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Live Video Production Hits the Biggest Tech Show on Earth: CES

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Even the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) needs to learn about new technologies. In the case of live video, the CTA learned how surprisingly simple it is.

Formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the CTA is a trade organization for the consumer electronics industry. Among other things, it’s responsible for the massive CES conference that takes place in Las Vegas every January. The 2016 show attracted more than 170,000 attendees, 50,000 of whom came from outside the United States. The show was covered by 6,000 journalists who crawled the 2.5 million square feet of exhibition space looking for the newest and the coolest.

With all those reporters on hand, there was no shortage of video from the show. But the one thing there hasn’t been is live video coverage created by the CTA itself. In 2016, that finally changed.

The CTA is no stranger to video. For the 2015 CES, the show’s organizers recorded approximately 18 terabytes of video over the event’s 4 days, mostly of presentations and discussions that it organized. That video was released as on-demand video files after the show concluded.

Approximately the same amount of video was recorded in 2016. For this year’s show, however, the organizers decided they wanted to give people who couldn’t attend a more immediate experience. It was time to go live. The problem was, the organizers made that decision with little time to prepare.

“It was late in the year. I think it was probably the September, October time frame,” says Sean Parker, director of digital media for the CTA. “For us that’s extremely late in the year to even start thinking about a new project. We’re going into quarter four, and at that point we start counting days instead of months. That’s like 90 days out. We’re like, ‘OK, we’re going.’”

While the CTA hadn’t streamed live video from the show before, it wasn’t starting completely from scratch. Parker had some live video experience, thanks to a previous job as the director of digital media for the Washington Capitals. The team streamed some preseason games and had a live weekly show. The CTA began experimenting with live video around the time Parker came onboard. The agency, which is based near Washington, D.C., live-streamed a visit by Senator Mark Warner so that employees who were offsite that day could still hear his remarks.

The CTA had also livestreamed video from CES before, although only on a limited basis. The organizers streamed sessions from the event’s Innovation Policy Summit a few times. Centered on governmental affairs and policies that impact the tech industry, the streams were watched by insiders back in D.C.

“I’d long been an advocate of live streaming, thinking that actually provides a really great way to extend your audience beyond who’s in the room, at generally a low cost for entry,” Parker says.

For this year’s show, the CTA wanted to expand its live streaming experiment so that anyone could watch. It had worked with uStudio in one of its previous live streaming experiments, and since it didn’t have much time to audition vendors, it chose to partner with uStudio again. The setup took place over a series of phone calls and emails, with Parker asking uStudio representatives about live streaming requirements and what resources the CTA needed to have in place. After a few group calls that explained how to set up a live workflow and once management gave its approval, Parker’s team was ready to go.

The CTA chose to start with a modest output and only livestream four sessions from CES. All four sessions took place on the CTA Stage, which was in the Grand Lobby of the Las Vegas Convention Center. For those who have been there, this is the large common area between North Hall and Central Hall. It’s the most visible area in the convention center. The four sessions the CTA chose to livestream were all media roundtables—quick discussions about what would take place that day and the major trends that were emerging from the show. There was no testing of the equipment or the live streaming workflow before the first day of the show.

Almost immediately, however, the CTA’s careful live streaming plans started to change. In this case, the change was for the better.

“A couple of guys from uStudio were going to be onsite. We met up with them and they came down to the CTA Stage and worked with some of the people we had working the stage and capturing video. They had set up a couple of the streams for us in our streaming box, had showed us how to do it. They supplied the people who were working the stage with an app that was really super easy. It was a start, stop, start, stop, sort of thing,” Parker says. “At that point, it was so easy that we said, ‘How many more can we add?’ We ended up adding quite a few other sessions.”

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