Technology is Catching Up to Meet Audience Expectations for Events | Featuring: Cramer’s Vincent Higgins, Senior Director of Creative Technology, and Pat Leonard, Senior Technical Producer

EPISODE 12: Platform vs. Production | PODCAST

Show Notes:

When you attend a virtual event, what is the production value? What is platform capability? It can be hard to tell. Vincent Higgins, Senior Director of Creative Technology, and Pat Leonard, Senior Technical Producer here at Cramer join Pivot Points to discuss the difference between platform and production. They clear up some of the misconceptions around virtual events and give insight into how the technology has changed and the needs it must address to be successful.

Transcript:

Elise Orlowski:

I’m Elise Orlowski, a senior video director here at Cramer.

Tripp Underwood:

And I’m Tripp Underwood, a creative director at Cramer.

Elise Orlowski:

And at Cramer, we work with so many incredibly fascinating people from all over multiple industries.

Tripp Underwood:

We have so many great conversations, many that are just too good to keep to ourselves. So now we’re sharing them with the world.

Elise Orlowski:

Right here from Cramer Studios.

Tripp Underwood:

This is Pivot Points.

Elise Orlowski:

Cut.

Tripp Underwood:

Okay. Back for another episode of Pivot Points. Welcome, Elise, and some of our esteemed guests. To kick it off, I want to talk about 2020 was the year that events went virtual. And for those listening at home, I’m using quotation marks when I say went virtual because honestly, they’ve-

Elise Orlowski:

Been virtual.

Tripp Underwood:

There’s always been a strong digital component to the type of events that we do. But when the pandemic hit, it just kind of forced us to rethink how those tools are used, reevaluate how they’re used and get innovative with how they’re used. Because at the end of the day, they really just are tools that we have been using. And to talk a little about that, we have two master crafts people of said tools. We have Pat Leonard and Vinny Higgins. Welcome to the show, guys.

Tripp Underwood:

Just want to ask kind of off the bat, as someone that’s been working in this medium for a long time and then really had your jobs change, ramp up, I’m about to say ramp down, but that never happened, change, ramp up, ramp up again in the past 18 months, my understanding is you’ve seen a lot or heard a lot of ideas about what virtual communications involve, what the platforms use and all that kind of stuff. Curious as to what are some of the biggest misconceptions there are out there in terms of what digital and virtual communication means in this new hybrid world when it comes to the event space.

Vincent Higging:

Yeah, well, so first of all, it’s definitely been a crazy ride since March 2020. As you mentioned before, we’ve been doing virtual for 10 plus years, webcast, virtual events, and it’s been ebbs and flows. This past year, now that everything went virtual, I think the most common misconception is that there’s some sort of magic bullet that’s going to solve all the client’s problems, that there’s a platform that’s going to totally recreate the onsite event experience, and that for whatever reason, the tool that we’re using for webcast is going to not have the same issues that the rest of the internet has.

Pat Leonard:

We do not control the internet. We do not control the internet.

Elise Orlowski:

You don’t?

Pat Leonard:

That would be great.

Vincent Higging:

We do everything we can to control what we can control. But obviously we’ve all been doing this now for 18 plus months. We know that there are issues that we can’t control. So I think those are the big things that A, there’s something that’s going to totally replicate the onsite experience and two, that we’re operating in a internet that is different from everybody else.

Tripp Underwood:

So connectivity issue.

Vincent Higging:

Connectivity issues.

Tripp Underwood:

Audio hiccups, that kind of stuff.

Vincent Higging:

Yeah.

Tripp Underwood:

Still very much part of the program. And you see that I think on national broadcast as well. It’s just different from the [inaudible 00:03:29] when now I’m paying for it so now I don’t think the internet should behave that way.

Elise Orlowski:

What are some of those things that are a misconception that it might be the platform or the production, but it’s actually we’re at the mercy of the internet? What are some of those things?

Pat Leonard:

Yeah. I mean, just a simple thing like a connection with a speaker, if you know. Their audio drops out or they’re on mute, which happens a couple times.

Elise Orlowski:

Never.

Pat Leonard:

That happens. It’s a real world experience. And sometimes in that live environment, it actually proves that you are live. So obviously we don’t want to be on mute, but we try to just explain these things happen in regular TV broadcasts and they do this every single day for a lot longer than the virtual event space has been out there.

Tripp Underwood:

I do think there’s a bit of a kind of a human element or something that humanizes the broadcast and the speaker when you do run into those little glitches that we’re all used to. For the audience, witnessing a tiny hiccup like that makes you feel like you’re part of the experience with the people on site and at home, which I think is again, an unintended connection point, but a connection point nevertheless. There’s a little bit of a silver lining, I guess.

Pat Leonard:

Yeah. And proves that you’re live.

Tripp Underwood:

Yes. Which is a huge thing. If it goes off without a hitch too well, which is ultimately what you’re looking for, because we’ve had questions on some of the things. Someone’s like, “Is this really live?” Which on one hand is a great compliment to the work you guys are doing. But other hand, you want to always be making sure that it feels live because you want that audience at home to have that live connection with the content that’s being broadcast. So that’s always trying to make those two feel concurrence, both feel live and then feel like it’s live at home as well.

Vincent Higging:

Yeah. And this really doesn’t really fall in our world that much, but even when you’re doing a virtual meeting and someone’s kid walks in the room or there are dogs in the room. So I agree. Anything like that does make you feel more connected to the person.

Tripp Underwood:

Yeah. Especially when it’s a hiccup as opposed to an extended belch-

Vincent Higging:

Mistake. Sure.

Tripp Underwood:

… for lack of a … A dog barking once, cute. Kind of a dog that won’t shut up, annoying and now interfering with the content. Totally.

Elise Orlowski:

I’m curious. So I mean, obviously we’ve been doing virtual for a long time, but I think now we’ve just seen the rise of virtual, which is funny, because a lot of people are like, “It’s so new.” But what have you guys seen in terms of virtual and the advancements of technology over the past 18 months? Are there things that you’ve seen or been able to do that you really weren’t able to do when we were doing events and it was really 50/50 or virtual was kind of maybe smaller?

Vincent Higging:

Yeah. Well, the platforms have definitely evolved. I was just having this conversation actually with another coworker, and from the start of this, when was still trying to figure it out, the platforms that everyone went to at first, those old kind of legacy platforms, they’re very kind of bulky, heavy platforms. They’re not very flexible, not very customizable. They do what they do well, but it’s kind of a templated thing that really isn’t the greatest user experience, but it works. So I think that the platforms have really evolved where now they’re trying to solve for that engagement problem. They look a lot slicker looking. They allow us to have presenter-attendee communication, which the older platforms didn’t allow for that. So I think that’s the biggest thing really, is allowing for the people watching the program to actually interact with the presenters. That’s something that we couldn’t do before very easily and now it seems like it’s kind of being a standard addition to these platforms coming out.

Elise Orlowski:

Yeah. No, that’s awesome. It’s not just a one way experience anymore or like watching TV. I feel like now more than ever, everyone wants a very interactive experience.

Vincent Higging:

Exactly.

Elise Orlowski:

So in terms of platform and production, I know we’ve talked about those are two very separate entities. What do you think are some of the common misconceptions between platform and technology and then how it affects production?

Tripp Underwood:

I’ve had clients that have been over the moon about a platform that they saw someone using. And as they’re describing it to me, what it is they loved about what they saw, I’m like, that’s not a platform. That’s production. There was great product on that, whereas the platform could have been agnostic for the things they were describing. So I do think there’s a big misconception amongst some of the people working or new to this industry of what is production, what is platform? And I wonder if you guys could share a little bit about where some of the big guardrails are and anywhere you’ve seen either advance or things that clients should know about that.

Pat Leonard:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the easiest way I like to explain it is the platform is the wrapper, it’s the home base of where all your content lives. You can customize it, brand it. And then the production is really what’s in that video, what’s in that video player, what’s getting broadcasted out to the world. And we’ve had clients that sometimes it’s hard to distinguish that because they’re like, “Oh, we saw these beautiful graphics and name banner, lower third graphics.” And they’re talking about platform, platform. Oh, well, we can do that virtually with any platform through our production studio. So I think that’s the easiest way to distinguish it is platform is the wrapper and production is everything that’s being sent out through that platform.

Tripp Underwood:

Go ahead, Vinny.

Vincent Higging:

No, you’re exactly right. It’s funny. We were at the beginning of this, back March, April 2020, when we were struggling internally how to communicate and educate our own internal staff, that’s exactly the terminology that we came up with, the wrapper and then what’s inside the wrapper. It’s a great way to describe it.

Tripp Underwood:

Blaming it on the clients. I’m guilty of it too. When we first started, I was like, oh, that looks awesome. We should use that platform all the time. It’s like, oh no, that’s our production crew. They could do that on everything except for Zoom practically at this point.

Vincent Higging:

And that’s, I think, really what makes the great thing about Cramer is that we are platform technology agnostic. And really, at the end of the day, our sweet spot is making sure that these broadcasts look great and are successful. We make sure that technology works, of course, but creating that really nice looking broadcast, I think we do such a good job of that day in and day out.

Tripp Underwood:

One of the areas that I think has grown significantly in this 18 months, I’d love to hear your guys’ take on it, is the quality of remote broadcasts. That used to be a much heavier lift than it feels like it is today. Am I wrong in that? Did stuff get better or are we as an industry just getting better at having the right equipment and servers to support the remote feeds that now seem crisper, cleaner, less drop? All that stuff that used to make you very nervous, I feel like doesn’t happen as much and setting it up feels a lot easier, at least on my end.

Pat Leonard:

Yeah. I mean, I would say it’s probably a combination of both. Obviously technology’s advanced over the years. But I think a lot of the technology has been optimized differently, purely for that experience. The workflow of how we optimize our gear, it wasn’t overnight for us, but we figured out the most efficient workflow to really get that high quality experience. So you wouldn’t even think that someone’s in their living room or wherever. But then on the other hand of that, the production piece of it, I think if you look at our various broadcast hubs, that took a lot of testing and working through different workflows to really figure out the best solution.

Tripp Underwood:

And we didn’t even have broadcast hubs, plural. Before, we had a singular hub because that’s all that our clients really needed, the workflow, and then when suddenly everyone was doing these remote things, we had to expand as well. So necessity is kind of the mother of invention, as they say. So I get that also, chicken or egg.

Elise Orlowski:

So speaking of kind of new landscapes and technology evolving, looking into when we start to get back into live, maybe the hybrid model, all that stuff, how do you think that this technology is going to adapt or change or be incorporated into events?

Vincent Higging:

Well, first of all, I mean, virtual is not going away. For a lot of the live events that we did prior to this, we were doing a webcast of the general session or the keynotes. Now, I think, that every live program is going to have a virtual component.

Elise Orlowski:

And a major virtual-

Vincent Higging:

And a major virtual component. And that’s not just going to be streaming the general session. It’s going to be streaming the breakouts, the auxiliary events that are going on, the expo centers. So I think the platforms, as they evolve to support hybrid, it’s all about how much content they can support. How easy it is to access the content. I think what remains to be seen really is if the platforms are going to really be able to support the virtual attendee and in person attendee networking.

Elise Orlowski:

The question that we always get. How do we do networking?

Tripp Underwood:

The number one request with the least obvious answer.

Vincent Higging:

And that, still, I don’t think has been solved well. I think that’s the area where there’s the biggest potential, if somebody can solve that problem. Or people might just realize that really isn’t a problem worth solving. People don’t want to interact with the virtual attendees and the in person attendees. Maybe it’s just two separate experiences. But I think the key really is how much content and how easy it is to access that content because we’re going to want to put every possible thing from that in person event online, I think.

Tripp Underwood:

Yeah. It’s that idea of what used to be kind of the secondary of we’re focusing on this live event and then maybe we’ll have a few people join here and there. And now I feel like that’s flipped because for some of the clients I worked with that were used to doing it in person forced to go virtual, there were the bumps in the roads and some of the hiccups with the virtual programming. But what they fell in love with was the reach. These are events that used to have 1,000 people in person and had now 5,000 people online. So they’re just not going to let go of that. So I think it then becomes this marrying of the content and deciding where to kind of focus your energy in terms of live and then virtual. And I think as the technology gets better, that’ll become easier and then you’ll just see a more seamless connection of the two. Except for networking. I do agree that’s going to be this … But there should be something that’s unique to live that I think that’s one of the things you’re never going to get away with.

Elise Orlowski:

Right. And there’s a lot of things that are unique to virtual-

Tripp Underwood:

100%.

Elise Orlowski:

… that you can’t get with live. So I think, yeah, seeing the benefit of both is super essential.

Tripp Underwood:

A word I can never say, being anonymous, that idea of you can have your camera off and be doing other things, that’s a huge benefit to them. And the same way of being able to talk to someone face-to-face about content you just saw and then go to the hotel bar with them and get a drink and talk it over more, that’s another very unique to live that sometimes there’s certain things that just, at least now, can’t be replicated.

Vincent Higging:

And what I see, I think ultimately what’s going to happen is the virtual component’s going to be used a way to drive attendance to the in real life event.

Elise Orlowski:

Don’t you want to be here?

Vincent Higging:

Right. Don’t you want to be here? Look at what you’re missing. Look at this cocktail party. Look at all these networking opportunities. If you solve for networking online and you make it as easy to network online as it is in person … There used to be this fear of cannibalizing the in person event with the virtual event. I think it’s clear that that’s not the case.

Elise Orlowski:

Which we talked about. Streaming live sports makes you want to go to the game that much more.

Vincent Higging:

It makes you want to go to the game even more. So I think by putting as much content as you can online, showing all the fun that you’re missing, the networking opportunities you’re missing, that’ll help drive attendance in the future.

Tripp Underwood:

Yeah. It really becomes a promotional tool for the event experience itself. If you’re doing something annually, maybe this is your first year, maybe you’re new, it’s a user conference, you’re new to the product or you’re new to the company or whatnot, there’s an idea of we want you to have this content available to you easily, cost effectively. But if you really fall in love with it, next year we’ll see you in Vegas, or wherever it is it’s being held. I think that’s a nice secondary value of all this that the companies can think of. And sponsorship. That was another thing we talked about. There’s different sponsoring opportunities within virtual, I think, is really, really untapped potential for clients.

Elise Orlowski:

Yeah. Ultimately, the technology allows the production to live on, the content to live on and also, that you have an actual platform so that you do want to go back to the live event experience year after year.

Tripp Underwood:

Exactly. Exactly.

Vincent Higging:

Exactly.

Tripp Underwood:

Cool.

Pat Leonard:

Absolutely.

Tripp Underwood:

Well, that’s about all the time we have. You guys are in high demand in this building so I don’t want to take up any more of your time.

Elise Orlowski:

Yes. Thank you for joining us.

Tripp Underwood:

Yeah. Thanks so much for joining us.

Vincent Higging:

Well, thanks for having us.

Pat Leonard:

Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Tripp Underwood:

And then thanks everyone watching and listening at home. This is another episode of Pivot Points.

View Transcript

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