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How to Make Sure Audiences Can Access Virtual Events

Virtual event platforms must ensure that virtual audiences don't encounter network and access issues, and one key solution for events with a large number of attendees is staggering entry times, along with adding early arrival incentives such as pre-show content

There are many technical logistics for ensuring that all virtual audiences can smoothly access streaming events. Beyond just setting up the initial capture, some of the biggest challenges can happen with virtual networking. “One of the things that we find is with the proliferation of tools, access to the content is hard,” says Monte Evans, SVP of Video Technology, Cadmium. “Whether it's a Zoom and you have to get the right link or a meeting invite…well, while we think as technologists this is simple, to people like my mother, this is really complicated.” Evans notes that in most homes, networks are “atrocious.” He says that it is important for technicians to focus on simply getting the content delivered in the most efficient way possible, even if there might be issues such as increased latency. Because of the unpredictability of home networks, Evans says that “there are a lot of factors now that are not really in our control that used to be.”

“You're absolutely right,” says Andi Mann, Chief Technology Officer, Qumu. “The network is everything…you know, ‘it's never the network, but it's always the network.’ So, it's absolutely critical.” Another important consideration, he says, is managing the way that users virtually assemble for the event. “Everyone can shuffle into a physical room together, and that's not really a problem,” he says. “Your gating factor is literally the width of the door and how many seats you've got in the room.” But with virtual events, the sudden arrival of a vast number of attendees is what he calls the “thundering herd.”

“When we have a live event about to start,” Mann says, “Literally 20, 30, 40,000 people are trying to get on. And of course, that just creates infinite contention -- anytime any one person tries to get on, another person gets kicked off.” He says that Qumu attempts to stagger the amount of people who enter their virtual lobby en masse. Even a matter of milliseconds of staggered access can help smoothen the process. “If everyone comes in all at once, that thundering herd will absolutely crush you,” he says.

Simon Ball, VP, Product Management, Notified, agrees. He says that at Notified, they closely focus on the logins per second ratio. “How do you make sure that even a millisecond delay on that is going to help you get the audience in, and very big audiences, like 30, 40, 50, 60, 70,000 [member] audiences? And we can support them, but we are advising customers to open up the stream ten minutes early. And if you've got an Enterprise Content Delivery Network (ECDN) in play as well, [it is] even more important to open up the stream. So, it warms all the endpoints.”

“Interesting anecdote about opening up the stream early,” Mann says. “I've worked in large enterprise infrastructure for a long time. When I host web webinars or webcasts, if it's about distributed systems or cloud systems, people turn up right on time or maybe a minute late. [But] anything to do with mainframe systems, 10, 15 minutes early -- all the time. I don't know what it is, but they want to get there early.” He also notes that “redundancy becomes supercritical in hybrid events.” Whereas in a strictly live in-person event, if there is a failure of the projection system or microphone, adjustments can be made quickly. “But you can't have that continuity with your remote audience unless you have redundancy,” he says. “Back up encoders is something we work with and automatic failover between encoders. The quality aspect, having the transcoding and backup transcoding. I know one of the sponsors here is a business called LiveU, which provides a whole box that is fully internally redundant. So that as long as you have a network connection, you can continue to run if a camera fails, if a microphone fails. So having that level of redundancy so that when there are problems you have that continuity, not just for the live audience, but also the remote.”

Ultimately, the way that attendee engagement is managed is crucial. Donald Guzauckas Jr., Vice President, HB Live, remarks to Mann, “To dovetail on what you said about opening up your stream early, I go back to the production value and having pre-show content that encourages people to join even five minutes early. So now that ‘thundering herd’ is showing up over the course of five minutes, as opposed to everybody clicking right at the top of the hour.”

Learn more about Virtual Events at Streaming Media West 2022.

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