My favorite corporate shows are new drug rollouts for big pharmaceutical companies. These extravaganzas have lots of moving lights, pyrotechnics, sound effects, production numbers, acrobats, and lots of video. You are guaranteed to have giant screens in the room showing cameras, produced video pieces, speech support, and sometimes projected scenery. Usually, the audience is all in one place, but more and more, there are viewers somewhere across the country or on the other side of the world. Plus, many events have a post-production audience consisting of stock analysts, shareholders, or customers that will see an edited version of the show at a later time, perhaps later that same day.
Early in discussions with the client, I have to tactfully ask, “What will the remote audiences see and hear?” If they watch the feed to the local screen, they might get the data, but they will miss all the dynamic elements of the event. By the same token, the audio mix that works in the room might be unintelligible to remote listeners. Instructing the show technicians to provide broadcast-specific feeds (without any extra gear) will be a slight improvement, but the engineers will still be focused on the local event. Even with extra equipment, they only have two hands. To put it bluntly, the satellite audience will get the sloppy seconds — views from a static camera, preset audio mixes, and fuzzy computer slides. Odds are, the client won't be happy.
Traditional AV doesn't have the complete solution to this problem. In AV terms, broadcast simply means getting audio and video from one place to another. Integrating the live stage show with the live TV show while meeting the needs of a post-production editing session requires techniques from video production, television, and stage production — three audiences, three disciplines. And which audience is most important to the client? All of them.
When customers want a great live show, a solid uplink, and a perfect record, they will have to balance those goals against costs. The formula for broadcasting successfully to multiple audiences is to approach the event as if it were many. Producing for the big screen is different from small screens. Treat each destination independently first, and then look for ways to share resources. For instance, the live show with big video screens and simultaneous satellite broadcast needs two video switchers and two operators, but it probably only needs one engineer. Adding a video director will get even more out of the available cameras and effects. In extreme cases, two audiences may require separate cameras and graphics sources (and another director), but a with few compromises and careful planning, those elements can be shared.
The differences in audio for a local audience versus an uplink are even more significant than video. In the best of worlds, an audio split of all sources is mixed specifically for the TV show. At the very least, a second audio engineer should be mixing sub-groups provided from the main desk along with some ambient mic'ing. While this sounds like you are creating two opposing camps, by giving everyone the right tools to do the job, you are actually creating a team that is equipped to reconcile problems without taking the show down. The person responsible for mixing the room will not have to address problems related to mixing for the broadcast and vice versa. Only then can the integrities of the shows within the show be maintained.
The same equation applies to recording the meeting. Most corporate events that involve a video camera will be taped. Whether the tape will ever be used or not is moot. Who wants to be the guy who decided not to record it? So video record is often an afterthought, which means any extra cost that might be associated with doing it right does not get approved. “It's for archive only” is a phrase that terrifies event professionals the world over. It means, “We don't want to pay a lot for this, but when we get around to looking at it, it had better be perfect.” Again, a second or third front requires more gear and people, but sometimes, the needs of record are close enough to the needs of the broadcast that they can be combined. In the end, the savings from not having to pay for post-production will often pay for the costs of a well-managed switched record.
Every customer is concerned with costs, and the initial response to a comprehensive broadcast video solution is usually shock and awe. As an AV provider, our job is to find the right combination of technology and people to achieve the communication goals of our clients at the quality level they need. An economical digital switcher, a couple of inexpensive video camcorders, and a laptop computer with a video output can provide an adequate signal for a web cast or even a satellite uplink. Recording for post-production requires a level of technology commensurate with the final application, but today's digital technology makes this much more affordable. Large-screen projection is the most demanding application in terms of image quality, as it requires high-resolution images. (Broadcast television is required to broadcast in HDTV, but it can still be produced in standard video). Because corporate events usually begin with a video screen requirement, that will drive how the uplink or record is handled.
So when you prepare for a broadcast event, ask a few extra questions about the viewing audiences and be prepared to explain compromises when the budget doesn't match the number of broadcasts. For each audience, there is a group of stakeholders that need to come together and agree on what a successful outcome looks like. When their decision is an informed one, you can set benchmarks for success that reflect a balance between needs and budget. Your job may be part moderator, part referee, but the show, in all its incarnations, will depend on an informed team of technicians that understands where its focus needs to be.
Tom Stimson, MBA, CTS, is director of sales and operations at Alford Media Services in Dallas, TX. He has over 25 years experience in corporate theatre and is a member of the InfoComm International Board of Governors and the ETCP Certification Council. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.