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Tech Talk: Ins and Outs of Providing Virtual Services

The current pandemic has certainly spurred creativity in reaching out to target audiences and keeping businesses afloat. In Singapore, a fishmonger has become a “star” with his daily video via Facebook promoting the catch on display. Recently the popular K-pop group BTS racked in about USD20 million for a paid virtual concert, that also drew a fantastic 756,000 fans. Several exhibitions have taken the virtual route as well. Events too where feasible are heading in that direction. In the last issue, we highlighted CTME’s involvement in the virtual graduation ceremony for a university in Qatar. ETA went back to CTME to get a low-down on the ins and outs of providing a virtual service. We thank James Crump – Middle East Sales Manager, CTME, for answering our queries.

Did CTME already have the solutions to create the virtual graduation, or was it a recent investment?
CTME have had the technology and ability to provide clients with streaming and virtual solutions for a while now. However, demand in the region has always been for physical events with live audiences. Obviously, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a real need for clients to find ways to allow events to reach the public. CTME has been able to take our existing technology coupled with new technology that we are continuously investing in, to ensure we can deliver the creative vision of our clients whether it be in a virtual environment or a real-world physical presence.

What are the basic equipment requirements to create a virtual event?
CTME follows the theory that there are three key pillars to a Virtual event. Contribution, Production and Distribution.

Contribution is the first consideration. How are the speakers accessing the virtual event? Will they need to be in a studio environment? Are they able to be pre-recorded, or will they be using one of the various video calling platforms available? Things to consider in the Contribution stage also include how the client would like the event to look – will it require multi-camera angles or a single point of reference. What are the inputs to the event, are there presentations, videos and speakers as well as potentially a live speaker/host?

The second consideration is Production. Based on the number of inputs will the event require live switching. CTME has access to multiple platforms depending on the client requirement and desired look of the event, so will the virtual event require augmented reality functionality and features available using notch. Many people assume that a virtual event will require fewer operators than a physical event. However, depending on the number of inputs and schedules the same amount of operators are still needed – media server operators, audio engineers and video engineers all need to control different elements of the Virtual event, just as they would with a live physical event.

The final consideration is Distribution. Where is the endpoint for the Virtual Event? Is it going to multiple platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, clients website? Is the client hosting the webpage, or do we need to create and host a dedicated site? Once the event is finished, does the client want it to be available to watch on-demand?

It is important to note we use encryption technology so your virtual event can be 100% secure.

What is the expertise required to create a virtual event?
People are the key to any event, whether it is virtual or physical. Without the experienced technicians, operators and developers working together with our custom Virtual Event platforms, it would be impossible to realize the client’s creative visions.

CTME uses many of the essential items we use daily in our live events work such as disguise media servers, Barco screen control and Riedel Comms to provide a comprehensive virtual workflow that allows a high level of flexibility with our solutions and ensures a high standard result for the client.

What are all the considerations to be taken into account when providing a virtual event service?
While it’s challenging to list all of the considerations, the key factors to take into account are how do you want the virtual event to be viewed. Not all viewers will be watching on a computer. Many will be on a phone or a tablet, so its key to ensure that the creative vision takes this into account. A screen can only show so much information, so make sure the virtual environment is not so vast that it takes away from the key focus points.

How many speakers/presenters will be involved and will they all be dialling in from different locations. Each input requires management and bandwidth, so its key to understand this in advance to ensure there is sufficient bandwidth and to ensure a reliable broadcast.

What kind of interaction do you want with the audience? Do you want them to be able to ask questions and converse with the speakers or hosts, in which case do you want this to be verbal communication or via a comment section that can be monitored?

In the Middle East, many events have to be viewable in both Arabic and English, so it’s essential to consider the best way to do this. If the interpretation is done remotely, then it can add a delay to the stream as the feed needs to be sent, translated and received back by the video engineer before it is streamed to the desired location.

Virtual environments don’t have the physical parameters and restrictions that come into a live physical event such as gravity or weight loads of structures, so you can be very creative in the design stage, but for many, it’s important to keep it realistic to make the audience feel they are still watching a live event.

Security is a crucial concern for many clients, and it’s essential to be able to offer encrypted feeds with high levels of security protocols to keep the client’s data private and safe. Some of the standard video calling software available at the moment does not have this in place, so it’s important to make clients aware of this and be able to offer a safe and secure solution.

It is felt very strongly that the live experience cannot be replaced virtually. However, do you think it will become more common for virtual events to complement live events?
Live events are a much more sensory experience, interacting with other audience members, seeing the physicality of the environment, the set, stage and audiovisual elements and it’s an experience that is very hard to replicate on a computer screen, phone or tablet.

That being said, even before the COVID-19 outbreak CT and the NEP group as a whole have been actively involved using Virtual environments and Augmented reality in live event environments. The COVID-19 outbreak has increased demand for these services, and once live events start taking place again, we believe that there will be a substantial overlap between virtual services and physical services. The use of Virtual elements can be used to enhance the physical event. As it’s clear to see, certain parts of the world will return to a sense of normality sooner than others, the virtual solutions and streaming allow clients to get the event to those that may still not be able to attend due to restrictions.

Are there other exciting virtual event projects that CTME has been involved in?
CTME are actively involved in a number of virtual events that will be showcased in due time. In addition, we have also finished setting up a dedicated virtual studio that gives our clients the ability to produce high-level virtual events and use advanced tools such as tracking cameras where the virtual environment will react and change to the camera movement just as it would in a physical environment.

While we are sure the rest of the AV world is looking forward to the return of live events, we are definitely seeing an overlap and will continue to invest and develop our virtual capabilities in conjunction with the products and services we already offer.