Time for a confession. Between 2021 and 2022, I committed the error of typing the phrase “the future is hybrid” not once, but seven times and even titled an early 2023 story “The Future is Hybrid-ish.” Mea culpa.

That was back in the day when the streaming tech neighborhood of IMEX America sprawled across the middle of the show floor, and VCs were throwing money at companies with names like TeeVid, Eventory and ShoFlo. Insights resource Crunchbase estimated that in 2020 and 2021, more than $1.5 billion was invested in virtual and hybrid event companies.

Today, many are running leaner versions of their former selves. Over the last two years, event platform companies Bizzabo and Hubilo each laid off double-digit percentages of staff. Many others were acquired, partnered or otherwise fled the scene.

Read More: 4 Zoom Alternatives to Give Virtual Attendees the Freedom They Crave

More than $1 billion of that capital went to Hopin, a company that was largely acquired last year at a fraction of its previous $7 billion valuation by RingCentral, a public cloud-based communications company that put down roots in 1999. This month Bending Spoons, the digital technology company behind Evernote, Meetup and Splice, purchased Hopin’s video engagement bundle, StreamYard.

Now, Cisco’s Webex Events, which purchased Socio, has announced that starting in April 2025, the service will no longer be available outside of Webex Suite Enterprise Agreements, indicating it may be folded into webinar production.

All these companies, of course, have to compete with the familiar and intuitive Zoom and Teams video-event platforms, which have invested in building security and capabilities such as mobile apps, schedulers and multiple screen sharing into their offerings.

Where Does Event Tech Consolidation Leave Virtual Experience Planners?

From the vantage point of 2024, we can all see that the early 2020 predictions were the result of a Covid-hazy crystal ball. A more accurate assessment might be that the future is whatever format engages audiences most effectively. And in many cases that is indeed streaming—but the product could be called webinars, experiential communication or video education.

And it could be planned by the meeting professional, the marketing manager or the executive assistant.

Dahlia El Gazzar, founder of Dahlia+ Agency and host of “Cut The Sh*T. Cue The Genius” podcast, is making her own bold prediction. “I think virtual and blended events will see a surge as travel gets more expensive, time becomes even more crunched and companies consider their carbon footprints.”

Read More: Can One Virtual Meeting Platform Rule Them All?

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Kristen Koenig

Kristen Koenig, RVP of Video Go To Market and business unit leader for events at Ring Central, the new owners of Hopin’s virtual, on-site and hybrid tools, stressed the importance of simplicity. “Don’t make it complex; the simpler the better for attendees and organizers,” she said.

“Where we got it wrong in the past is everything was piecemeal,” she explained. “The attendee experience has to be seamless. You can use different products based on what works for your specific need, but don’t make attendees click from one to the other, and make the experience valuable.”

Simple doesn’t mean a single tool, however. “There is this whole illusion that these tools should be an all-in-one platform,” she said. Many of the products for content and speaker management are now way too complex and expensive to do everything natively.

“Why can’t our industry take a page from the playbooks of Salesforce and HubSpot and open a complementary app store to bring creativity to our customers and life to the internet?” she asked rhetorically. That way organizers could integrate the best-in-breed tools for their specific needs. That could be Kahoot gamification capabilities, Remo scientific poster sessions or Sessionboard speaker management or even custom-built apps.

“Event tech needs to be more like mar tech and fit into the operational tech stack of the marketing ecosystem,” Koenig said. “That’s where experiential communication will go to the next level in five to 10 years.”

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Jay Schwedelson

Entrepreneur Jay Schwedelson, founder of Guru Media Hub virtual marketing conferences that run on RingCentral’s platform, predicted that in the future “not every experience will be hybrid, but every event will be an experience in content delivery.”

When event professionals say their event is hybrid, they mean they have a version of the in-person event available to watch online. “This is where things fall apart,” Schwedelson said. “Nobody should have an online component. They should have an online experience that occurs at the same time as the in-person experience. The delivery of the content virtually is its own thing and not just a watered-down version of the in-person version.”

AI Influence on Virtual Platforms

Just as in the rest of the world, AI is transforming virtual event tools.

Live event interaction company StreamAlive recently announced that it is using generative AI to help “streamers” better understand and connect with audiences by employing listening hacks to elicit audience responses. AI generates and recommends a list of polls and open-ended questions that presenters can use as prompts and conversation starters to encourage audience responses and participation. Audience interactions are captured and visualized through the chat functions of Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, YouTube Live and Twitch.

Read More: Why It’s Time to Get Serious About AI for Events

Event technology provider Cvent has also expanded its AI solutions by adding AI Writing Assistant to its content suite. It includes user guidelines to generate emails, website content, session descriptions and RFPs that fit with brand tone and voice.

RingCentral sees itself as an AI-first communication platform. Prompts for emails or registration can happen directly in the virtual event marketing and production platform. Similarly, AI production tools can help sort questions for moderators. Tools also help with repurposing content to the community on social by sharing automatically based on how attendees typically respond.

“You can make speakers your biggest advocates by automatically sharing engaging moments,” Koenig enthused. In addition to providing great reporting, analysis can go a level deeper to inform decisions. “It’s taking data and making more of a story.

“We are at the forefront of a massive revolution in terms of technology,” Koenig said. Which parts and pieces of various tools now on the market will work will vary for each event. “I think what’s getting lost in all the glitz and glamour is looking beyond the features and focusing on the value, on who has a strategic partnership arm, whether it’s a mixture of technology stack integrations or embedded tools,” Koenig said.