Will video kill the academic research seminar?

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting academic activity in a massive way. Conferences are cancelled for months in the future and research seminars are halted. Research seminars are starting to recover by moving online and future events are being re-designed as online meetings.

The website of the American Economic Association features a list of world wide, open, online seminars and events. The reason people are opening their seminar is because a typical payment plan of a video streaming platform will throw in unlimited scale for free with a moderately priced subscription. So seminar organizers feel that they can maximize the reach of their seminar for free. Make no mistake: it may well be that there is no substitute for a face to face but scale and cost reductions are interesting and hence online meetings might stay with us even after the coronavirus pandemic.

What does a world in which all seminars are online and open look like? If I can attend any seminar in the world from my home office does it even make sense that I too organize one? After all the reason I pay to fly out a speaker is to expose my local research group to quality research but now this exposure is abundant.

What does it mean for me as a presenter to present in one seminar and not another if seminars are online and open? As a presenter I choose where to present based on the perks of flying out (flight class, hotel, restaurants, museums, culture) and the quality of the place I am visiting i.e. of its local audience. But now the former is gone and I can get any audience anywhere without (alas) unfortunately knowing who is or will be in the audience…

People use a handful of video streaming platforms most of which are in the AWS cloud. So this is almost as if they use one single platform. Soon we will have to have a directory of the seminars as well (like AEA did) so your seminar will be just another entry in a calendar with a speaker and your logo. You cannot even be sure that your own researchers will attend yours and not another. So why would people still organize them?

If organizations continue to see a benefit competing for speakers (something unclear as yet) a compensation system for speakers might emerge to offset the absence of traveling perks. But why will organizations do so? A single platform might emerge facilitating the matching of seminar speakers to “research seminars” where speakers are compensated financially for a “performance” and an institution (the “organiser”) pays a fee to advertise on the stream thus also acquiring the right-off way for its own local research groups to interact with the speaker whereas all others are passive attendants…

Video might indeed kill the academic research seminar as we know it.

  • Update1: 20200328: HELP! “a weekly Zoom seminar where scholars present their ideas”