Rudi Buchner, 3Monkeys

3 Monkeys’ Rudi Buchner explores the endless possibilities of hybrid events.

It seems like the events industry has only just come to terms with virtual events and how to produce them efficiently and effectively and now many clients in the corporate world are thinking about hybrid events. But what does hybrid actually mean, and how does it affect the way we work?

Pre 2020, many international conferences already operated in a hybrid way, allowing attendees to follow the programme remotely with what we called webcasts at that time. Typically, webcasts focused on a live edit of camera and presentation signals and occasionally added their own information or graphic layers. The output was focused primarily on information, relying greatly on talking heads and not bothering too much about delivering something overly entertaining or engaging.

A client told me recently that due to the rise of virtual events, they now understand the shortcomings of the traditional webcast concept and they are eager to explore ways to improve them – applying lessons learned from virtual events.

Webcasts define one manifestation of hybrid. The event takes place physically with a limited number of attendees in the physical space and another – potentially much larger – group attending remotely. Even without a pandemic, this type of hybrid is interesting because it increases the reach of the event and possibly opens an additional revenue stream for organisers.

The second scenario is the stage programme, with speakers who are unable to attend in person dialling in instead. In the past, we grudgingly accepted video messages as replacement for live or put up with poor-quality live solutions due to the prohibitive expense of a proper remote connection. However, I think by now we’ve all realised what TV production knew years ago: you can have remote speakers in decent quality live on stage via IP, interacting with other people on stage as well as with the audience. Beside the known names such as Teams and Zoom, there are a handful of very interesting niche products out there like GlobalM or Quicklink, which provide better quality and a more controlled production environment to achieve this.

The way remote speakers appear on stage will be a tremendously interesting playground for our creatives. There is always the good old PIP to show the remote speaker on the video backdrop, but think further – what about dedicated screens or on-stage raisers moving in and out? What about remote speakers in green screen studios appearing full body size on video backdrops? We explored the technicalities of all that while doing virtual events, so why not apply this knowledge in the physical space?

The creative possibilities do not end with the treatment of remote speakers in the physical space; we still must find out how to enhance the broadcast product. Once we are back in a physical space, we will have to rely more on camera signals again. But we learned from virtual events that we can combine physical setups with virtual components, either extending the physical setup with virtual background elements or by adding augmentation layers to the scenic. Going down that line, we can not only enhance the webcast, but we can also give the webcast additional features, making it a product of its own.

Together with our friends at Mediascreen in Munich and Trackmen in Cologne, we combined camera tracking technologies with real-time content about a decade ago and used the output on projected stage backdrops. We called it Dimensional Staging at that time. It was an exciting technical exercise which at the end did not add a lot of value to a physical event. However, for a hybrid event, it does make a difference.

You have an interesting new way of working with digital stage backdrops in the physical and the remote delivery. Applying this, you can create shows that are close to what you would usually see coming out of a virtual TV studio without having an ugly green screen as backdrop in your physical space. Many AV suppliers have explored that route with their AR, VR and XR offerings as part of their virtual event strategy already.

Finally, we should not forget that we explored the delivery of events based on multiple location settings during virtual events. International conferences might take place physically and parallel in seven sales regions, where all seven regions come together in all venues for auditorium sessions and then go back to more localised content.

It will be up to creative and conceptual brains to use the existing technological framework developed in the area of virtual events to define a status quo for hybrid. Most of the technological hurdles have been overcome in 2020, so let us start using them in 2021 and get back into the ballrooms!

This article originally appeared in issue #028 of TPMEA, which you can read here.