Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

O’Reilly closes the live conference business

Event cancellations in the wake of the coronavirus scare have prompted O’Reilly to make a permanent pivot to digital online events.

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The coronavirus scare has claimed yet another economic casualty that, in this case, will have a major impact on the tech world. O'Reilly Media, which runs events like Strata Data and OSCON, has decided to shut down its live conference business for good.

It comes in the wake of a series of cancellations triggered by travel bans and shelter-in-place directives that have canceled virtually all live events over the spring season, which along with fall is a peak time for technology conferences. The first domino to fall was the Mobile World Congress that was originally set for Barcelona last month. Looking ahead, some events like Google Cloud NEXT 2020 have been indefinitely postponed, while others, like Microsoft Build 2020, are being converted to digital online events.

O'Reilly had already pulled the plug on its spring series, such as the San Jose Strata Data conference, that was originally scheduled a couple weeks back.

The news came in a letter this afternoon from O'Reilly vice president of content Rachel Roumeliotis stating, "I'm writing to inform you that we have made the difficult decision to shutter the in-person conference business at O'Reilly including the upcoming Strata Data & AI Conference."

At this point, the ink on O'Reilly's announcement is so new that its website has not yet been updated. It still lists events such as the Software Architecture Conference, Infrastructure & Ops Conference, and TensorFlow World – in addition to OSCON and Strata – on the calendar for the next six months.

The irony is that, with the emergence of broadband allowing work to go virtual, that the future of conferences was supposed to be put in jeopardy. Yet, with work becoming more virtual, attendance at conferences actually spiked. The isolation of working from home actually boosted demand for having the types of random interactions that are possible only when people physically gather. And not surprisingly, city after city expanded their convention centers. On a personal note, we'll find the absence of Strata and other O'Reilly events as a huge gap, as they gave us the chance to get a handle on the pulse of the business without the usual filters.

O'Reilly is not totally pulling out of the event business, but the future will be online. In the same note, Roumeliotis added, "We are definitely going to be innovating in the virtual space."

Postscript: Here is the bulletin that O'Reilly Media subsequently released explaining its decision.