketing & communications officer Lauren Iossa of initial conversations focused on retaining the three-day structure. "And then we realized, 'Actually, we don't have to do that.'"

By the time it was announced on May 22, ASCAP Experience: Home Edition had morphed from a three-day conference into a once-weekly, three-hour block of online programming that would ultimately come to encompass eight weekly sessions and a total of 31 panels. "We decided not to try to replicate the live experience," explains Iossa of the reimagined event, "but to take what was so important about the live experience and translate what we could to virtual."

The resulting conference -- held every Thursday between May 28 and July 30 -- drew roughly 10,000 livestream viewers combined from a total of 121 countries. That's about four times the turnout of a traditional in-person expo. And it didn't end there; since the conference wrapped, thousands more having streamed on-demand versions of the panels on YouTube.

A lower barrier to entry was certainly one factor in this year’s increased attendance numbers, says Iossa, who points out that many of those who tuned into the virtual sessions wouldn’t have had the luxury of attending in a normal year. “It takes up a very big chunk of time and many creators are supporting themselves in other ways, so it's a very big commitment,” she says. “By doing it virtually, you open up the tent, because it's more accessible. People can actually fit it into their schedule.”

This increased flexibility also made it easier to accommodate the schedules of panelists, which this year included such top names as T.I., Hans Zimmer, Finneas O’Connell, Glen Hansard, mxmtoon and the award-winning songwriting duo Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, along with Rep. Adam Schiff and others.

Total viewership numbers are only one part of the story. Among those who attended the virtual events, Iossa reports that average satisfaction was high -- at least based on an in-session polling feature that asked viewers to rate their experience on a scale of one to five.

“The average session rating was 4.7,” says Iossa. “To have that rating was very encouraging for us ... especially for our first time doing it.”

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Less direct feedback came from the length of time viewers stuck around. “In the virtual world, this is a very common thing -- people start watching something and then they lose interest, or not,” says Iossa. “But in our case, people stayed with the sessions for the duration, well above the industry averages.” Part of the reason for that, she believes, was the decision to vary the length of sessions, creating more digestible versions of panels where audience interest may have begun to flag had they run longer. It's a key learning she also hopes to apply to any future in-person Experiences.

Looking ahead, Iossa hopes to offer more customizable feedback options and add a greater array of networking opportunities to any future Home Edition -- which would appear to be sticking around for the long haul.

“If we were to go back to some version of a live event, I think we'd continue Home Edition anyway,” says Iossa. “The truth is, we were able to reach more people, [and] we had more touch points than a live event.”

Another attractive feature? The price tag.

“Ultimately, it's very cost-effective, and cost-effective is good,” Iossa adds. “That means more royalties for our own members.”

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