Hybrid event producer with monitor and laptop

Hello, Hybrid! Where Virtual and In-Person Events Converge

If 2020 is the year of the virtual event, 2021 may be the year of the hybrid event.

Though the term may be new to some, we have all attended various forms of hybrid events. Professional sports, the Academy Awards and TV shows like Saturday Night Live are typically produced as live events for a combination of in-person viewers and virtual audiences across the globe. Watching from your couch or the neighborhood pub is never the same as attending in-person, but the hybrid approach makes the event accessible to a broader population.

As we look to 2021, our San Diego Convention Center team anticipates a dramatic increase in the number of conventions and meetings conducted in a hybrid fashion. Hybrid conferences usually follow the same model as in-person ones, with the addition of virtual components. Those components scale from a simple live stream of a presenter to an immersive onsite-online experience with virtual lounges, breakout rooms, interactive polling and other enhancements. Combining a virtual event with an in-person experience can meet attendees’ individual needs and streamline certain expenses, as compared to a virtual-only event.


Together with our in-house AV partner ON Site and our technology partner Smart City, our Center is preparing to be a leading hybrid event venue when we reopen. “When you talk about hybrid events, you’re essentially talking about who we are and what we do,” said Roger Thompson, Regional Director of Hotel Services for ON Site. “We can broadcast a meeting to 20 people or set up a massive interactive gaming experience with thousands of in-person attendees and hundreds of thousands of global participants. Our team is here to simplify the process and create a compelling event experience.”When discussing possibilities, Roger emphasized that a critical ingredient for success is reliable and dedicated bandwidth. The quality of a virtual attendee’s experience quickly declines when a live stream’s audio cuts out or a speaker’s face freezes mid-sentence.

“When you talk about hybrid events, you’re essentially talking about who we are and what we do,” said Roger Thompson, Regional Director of Hotel Services for ON Site.

Shawn Lowery, Senior Director of Product Marketing for Smart City Networks, brings decades of experience with event telecommunications and technology.

“Infrastructure is critical,” Lowery said. “Demand may be accelerating at this moment but we have been steadily enhancing our support for hybrid events during the past 15 years. Should one circuit fail, we have automatic failover to the back-up circuit so there is no downtime to clients.”

For meeting planners, hybrid events present new revenue opportunities, including virtual registration fees and sponsorships, to offset event expenses. Companies could sponsor a session, a chat room, or the internet access itself, as a few examples. Detailed event analytics related to viewership and time spent with online content can help demonstrate the value of a sponsor’s presence. If sessions are recorded and posted online, that sponsor’s visibility continues long after the event takes place.

Using a physical space as the basis for a virtual event can also simplify production and support a consistent, high-quality experience for all.

“Right now, we’re hearing about virtual event teams filming presenters in numerous locations. It’s less expensive and more reliable to have speakers come to one central location with consistent preparation, lighting, and connectivity,” Thompson said. “A building like the San Diego Convention Center can be configured to have multiple broadcast locations with appropriate equipment, staff and physical distancing measures in place.”

Hybrid event set up

At this time, we don’t know precisely when our Center will begin hosting events again. What we do know is that our months of careful reopening preparation, our 120,000 square feet of outdoor space in San Diego’s year-round temperate climate, and our hybrid event expertise support our ability to be among the safest and most comfortable gathering places when we reopen.

To learn more, see our menu of hybrid event services and follow this blog for future plans and developments.

Authored by Maren Dougherty

Maren Dougherty is the San Diego Convention Center's Executive Director of Marketing & Communications. When she isn't writing articles or talking to media, you can find her enjoying San Diego's climate. She loves running through neighborhoods, visiting Balboa Park, and relaxing at San Diego's beautiful beaches.

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  • San Diego Convention Center
    111 W Harbor Drive
    San Diego, CA 92101
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