Microsoft to take most of its external and internal events for the next year digital-only

Microsoft is moving to make most of its external (and some internal) events digital-only for its FY'21 in light of impacts of the coronavirus. Yes, that means Ignite 2020 for sure and likely Build 2021, too.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

Given the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, many Microsoft watchers had been expecting Microsoft to cancel its in-person Ignite IT pro conference, slated for September 2020 in New Orleans. But it seems Microsoft is going a considerable bit further and is planning to make many of its external and internal events for its fiscal 2021 (which runs July 2020 to June 2021) digital ones. 

If Microsoft follows through with its current plan -- which I'm hearing about from my sources -- this will mean Ignite 2020, Ignite The Tour, the MVP Summit 2021 and Build 2021 also will be digital-only events. 

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that Microsoft events happening through the end of calendar 2020 are all going digital. 

The official statement provided to me when I asked: "In light of the challenges presented by COVID-19, we are adjusting our event calendar and strategy. For the remainder of 2020, we are embracing the opportunity to experiment with new platforms to provide our partners, customers, and developers the highest quality, digital-first experiences."  (So yes, that means Ignite 2020 is not going to be an in-person event.) 

Update: Microsoft also has added an update to its Ignite 2020 website acknowledging it is now a digital-only event. The wording: "Microsoft Ignite will be launched as a digital event experience this September. Join us to learn innovative ways to build solutions, migrate and manage your infrastructure, and connect with Microsoft experts and other technology professionals from around the globe."

I asked if Microsoft also would confirm that events happening in the first half of calendar 2021 (the second part of its fiscal 2021 year) also are being designated as digital-only. "We will continue to evaluate the event landscape, but that is what we have to share at this time," the spokesperson said.

Update (April 6): Microsoft is now officially confirming that the company has decided to make all external and internal events to digital ones through July 2021. (Thanks @gcaughey).

The relevant text of the MVP Summit email (courtesy of Ginny Caughey):


"In light of the challenges presented by Covid-19, Microsoft has been closely monitoring the developing global situation and re-assessing the overall company-wide in-person event strategy. As a company, Microsoft has made the decision to transition all external and internal events to a digital-first experience through July 2021. This will include future MVP & RD Summit which is currently scheduled for March 28-April 2, 2021. We will continue to evaluate the situation and look forward to connecting in person when the situation allows."

Now back to my original post:

Microsoft already had announced that it had canceled its in-person MVP Summit which was going to be in Seattle in March 2020. It also canceled its in-person Build 2020 developers conference, slated for mid-May in Seattle, as well as its Inspire 2020 partner conference in July in Las Vegas. Build normally attracts about 5,000 attendees; Inspire has attracted 40,000 attendees and Ignite as many as 25,000. The MVP Summit, Build and Ignite events this year were/are going to be digital-only, officials have said publicly,

Microsoft officials are notifying some teams internally on March 31 about the decision to cancel most of the company's major public events for fiscal 2021 according to my contacts. The thinking in canceling so early is the more lead time the company has, the better its virtual events will be. It also sounds like Microsoft has been encouraged by how it's done so far this year in turning planned in-person events, like its MVP Summit, into virtual ones.

My contacts say Microsoft hasn't decided definitively to make every event in FY'21 digital. It still is looking at participating in person in some third-party events, especially once travel has been deemed safe and in cases where the company's competitors are attending.

Microsoft has its own Channel 9 Studios which have been helping produce a number of its digital events. The company also has been ramping up the use of its Teams group-collaboration platform to produce events like the MVP Summit this year.

In what may or may not be a coincidence, Microsoft officials posted guidance for customers about which platforms to use when for online meetings and live events. Microsoft's guidance is to use Teams meetings for smaller groups who need to actively interact, but to use Microsoft 365 Live Events for one-to-many or few-to-many scenarios like keynotes, town halls, and panel discussions.

Officials also said that through July 1, 2020, Microsoft is temporarily enabling up to 100,000 attendee events using its Live Events Assistance Program. Microsoft 365 Live Events allows users to deliver immersive broadcasts to larger audiences while maintaining interactive conversations, questions, and answers with studio-quality production if warranted. Thes Live Events can be hosted in Teams or Yammer.

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