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Elevating Remote Production in the Cloud

Pushing the Limits

We had special elements created for each of the show’s seminars that factored into our workflow. These included a pre-start-of-day video countdown, a pre-seminar graphic for each seminar, a post-seminar graphic, and an end-of-day slide (Figure 2, below). We could also use animated GIFs to build animated lower-thirds for each guest. Instead, we opted to make sure each guest used the integrated customizable title to include his or her name and organization. We could manually fade these in and out throughout the show for anyone who was on-screen in StreamYard. Simple is often the order of the day.

Figure 2. Overlays, countdown videos, and other special graphics elements are accessible in the right-hand panel. Click the image to see it at full size.

With just a couple of days to go, the event producers added another person, who would do an introduction before each panel session. Suddenly, we found ourselves over the limit again because you can’t do a session with four panelists plus a producer and then onboard five more people for the next panel as well as the person who will be on-screen for 1 minute just to introduce the panel. That’s 11 people. We suggested to the organizers that they prerecord introductions so we could just drop in the video. But there wasn’t time to wrangle all of the media. So we let them know that one person from the second panel would have to wait until the first panel ended and people left before we could bring him or her on board.

Thankfully, there was also a short video in between each panel. This gave us a few minutes to get everyone situated, so our predicament was not as desperate as it might initially have seemed. For 2 days, we had everyone on-screen who was scheduled to be on-screen. Every panel discussion went smoothly. Overall, the event was very successful, drawing many compliments from the attendees.

As it turned out, there were only a few people who had to wait until the previous panel cleared before they were able to get on. We could pick who that one person was and let them know ahead of time that we’d need them to wait before onboarding them. We could see an alert when that 11th person was trying to log on, and they, in turn, received an alert that the session was full until other panelists started to leave (Figure 3, below). Also, through the careful arrangement of sessions, we could maximize our connections. We knew that one or two sessions would have someone from an outside organization speak first and then leave without participating in the discussion. By placing this session in front of a larger five-person panel, we were able to reduce the previous panel by one, meaning that no one had to wait.

Figure 3. This warning appears when the StreamYard studio is full and an 11th panelist attempts to log in.

Issues

As with any live production, some issues arose. Foremost was the remote guests’ setup and bandwidth, which we can’t control. We tried to have most people do a “tech check” before the actual conference began, but many were not able to fit a tech rehearsal into their already busy schedules. So we needed to onboard some remote participants without any advance knowledge of their camera placement, lighting, or audio. Via StreamYard’s
chat tool, we did our best to communicate with them to elevate their camera or close drapes, blinds, or shutters on windows behind them.

StreamYard lacks a dedicated back channel for speaking with off-screen guests while a show is live. The feature has been requested many times in the user groups, so maybe Stream­Yard will make it available at some point.

Another hurdle we had was playing the videos. While StreamYard supports preloading and playing back short videos of less than 5 minutes, there are two ways to get longer videos into StreamYard. The first option is to share a Google Chrome tab with audio (other browsers are not supported), and the second is to use a discrete video playback app.

The Chrome approach works fairly well, but it makes it impossible to move seamlessly to another video (Figure 4, below). To change which tab is being shared, the producer needs to stop sharing, then start a new screen share and select the other tab. The instant StreamYard loads the producer’s screen share, StreamYard automatically puts it in the show, dominating the screen. StreamYard does not automatically activate anyone else’s screen share, so this is an unfortunate feature/bug for the host/producer.

Figure 4. Using Chrome to play videos longer than 5 minutes. Click the image to see it at full size.

I used multiple tabs so that I could preload each video, test it, listen to it, and adjust the audio level so it would be more consistent for each video through the entire event. Preloading these tabs eliminated many little technical things I’d have to go through in the midst of switching the show. Moreover, once a Chrome tab has a video, there’s not an easy way to swap it with another video. Dropping another video onto that tab automatically puts the new video in a new tab. So, multiple tabs are required.

Having the video I’m preloading for the next session pop on-screen for a couple of seconds is very distracting to everyone involved. I wish even the producer’s own screen share required a manual activation to become part of the show—just like every guest’s screen share. But that’s not how it works at this moment. Of course, that can change any day if StreamYard responds to user feedback and decides to update it.

We worked around the screen-sharing issue with the second approach mentioned earlier: using a separate video playback app that can be loaded into StreamYard via Virtual Camera (with sound). With this approach, I simply activate my camera, make it fullscreen, and play the video. Again, this is not a perfect solution, because it takes numerous steps to activate my camera/video input, make it fullscreen, click Play on the video, and then manually mute everyone’s mic.

StreamYard’s built-in video playback is automatically fullscreen and automatically mutes all microphones when playing. That’s the way we wanted to do it, but the 5-minute video cap forced us to find a workaround.

StreamYard and other tools tout support for 10 remote guests but, in reality, the producer takes up an on-screen seat (Figure 5, below). So there are really only nine openings. Many users have asked for non-camera connections for producers. I have also had clients who wanted to sit in on productions or bring in a third, off camera person to run slides and then another person to copy comments from the audience page into the StreamYard chat so the panelists could easily and conveniently see them without having to keep another window open. Be aware that every producer role you add currently takes up a remote guest’s connection into these cloud apps.

Figure 5. Note that the producer (“Anthony–Producer,” bottom row, left) takes up an online seat in the production.

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