• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Live Events; Networked Av Systems;
  • Date: May 2015

By Dan Daley, Special to AVIXA

The shift to cloud computing has revolutionized business. It has removed the server side of the client-server relationship from a specific location and centralized it in vast data centers, where sheer scale helps organizations reap economic and managerial benefits. In financial terms, the change has been especially dramatic: It’s moved what had been pure capex to the cost side of the ledger, turning what had once been millions of dollars in technology costs into a subscription service paid to massive data-processing suppliers, such as like Amazon and Google.

The revolution has even been beneficial to AV service providers.

“We’re a live-event marketing company. We need IT services, but they’re not our specialty,” says Wilson Tang, Senior Director of Experience Design and Digital Strategy at Freeman XP, the two-year-old division of live events giant Freeman. “The cloud moves management of IT onto someone else.”

That translates into an advantage for the live events the company plans and executes. For one thing, the cloud means lots of computing headroom, supporting more — and more complex —  audio and video.

Events tend to be “bursty,” according to Tang, a term he uses to describe the spikes in demand for technology services that events create. He recalls an event in 2014 that quickly maxed out the company’s remote server capacity. “We got an alert, and that used to take days to correct,” he explains. “Now, when we hit the limit, a new server just pops up. We don’t have to maintain capacity all year long that we may only need a few times a year. We can call on it as we need it.”

Another benefit the cloud confers on live events is a significant reduction in hardware that has to be brought to event sites. Individual digital signage locations once needed their own dedicated media servers; now, content can be piped in through the Internet from remote servers and networked between signs.

Analytics and Automation

Tang says the next steps in utilizing the cloud for events are greater automation and, ultimately, analytics. For instance, when sensors detect that a room is at capacity, it will automatically change signage outside the room to direct additional attendees to overflow areas — without humans having to cue the change. That same information can also be used to analyze the relative popularity of certain sessions or panels that are part of the larger event, allowing organizers to refine their agendas for future events. Such computing will be done in the cloud.

So much of everyday life is now lived in the cloud, from social media to messaging, that event AV is simply joining people where they live. Tang expects to see integration of apps, such as Facebook and Spotify, with AV platforms at events as part of a trend toward personalizing the event experience. This paradigm shift — from the broadly collective to the intensely personal — will affect how an AV integrator relates to event production.

“In the past, AV integrators used to be about providing infrastructure,” Tang says. “In the future, it’s going to be about connecting platforms.”

FXPAmong Freeman XP’s newer platforms is a recently-launched second-screen application (pictured), designed, in a sense, to short-circuit the tendency of attendees at events to become distracted by their own mobile devices, checking email or Instagram when event producers would prefer they be listening to the message coming from the stage. The second screen, whose content is derived from the live presentation, comes up on attendees’ smartphones or tablets and engages the audience members on an individual level, while at the same time allowing presenters to gather feedback, such as what slides a viewer may have lingered over and whether or not they tweeted during the presentation. “And this is all managed and powered by the cloud,” says Tang.

Second Screen Becomes Second Nature

Event technology provider PSAV’s Digital Services division has also developed a second-screen application, which its vice president, Brent Rogers, says has been deployed as an engagement strategy, but also as a way to deepen connections. He cited a recent use of the application at a medical conference in which doctors were able to see imaging scans from large presentation screens onstage on their own iPads and other personal devices. They were then able to enter their diagnoses wirelessly and see how their assessments compared with those of the presenters.

“What’s especially useful with this approach is that once the images are on the attendees’ screens, they can use the [haptic] functions, such as pinch, to see something close up,” Rogers explains.

He says this is the newest cloud-related service his division has offered. The medical conference application required additional security functionality, in for the form of user IDs and passwords, due to the confidential nature of the content. “It’s the kind of thing that people are still the least comfortable with initially,” Rogers says, “but once they use it they become very enthusiastic about it. Two to three years from now, it’ll become common.”

Cloud Conferencing

Cloud services are also being used to expand the virtual table for videoconferencing. Whereas the model was once to connect multiple formal videoconference platforms, such as Cisco or Vidyo, via a network switch in PSAV’s own data center, the new cloud-based model allows for much easier integration of mobile platforms, such as Google Talk and Jabber, into a larger conversation.

Such a cloud-based conferencing model for events broadens the usefulness of the service while actually reducing its overall cost — and a lower cost is an excellent incentive for clients to try new event services, such as second screens, especially when the concepts are unfamiliar. However, Rogers points out that event technology providers have to make the initial investments in these services, then spend time and money marketing and explaining them to prospective users. The capital burdens fall squarely on the service providers.

The good news, besides the fact that data hosting and memory costs continue to decline, is that more and more of these services can be automated, which will reduce the cost of labor. And in some event markets, that component can be huge. Rogers says a new service under consideration at PSAV is using remote-controlled cameras at events. Their use would eliminate the need for camera operators, and as a result the capital costs of the camera hardware could be recouped quickly, enhancing ROI. That can be a sensitive issue in some union-centric markets, but, he says, it underscores how cloud-based services will ultimately affect almost every aspect of how technology is used for live-event production.

In fact, the cloud is taking the event beyond the venue. Rogers says more and more content is being both pulled down from remote servers during events, and pushed into the cloud for analysis, with content for digital signage remotely updating local media players and then crunching responses entered through interactive displays. Furthermore, the use of these cloud services is taking place a month or two before the event, such as for registration right and even on-site check-in. And for months afterward, attendees continue to download content from the event.

Similarly, the AV integrator’s role in building out systems for events is also being expanding. After all, what use is a network or cloud-based content if there’s nothing to experience it through? Mobile devices will be a big part of the future of event production, but not necessarily at the expense of big video and audio systems.

“AV integrators used to be the people who connected the digital signage systems, who put in the infrastructure around the event,” says Tang. “Now, we need them to connect an even wider range of systems. What’s happening now will expand the definition of what an AV integrator is.”