The Shows Must Go On, and Here’s How They’re Doing It Virtually

April 10, 2020

The power of in-person events is inimitable, no doubt about it. However, when faced with the option of cancelling completely until 2021 or forging ahead with some kind of online component, many shows are finding solutions in the form of creative virtual offerings. Here’s how a few are navigating these uncharted waters and experimenting with components that attendees can access from their home office—for some, at a discount or entirely free.

NAB Show

Original dates and location: April 18-22 in Las Vegas

Online dates: April (TBD), virtual experience

In lieu of rescheduling the 2020 NAB Show to later this year, the National Association of Broadcasters announced in late March that it would host NAB Show Express, a virtual version of the NAB experience expected to launch sometime this month. Show officials say that the educational seminars and classes planned for Las Vegas will go on as previously scheduled, but virtually. The organization also plans to enhance its NAB Show New York, currently slated for October 2020, with new programs, partners and experiences.

“This digital experience will provide a conduit for our exhibitors to share product information, announcements and demos, as well as deliver educational content from the original selection of programming slated for the live show in Las Vegas,” said NAB President and CEO Gordon H. Smith. “[It will also] create opportunities for the community to interact virtually—all of which adds up to something that brings the NAB Show community together in a new way.”

United Fresh Expo

Original dates and location: June 16-19

Online dates: June 15, virtual show

The United Fresh board of directors made the decision to move from an in-person event to United Fresh LIVE!, a new, free virtual event that will aim to connect customers, suppliers and colleagues across the industry. Debuting the week of June 15, it will feature live keynote presentations, roundtable discussions, networking and an “expo floor” where exhibitors and attendees can share information, view videos and chat live.

“United Fresh LIVE! is an innovative solution to an unprecedented challenge. Businesses across the supply chain are clamoring for information and connections,” 

“As we’ve learned to adopt online platforms to conduct our daily business, offering this free virtual event broadens our opportunity to deliver real value to thousands of industry members at a time when they need it most,” said Michael Muzyk, chairman of the United Fresh Board of Directors.

American International Toy Fair

Original dates and location: Feb. 22-25 in New York City (took place as planned)

Online dates: July 13-19, Aug. 17-23, Sept. 14-20; virtual markets

On April 9, The Toy Association unveiled plans for the new Toy Fair Everywhere, a series of virtual market weeks to help toy businesses connect with customers, suppliers and the global play community. Attendees will be able to explore a calendar of daily events, browse exhibitors by category, and book appointments for demos and chats. They’ll also be able to participate in educational sessions and other special events, both live and pre-recorded.

“These three virtual market weeks can help answer member and toy community needs. They were not created to replace our existing face-to-face marketplaces (Toy Fair New York and Toy Fair Dallas), but to supplement them and help bridge the gap in industry engagement,” said Marian Bossard, executive vice president of global market events at The Toy Association.

Cannes Film Festival

Original dates and location: May 12-23 in Cannes, France

Online dates: May 12-23, virtual marketplace

To the surprise of many in the events and film industry, Cannes Film Festival is still planning to go ahead this summer — albeit with slightly postponed dates of June 23-July 4. Whether or not this will actually take place remains to be seen, but regardless of the festival’s in-person dates, its online initiative is planned over the original time frame. It’s set to offer a digital platform for film companies to screen completed features and promo reels, and conduct video conferencing meetings. This virtual market will be open to all regular attendees, and the festival is offering a 50-percent discount to those unable to attend in person.

Industrial Fabrics Association International Outlook Conference

Original dates and location: April 26-28 in Asheville, N.C.

Online dates: April 16-17, webinar

Following the cancellation of the 2020 Outlook Conference, IFAI launched the Smart Fabrics Virtual Summit, which will take place in a webinar format and be sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel. This summit will provide a form for public and private sector leaders in technology, apparel and textiles to identify ways to collaborate and discuss industry challenges. 

NACS State of the Industry (SOI) Summit

Original dates and location: April 7-9 in Chicago

Online dates: April 14, on-demand experiences

Starting next week, the SOI Summit will be available to attendees in the form of a virtual experience comprising nearly a dozen sessions analyzing industry performance, trends and economic forces. It will also feature a session examining how COVID-19 is shaping consumer demands for convenience, in addition to informative sessions that will explore how to take the headwinds of retail disruption. It will be bundled as an enterprise registration, opening up attendance to individuals from a single organization through one shared license. Show organizers say they hope that the on-demand format will widen participation by ensuring anyone can participate at a time that is convenient for them.

“We realize one of the most powerful benefits of the live State of the Industry Summit – networking with industry friends and peers – cannot be replicated, [but] we’re excited to bring new virtual collaboration, interactive questions and discussions to the 2020 SOI Summit Virtual Experience,” said NACS Vice President of Research Lori Stillman. “Each session will be accompanied by interactive discussion boards, a Q&A forum and opportunities to engage with other attendees.”

Super Niche Media Event

Original dates and location: March 23-25 in San Antonio

Online dates: April 14-15

Niche media, a magazine publisher and event provider, decided to host its annual Super Niche Media Event with a new name — Super Niche (Almost!) Live! — as a free virtual event. It will consist of a live panel discussion on managing your business during COVID-19, as well as live keynote sessions, breakout tracks and Q&A opportunities.

“We’re disappointed to not be able to see everyone in person this year, but we’re extremely delighted to still be able to provide these invaluable resources to the industry,” said Matt Coen, president and co-founder of Second Street, Niche Media’s parent company.

Craft Brewers Conference

Original dates and location: April 19-22 in San Antonio

Online dates: April 13-May 15, five-week virtual program

The largest beer industry conference and trade show in the U.S. opted to go big with its offering for members of the Brewers Association when its annual conference was cancelled. They’ll launch a five-week virtual program next week that will include 40 educational seminars presented by more than 70 industry experts, airing two live sessions per day. After May 31, video recordings will be available via the association’s Seminars web page. One major benefit to this event: It’s entirely free, granting event attendees the opportunity to learn from one another, as well as host digital conversations through Q&A sessions, voting and chat functions.

How are you taking your trade show digital? Send a note to for a chance to be featured in upcoming coverage.

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Partner Voices

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