Novel coronavirus is a real threat. We now know the incubation period for COVID-19 is up to 14 days, and people can spread the disease without showing any symptoms at all. The best way to keep from getting ill is to avoid close contact with other people. Ultimately, that means cutting back on air travel and opting out of large events.
As a result, companies in all fields are canceling conferences in droves. They either can’t sell enough tickets or too many sponsors and speakers are starting to pull out. In some cases, entire cities are outright banning large indoor gatherings.
Last week, Facebook canceled the in-person part of its F8 developer conference in San Jose, originally scheduled for early May. In 2019, more than 5,000 people attended F8.
Nvidia said Monday that it will not hold its GTC 2020 conference that had been scheduled for March 22-26 in San Jose. As many as 10,000 attendees were expected at the event, which centered around semiconductors, graphic chips, and AI technologies.
Also, on Monday, Facebook and Twitter pulled out of SXSW Conference & Festivals, a sprawling 10-day event in Austin set to kick off on March 13. The event drew more than 400,000 attendees last year. SXSW says the event is still going as planned, even though an online petition is in the works to cancel it.
Similarly, the crypto world is feeling the pain. Tron has postponed indefinitely its Nitron Summit due to coronavirus concerns. The event was scheduled to take place between Feb. 29 and March 1 in Seoul, South Korea.
Paris Blockchain Week, originally set to kick off on March 31, is postponed until December. Even that is risky, though. December is when the cold and flu season starts up again, and a coronavirus vaccine isn’t due out until sometime in 2021.
How will crypto media fair?
If the trend continues — and likely it will — conference cancellations could hit some crypto media publications hard. I’m talking about Coindesk in particular. The company pulls in 85% of its revenue from conferences, according to a May 2019 report in The Information. Coindesk doesn’t feature ads on its site anymore, so events are its bread and butter.
It hasn’t always been that way. I remember ads for every bottom-of-the-barrel initial coin offering on the site a few years ago. I’m not sure why Coindesk stopped serving ads, but they seem to have completely disappeared from the site after its relaunch in November.
Last year, Coindesk held one investor event in New York and another in Asia. But its flagship conference is Consensus. Held annually in Manhattan, Consensus is widely considered the most significant event in the cryptosphere, accompanied by lots of satellite conferences around the same time. This year, Consensus is scheduled for May 11-13 at the New York Hilton midtown.
In 2018, just coming down from the peak of the crypto hype cycle, Consensus drew in more than 8,500 attendees, each paying about $2,000 per ticket. Coindesk’s total revenue for the year was $25 million, so do the math — that’s $21 million in events alone.
Consensus 2019 saw less than half that with only 4,000 attendees. But even at an estimated $10 million in revenue, that’s still a decent amount of money. Despite the drop-off, Kevin Worth, Coindesk’s CEO, told The Information that Digital Currency Group, which owns 90% of Coindesk, still planned on growing its media business.
Indeed, Coindesk has been on a bit of a hiring spree. Almost anyone who has been writing about crypto has gotten pulled into working for the media outlet. It will be interesting to see what happens if Coindesk ends up having to cancel Consensus 2020 and potentially even Consensus 2021 — or even if it sees a significant drop in attendees.
Oddly, Consensus is the only event listed on the Coindesk’s website at this time. The company’s other two events — “Invest: NYC” and “Invest: Asia,” as they were called last year — are conspicuously missing. I reached out to Coindesk this morning. If they respond, I’ll post their comments here.
Other media pubs also rely on events for revenue, though not to the extent that Coindesk does, and their events aren’t nearly so huge.
Breakermag started planning an NYC event called Breakercon before it shuttered in 2019. The Block took over the event renaming it “Atomic Swap.” This year, The Block is now calling the one-day-event, scheduled for May 12, The Block Summit. Tickets cost about $800 and CEO Mike Dudas expects things to go as planned with 400 attendees.
Last year, a leaked investor pitch deck for The Block indicated that of the $5 million the startup wished to see in 2020, $3.4 million will come from subscription revenue; $1.1 million will come from ads and $500,000 from events. At least The Block has its revenue model spread out a bit, so it’s not so heavily dependent on a single event.
Decrypt relies on Ethereum venture studio Consensys’ patronage to keep its doors open. Consensys holds an Ethereal Summit each year in New York City right before Consensus. That also appears to be on track for May 8-9.
Cointelegraph has a separate events division that does BlockShow Asia, which it’s been holding since 2016. This year the event is scheduled for Singapore in November. The outlet, which claims 6 million visitors a month, also makes money on ads and consulting.
My guess is that as the coronavirus spreads, we’ll see more crypto events being canceled. Some conferences are opting to go the “decentralized” route and put everything on video, but I just don’t see that being too popular. Most crypto people go to conferences to network and party — the talks, not so much.
A bigger threat: Crypto ice age
The bigger problem here is the crypto ice age, a term that refers to the general slowdown in the space that set in after 2017 due to increased regulation and the plunge in the price of bitcoin. As David Gerard details in a recent blog post, crypto media publications and low-end blogs are now collectively chasing an ever-shrinking pool of ad funds.
In general, the media advertising model has gone the way of the dinosaur. Subscriptions work for some publications. But big outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal who employ the model successfully have hundreds of thousands of readers. The crypto world simply does not have that big of a following.
Events are a big deal for many crypto pubs, and if that important revenue stream dries up, it could push some outlets to the breaking point. Expect more layoffs in 2020 with some crypto pubs and blogs falling off the map completely.
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