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Mike Halliday, Director of Multimedia and Infrastructure at Cordless, considers the evolving role of AV design for event spaces and auditoria in meeting our new hybrid work demands…

Live events made available to remote participants is nothing new. Originally radio and then televised distribution delivered live events into people’s homes; now in the 21st century it has become the norm for high profile events to be streamed live on the internet, either directly from a corporate website, or by using one of the many available streaming platforms such as YouTube. Often such a feature is provided either completely free, or behind a paywall, and recordings can be delivered on-demand. Today, in the (semi) post-Covid workplace, we are increasingly seeing such a requirement coming from a wider range of clients and companies.

Having designed and delivered many event spaces and auditoria over the years, provisioning cameras and microphones for presenters has been one of the many baseline requirements. Combined with quality production lighting, good acoustics, a good backdrop, and some form of technician control and operation, it is relatively straightforward to design a system capable of an excellent live feed or recording of a given event.

However, as live event distribution requirements expand beyond such a baseline and start to be seen as increasingly critical for a wider range of events and presentations, the design of the system must be adapted accordingly. Some fundamental elements of traditional event production are being challenged, to the point where clients are often asking their users to deliver a quality, live-streamed event without technician support in spaces designed for standard meetings as well.

As technology consultants we are constantly exposed to new ideas, designs and methodologies. Through working on new projects, we see both clients and design teams looking to push boundaries and ensure delivery is both innovative and cost-effective. Even on projects where the brief is to replicate previous standards, we frequently get to flex our creative muscles and design and deliver forward-thinking solutions that meet a client’s requirements both for now and in the future. The notion of hybrid events is one of the latest trends that pushes design teams into new territory.

As with all projects, our designs are based on requirements, so we begin by identifying relevant stakeholders to ascertain their vision for what they wish to achieve. Part of the process involves managing expectations, and when qualifying the requirements, we reach a point where key elements are defined and given priority over those that are non-essential and just “nice to have”.

With live events, a few requirements are being now being requested consistently: the need for self-operation, flexibility, quality, and most importantly, user engagement. Whilst a client’s use case can often be met by a typical UC platform such as Zoom, there is always a compromise when compared to more comprehensive platforms. All-in-one studio boxes containing enhanced features such as vision mixing, live graphics, and integration with streaming platforms are often an attractive alternative, but even these systems can prove too complex for most users to operate effectively. Automatic tracking cameras and automatic audio mixers help keep user operation to a minimum but creating an event that contains camera switching that can keep up with that of a technician-operated production remains challenging. And unless live graphics are restricted to the beginning and end, typical users will be unable to include these at all during a live event and they will be limited to post-production editing for on-demand viewing at a later date.

Room design remains of course a key factor, and users requiring flexibility are inevitably met with compromise. Studio lighting either needs to be mobile, increasing operational cost and challenges for users, or permanently installed which can detract from the experience of a room’s alternative uses. Chromakey backdrops comprising retractable curtains are increasingly popular due to their flexibility and their acoustic benefits, but once again there lies the challenge of achieving quality results without technician support. Good acoustics should always be a high priority of any conferencing space, but the performance specifications increase when users are looking for high quality production for events.

Finally, user-engagement is where internet-based delivery can separate itself from traditional television and radio broadcasts. The ability for users to interact with content that is being watched either via comments, emojis, or even becoming a presenter or being brought into the production via video link as part of a Q&A session, is unmatched by one-way broadcast systems. However, the sheer variety of potential use cases creates challenges for design teams, as this is an area where technology is driving possibilities at a frantic rate. Maintaining the ability for simple operation, whilst allowing far-end users to engage and interact with content and presenters, is where both budgets and expectations are often misaligned with what can be provided.

Ultimately, any technology provision needs to be driven by requirements that need to be fully understood, in appropriately designed spaces. Through careful engagement and a strong focus on design and use-cases, truly exciting and progressive solutions can be delivered. As we continually see the latest designs delivered to our clients, we look forward to the future to see what will happen next.

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