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  /    /  Financial Considerations: Cost Drivers

Online Event Cost Drivers: Platforms, Production, and People

By Inga Petri (Strategic Moves[email protected]) with Lynn Feasey (Points North Creative)Jason Guille (Stream of Consciousness), November 2020

Although many standard conference expenses will be eliminated or greatly reduced by going online (e.g. travel, hotel, catering, printed material), some costs may simply shift, and new ones will be introduced. One cost driver can relate to simply requiring a different skill set and technical expertise to successfully run an online event.

The bottom line is: your online conference or event has real costs, requires skills to produce and host well, and you have to figure out how to raise the revenue you need to make it sustainable.


The cost for the online video conferencing platform you select can vary from less than a hundred dollars on a month-by-month subscription for just the duration of the conference with a limited number of attendees to tens of thousands of dollars for large scale online conferences with thousands of attendees.

Costs depend on a variety of factors including specific features required, number of seats required, type and availability of technical support, and ability to integrate other software to enhance the experience.

A full-scale, professional, white-labelled online conferencing system tends to be packed with features and capabilities. Not only does this drive up the cost, but, if unfamiliar to attendees, it can also require added time and require a different skill set and know-how to run the interface and take advantage of all its functions.

Furthermore, you may be considering sign language and spoken language interpretation services, live transcription or closed captioning, or additional collaboration tools like whiteboards. Each adds incremental costs to pay for the use of technology as well as costs for training and human resources.


While you don’t have to think about audio-visual services for the in person conference, coffee breaks or meal service, some of the content of the online conference may entail additional costs:

  1. pre-recorded speakers videos (either recorded using basic technology like zoom or screen recording software or shot by professional videographers)
  2. producing welcome video or a land acknowledgement video
  3. pre-taped sponsor messages

Even if speakers or workshop leaders appear live, they may incur some costs by requiring online collaboration tools for their session to be effective.

Other production cost drivers can come from creating special fully produced social events like:

  1. gala awards with live / pre-recorded artist performances
  2. online dinner party where the ingredients are supplied by a delivery service in advance and the meal prepared in advance and shared while online
  3. a dance party with lip synch competition, performances, break out groups to mingle and meet random people cocktail party-style.

The exact costs will depend on the calibre or hosts or artists, the number of computers required, specialized software, staff to run the various aspects of the event.

Although providing green room for speakers or safe spaces rooms may somewhat increase your costs because it requires contractors as event producers and technical support or staff as moderators), they will only be small incremental increase rather than major cost drivers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools have begun to appear everywhere online, including in transcription and translation fields. It is important to watch their evolution as most aren’t delivering the human-like experience or accuracy required for a professional online conference or event. However, it is clear that they will improve over time; it just isn’t clear how much time that will require.


We may think of web platforms as existing in the cloud, but they certainly don’t exist in a void: they usually require people to run them and use them. In fact, although their skillset will be quite different, just as many people may be needed for running an online conference as an in-person one. As well as an event producer (either a specialist company, an independent contractor, or train staff), you’ll need, for example: chat box and breakout room moderators, audio visual and other technical support, someone to manage participant issues, and, if using them, interpreters and transcribers.

Speaker fees may be reduced in absence of travel time (normally rolled into their fees). However, you will need to spend time to ensure speakers have adequate internet, webcams and audio equipment to stream live, and look and sound good. If possible, budget for a videographer to work with your speakers for any pre-recorded material.

If your event involve hiring artists, have adequate performance fees built into your budget. You also need to remember that artists have rights to their performance and that you need to negotiate fees for any additional rights, such as rebroadcasting their performance.