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Are Hybrid Events the Future of Corporate Video?

Are hybrid meetings the new normal for corporate communications, presentations, and training? Andy Howard, Founder & Managing Director, Howard & Associates, discusses this topic with Waseem Ahmad, Associate Director, Global Lead Streaming Media Services, EY, and Dan Swiney, Head of Media Engineering, LinkedIn, in this clip from Streaming Media Connect 2023.

Howard begins by asking Ahmad, “Where do we go from here? What are your new initiatives that you’re looking at?”

Ahmad argues that the levels of engagement should be the same for both the in-person and remote attendees. “Your ability to communicate with the presenters, submit QA, polling, or even to some degree interact between audiences is critical,” he says. “I don't believe that we're ever going to see a shift back to full-on, in-person, large audiences or to completely virtual. There's pros and cons to each. I strongly believe that a virtual element will be attached to any type of event or experience unless it's some super top-secret CEO meeting. But when it comes to events [now]…there will always be a virtual [element]. It’s just trying to figure out that engagement piece, which is, I think, the most challenging when it comes to signal acquisition.” He emphasizes that by this point, there is so much gear and tech that is available and affordable that launching well-produced hybrid events is well within most organizations' abilities.

“I'll give you a quick glance of the life I live every day,” Ahmad says. “This is me, right?” He switches to a camera aimed at his back, which reveals him sitting at a desk before an array of screens and equipment. “I’m a vMix shop,” he says. “We have multiple remote studios like this at homes. They're redundant internet, we’ve got Cisco switches…We treat it like it's a facility. It actually is. But this type of stuff gives us the capability to be rapid and adaptive to any type of vendor [in] any type of situation. And it doesn't mean that we can't partner with a huge studio based out of New York or London and do a mix and match of whatever the production requires.” He points to a screen up to his right. “Just right now, you'll see a Zoom session on the side. That's our green room. And there's a live event happening right now, and I'm pulling an SRT from my partner and setting that out as a backup...and I also have a recording going, and if he goes down, I can just flip to my instance of the show and the audience has no idea, right? So there's a space for all of this stuff. It's really going to come down to you understanding your client and you understanding what that production needs. Of course, you can't do this for everything. This is the top shop stuff. But this methodology just needs to be ironed out for your environment and for your organization.”

Howard asks, “You do everything over the network now? Have you totally gotten rid of SDI and connections like that? You use NDI and SRT?”

“NDI is great,” Ahmad says. “It has its place, definitely. But if I could choose SDI over NDI I would – we have physical studios across key offices, and we still use those. And we might do that because we have a group of speakers that are present in that office that day, and they want to come in from there. So we'll have switching, coming off from that end, bringing a signal into here, we're mixing it with remote speakers. And they can all see and hear each other, and the audience sees a nice mixed show. So it's art. It really is [an] art how we put these things together and what we present to the audience.”

Howard asks Swiney for his thoughts on the subject.

Swiney notes that he likes the approach of equalizing audience engagement for both remote and in-person participants, and he says that it was something that LinkedIn struggled with in the pre-pandemic days. For LinkedIn’s largest current show, Talent Connect, he recounts how it was a more static presentation online versus a more dynamic production today. “It used to be a number of cameras pointed to a stage, and you just kind of got what you got,” he says. “We got through all of that before Covid by having a dedicated studio that had content just for the audience. Now, often most of our audience is going to be remote, right? Sometimes there are smaller, more defined audiences, but most of the time, your actual big numbers are remote. So there's a lot of work that goes into onsite in terms of creating engagement and allowing [for] interaction of the people there. But what we try to do, and we have our stream teams.” He talks about Chris Packard, Manager, Live Programming & Streaming for LinkedIn. “He is responsible for…not only the acquisition of the stream but also the distribution. He's got a lot of tools for acquisition on the streaming and restream [sides], and others.”

Swiney further highlights how audiences should be perceived and treated during hybrid events. “Thinking about that audience, [what’s] always been my mantra is ‘Respect the audience.’ How would you step into the event? Are there 10 pages of registration that you have to do? Is there no way to communicate? Is there no recording? Is there no follow-up? All those pieces we knew were a thing have now become an expected normal. So that's one of the advantages of this ‘fast forward,’ this speed up that happened with Covid bringing technology that might have taken, I don't know, five, 10 years to come up. Now that's all fast-forwarded. And so we have those options. It's a lot of choice, but [also] trusting people who are watching this and who are on this panel to actually make the key decisions to choose it.”

Learn more about hybrid events at Streaming Media East 2023.

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