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Powered by the Cloud: Taking a fresh look at virtual live events

Grass Valley's Ian Fletcher takes TVBEurope behind the scenes of its GV Live Presents - Engage 2020 event, which was produced entirely in the Cloud.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020 and proceeded to become a global health crisis, the lights were turned off in production studios, sports arenas, and venues around the world.

At the same time, all live business events, such as exhibitions and conferences, were canceled – webinars and Zoom calls abounded as the broadcast technology community strived to maintain the critical connections and conversations that drive our industry forward. At Grass Valley, we were intent on maintaining engagement with our customers and partners, whether they were working in their home or office. We created a fresh and innovative approach to keep our customers informed and help establish an air of normalcy during a time that was anything but normal. 

Pivoting to the virtual world

In March 2020, GV Live Presents was born. At its core, this initiative is about engaging with customers, partners, and industry peers and keeping them engaged. We wanted to deliver a comprehensive debate and vision programme on the key topics driving the TV industry, new product launches, customer case studies, deep-dive product demonstrations, and webinars – entirely on a virtual platform.

The Engage 2020 live newscast that took place in October this year formed a key component of this virtual offering. Our aim was to create a truly innovative and engaging programme, giving customers and partners a vital opportunity to connect with us in the absence of the annual industry gatherings in Las Vegas and Amsterdam. 

Making it happen

To bring the events to life, we decided there was no better way to showcase the capability of a newly launched, Cloud-based SaaS product – which is ideally suited for live production environments – than to produce a whole live event ourselves. 

We used our game-changing GV AMPP (Agile Media Production Platform) Cloud-based production system to run the entire live production for both events. The very same technology that our customers – like esports giant Blizzard Entertainment – deployed to connect with their global audiences helped create our virtual offering. We gave attendees a firsthand look at how this revolutionary approach to live production could seamlessly handle multiple live feeds from various locations worldwide.

Production for the event was spread across seven sites and two continents, with everything from animated graphics, live video feeds, and master control orchestration through to pre-recorded live video feeds, interviews, and panel sessions handled entirely in the Cloud. The new GV AMPP System Dashboard was pivotal to the smooth running of the production, providing an overview of the entire infrastructure deployed to put the live newscast together. It let us bring lots of different components – the main production switcher, multiple clip players, and a secondary mixer – onto the same screen, so we had a clear view of exactly what was happening across the entire workflow.

Taking a virtual, Cloud approach also freed the production team from being in a single physical location. We had a small production crew of three, including the director and technical director (TD), in a Covid-safe environment at the Florida studio, audio and master control were handled from the UK, and clip playback out of Belgium. 

Although the TD was calling the shots from Florida, none of the vision processing was done there. Instead, we took the four live camera feeds, and fed them into our GV AMPP 1RU servers, where they were encoded and sent to an AWS datacenter in Oregon – at low latency – over the public internet. Additional feeds were coming in from our offices in Breda, in the Netherlands, Newbury, UK, and Crown Point in Grass Valley, California as part of the multi-camera, multi-person discussions.

One of the live newscast’s standout features is the minimal delay between the presenter communicating to panelists at the other side of the world. Although the video feeds of each of the panelists were arriving at the datacentre at slightly different times because they were coming from different parts of the world, GV AMPP automatically time-aligned the feeds and seamlessly managed latency throughout. As a result, the Grass Valley leaders could interact and engage naturally, without any awkward pauses or time lags.

It was quite a complex show for us to pull off, but GV AMPP was flawless. We didn’t experience any technical problems during the entire production.

Changing the virtual game

Grass Valley not only revolutionised Cloud-based remote production with GV AMPP, we showed that innovative virtual events – when done right – are a real gamechanger and provide an entirely new platform for the industry to connect and communicate. 

The GV Live Presents program and the Innovate 2020 and Engage 2020 virtual live events speak to Grass Valley’s status as a true industry pioneer; we don’t just talk about breaking barriers – we do it. We’re excited to show even more innovation in the coming months.

GV Live Presents – Innovate 2020 and Engage 2020 events have been hugely successful, allowing us to connect and engage the media and entertainment community. The two live newscasts drew over 5,000 registrations with over 3,000 live and on-demand attendees.

We look forward to pushing the envelope further with our next live events.