MediaLink’s virtual CES party could foreshadow the future of events

The simulated bash recreated hobnobbing on the Las Vegas strip.

MediaLink’s virtual CES party could foreshadow the future of events

The ad world has certainly adjusted to remote working and the expectation is that many of the new ways business is being done amid the pandemic will continue once COVID-19 has waned. But for the industry, which has been rooted in long dinner meetings that lead to handshake deals, Zoom calls might not cut it when it comes to networking.

“Walking” through MediaLink’s virtual hoopla at CES on Tuesday provided the first glimpse of how the ad industry could regain a sense of serendipity. The event, co-hosted with iHeartMedia, might also provide a template for how Cannes could take place in June.

“We are going back to live events. We believe and are committed at this point to having a live Cannes in 2021. There is a pent-up demand that is so extraordinary, and yesterday proved it,” says Michael Kassan, chairman and CEO, MediaLink. “You can see a future of hybrid events, smaller events where people can either attend in person or virtually.”  

Organizers for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity confirmed today that it's planning to hold its event in-person this June. Organizers said in today's announcement that “the plan is to judge and present the work in person in Cannes, France,” per usual, during the third week of June. Cannes will also have an accompanying digital element for those who do not wish to attend in-person, as it has done since 2016. 

Kassan says this year’s Cannes Lions could be a distributed model, “where you see something going on in the South of France and something going on simultaneously in a different city that might require less travel for certain attendees.”

MediaLink’s simulated meeting place, supported by Spatial Web, is meant to replicate something like the XS Nightclub at The Encore Hotel in Las Vegas, the site of MediaLink’s 2020 CES bash. The space included a main stage, which aired an interview between Ryan Seacrest and singer Dua Lipa, and a pre-recorded live performance by Billie Eilish. There were also dedicated agency lounges in which to hobnob. 

“It really did what we hoped it would do. It made it feel different than a Zoom. People could find you and come up and chat. For MediaLink, as you know, it has never been about the food or the party, it is about the efficiency and the opportunity to interact,” Kassan says. “Cannes and CES present a rare opportunity to get everyone in the same place at the same time. It was important for us to maintain that feeling. We wanted to recreate the serendipity of bumping into someone on the Croisette in Cannes or MediaLink Beach or C Space at CES. We wanted to capture the happenstance of running into someone you have been trying to get on your calendar for months.”  

As you make your way through the computer-generated hall, you can see the faces of other attendees and hear the conversations of people in your general vicinity. There was also a list of people in attendance and you could click on their name and be taken to their location to chat and can even opt to follow them around the party. There were certainly glitches, but that's to be expected with any new technology in the pandemic digital age. 

“It was the best example that I have seen of ‘virtual serendipity,’” says David Cohen, CEO, Interactive Advertising Bureau. “One of the greatest challenges we face in the world of virtual events and conferences is the power of networking—the rush that you get when bumping into a colleague or friend that you haven’t seen in a long time. Or having an intellectual joust on a current industry or world topic. The platform last night did a great job of making those virtual connections, and after all of us living on screens for nearly a year it was a refreshingly new take on virtual events.”