Tech Giants: Intrado President Ben Chodor on the Next Virtual Reality

February 15, 2021
Tech Giants: Intrado President Ben Chodor on the Next Virtual Reality

It’s noon on a Wednesday (somewhere) when Intrado Digital Media President Ben Chodor jumps on a Zoom call. There is no ballgame to catch, rush hour to beat or train to hop on. Gone are the days of the easy excuses to take a break from work. Chodor is, for better or worse, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

On the bright side, Intrado employs 1,500 workers in 17 countries. The flexibility to meet with a team across multiple time zones has distinct advantages. It allows for more brainstorming sessions, which, in turn, facilitates innovation. Given Intrado’s crucial role in advancing virtual events over the past year, that time has not gone to waste. 

“It’s been a crazy year,” remarked Chodor. “Listen, it’s here to stay.” 

Therein lies the downside of “Wednesdays at Noon” replacing “happy hour somewhere.” Not only is it still difficult to meet in-person with colleagues, peers and friends, the work never stops. Finding personal space to think freely is a luxury rather than a given. Plus, the demands of event planners don’t stop—there is always work to be done.

Not one to complain, Chodor knows Intrado has positioned itself as arguably the event industry’s biggest asset in a constantly evolving time. The combination of technology wizardry and marketing services keeps the company top-of-mind. 

About 27 million attendees interacted with Intrado’s technology in the past year, a number that should keep growing. “In some ways, we’re like IBM,” said Chodor of Intrado’s omnipresent nature. “You’re never going to get fired for buying IBM. As one of the world’s largest streaming companies, we’re used to having hundreds of thousands of people touch our technology.”

Intrado Virtual Event ExpressThe next phase for Intrado is handing over more tools to planners. Its Virtual Event Express allows companies and organizations a DIY experience. Entire events can be built within hours and without coding knowledge, and sized to fit attendance and budget needs. The advancement is yet another example that, as Chodor says, virtual is “here to stay.” 

We picked Chodor’s brain about digital events and what the industry’s future holds. 

It’s a given that hybrid will be part of the immediate future. Is that a good thing?

It used to be that everyone was scared that a virtual component was going to cannibalize a physical event. And I think what they realized is that the world can cannibalize your physical event. Having virtual extends your reach, and gives you potentially more reach to get more people excited to come to the physical event.

Intrado has done virtual events for almost 20 years. Has the perfect virtual event been created?

The perfect virtual event hasn't happened yet, just like the perfect physical event hasn't happened yet. It morphs over time. Sometimes you want a big CES type event; sometimes you want a 100-person invite-only event. It's the same concept with virtual. You're going to have to figure out what's right for your organization and for your audience.

Which is harder to produce: a virtual or an in-person event?

It is harder to produce a virtual event than a physical event in a lot of ways because people have been doing physical events since the beginning of time. You know your AV people, your signage vendors, people who how to do your food and beverage – you know what's going to go on. With physical events, I just have to worry about getting people who are in the same building to certain places. Virtually, I’ve got to get people who are all over the globe to the same place and I am always one or two clicks from [an attendee] not coming back.

What are expectations like for 2021?

I think you have a lot more pressure after 2020. You’re going to have to build that intimacy, which we all want with our customer base. Then you’ve got to start really thinking how to be compelling, creative and innovative. That is what makes it really exciting. What's the next thing we can do to get people engaged? 

What is that next step with hybrid?

It's going to get to the point with hybrid where you’re not only asking “How do I communicate with the exhibitor or other attendees?” but also, “How do I interact with the physical audience, too?” That, to me, is the part that gets us really excited about the future, where I could be at one location, you could be at another physical location and there is a virtual audience. And somehow, we're all experiencing the same [thing] and have the ability to interact. I think we're going to see a lot of that at first. As opposed to 4,000 people showing up in Vegas, we'll see 150 people showing up at 20 different locations

What should planners watch out for with AR and VR to enhance digital experiences?

The problem is, in general, with VR is that I don't want to put a headset on for five hours. I want to put on a VR headset for portions, then I can take it off. I think it also has to be done in a way that if you want to wear the goggles, you can wear them and have a good user experience. But if I never want to put them on, I still have to have a good user experience.

What’s the right time frame for a virtual event?

You can't do 12 hours in a day, because I don’t want 12 hours of any content. We think 3-4 hours over a couple of days. If I was going to give advice to anyone, the key is don't do a virtual event and then, just like with a physical event, say, “See you next year, for our physical event.” Do a virtual event every quarter, because the one thing we got out of 2020 is we know people don’t mind going on video. It's a great opportunity for you to make your reach longer for your event that you didn't have before.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. 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As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. 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Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.