The reality we face is that the world is now operating in a very different business environment. While there are great ways to adapt previous models to the new global environment, such as artists working remotely, there are also emerging new business models that are seeking to reinvent how we work.
The current crisis will evolve and it is unlikely to end very quickly, and even if it does start to ease up, it will take a long time for life to return to normal. One can imagine that there will be a long tail phenomenon before companies return to normal. This is both due to the possibility of flare-ups with the virus and the time it will take to unwind from new practices and habits. Meanwhile, filming has all but dried up globally. Film and TV shows crews have stopped production and soundstage, camera gear and expensive production gear are all sitting idle. With no production, there is both no work for talented production and post professionals and a huge inventory of available equipment that could be deployed if safe projects could be found. The one thing that has exploded is streaming, both as entertainment and organizational communication.
It is also true that as time passes, short term streaming solutions will move from being ‘acceptable’ to being less effective as people seek higher quality experiences. People might happily accept rushed and low-quality Zoom or Skype sessions, but this tolerance of amateurish production values will fade. One company Fourth Wall, believes that attention is the new currency. In the last six weeks, they have rapidly built a solution they call EventCast, to address being able to engage with individuals with much higher production values, and capture people’s attention.
Webcasts and video conferences over the last few weeks have been vital, but in their current format, audiences are already tiring, finding clunky presentations and bedroom broadcasting dull and unrewarding. EventCast is a new approach to provide high-end engaging, interactive and tactile communications in a stable, scalable and joyful way using broadcast quality cameras, real-time virtual sets, and remote studio monitoring. The team at Fourth Wall did not want to be reactive to the current crisis so they have been working flat out to engineer a new business service for the months and possibly years ahead.
Fourth Wall’s EventCast Solution
The Fourth Wall is a creative and production agency that specializes in broadcast brand activations and live events. They have been in business for just over 23 years. With the mass cancelation of events that the industry has seen, the company’s founder Jeremy Garling, decided to pro-actively address the new environment rather than retreat from it. Fourth Wall has created EventCast, a mix of real and digital with the focus on the high-end. In six short weeks, the Fourth Wall team, in conjunction with Gravity Media, has built a new global service. Gravity Media’s clients include BBC, Aljazeera, Fox Sports, Sky and others. Gravity Media is privately owned and headquartered in the UK but with a global team of over 500 people and it is the Gravity Media team that provides the streaming backend infrastructure and multi-camera control hubs for EventCast.
One active part of Fourth Wall’s own communication strategy is their IdeaStorm service. This is where Fourth Wall uses their own EventCast to provide creative solutions and ideas to Fourth Wall’s own clients. Each IdeaStorm session shows how member organizations can achieve impactful communication and branding through forward-thinking, innovative strategies. In this respect, Fourth Wall practices what they preach. IdeaStorm sessions are ongoing and in these EventCasts, the Fourth Wall team offers a range of approaches to create authentic, personal and long-term engagement.
The EventCast solution is centered on three aspects, that the Fourth Wall team have named: Tactile, Immersive and Interactive.
The tactile is aimed at making online events much more experiential, so instead of people just watching a video stream, they actively participate. “The logic behind tactile is recreating an ‘event experience’ to the individual person. A lot of people and organizations are doing what we call the path of least resistance, which is streaming. Simple streaming is not going to be the solution long term. Streaming is a terrible TV show that no one wants to watch and it’s failing to deliver what people need, which is a tactile experience,” Garling explains. Part of the company’s tactile component is individually delivered physical boxes of materials. These can contain a variety of things from tasty snacks to workshop kits, allowing people to unbox and use key props and items during an EventCast. While it may seem expensive to deliver items to attendees, prior to COVID-19 companies would spend vast amounts on venues, signage, as well as food and drink. “For normal old-style events, 2/3rd of the budget goes towards what is known as VFB or, Venue, Food, and Beverages.” By comparison, individual EventCast boxes are very financially viable and are all packed specially to be sterile and virus safe. The tactile component of the boxes sets the scene for the event and aids in reducing distraction. Kits can include items designed for kids (such as Lego kits – to keep the kids busy during their parent’s events), right up to noise-canceling headphones to increase attendee’s focus. The boxes’ items aim to be sourced locally to help retailers and producers who are in need themselves. The boxes are there to enhance the experience and make the EventCast more social and personal. For example, at the end of the event, there could be pasta-making ingredients and in place of a normal social mixing event at a conference, participants can hang around in the EventCast and share their pasta making attempts, led by a celebrity chef.
The Immersive component is a reaction to the poor production values delivered by people being filmed in their living rooms, using a wide-angle webcam aimed up the presenter’s nose, and showing the host’s bedroom ceiling. While this was fine in the immediate period after people scattered from workplaces to homes, Garling comments that such low-fi approaches, “have been okay for about a week or so. But within the next couple of weeks people will start to get concerned about what that is saying about them and how that’s representing their brand.” Fourth Wall has studios built across Sydney, London and the US where people “can drive to a studio, never meet anyone and immediately go in to film, with no face to face contact.” These studios are run remotely and are cleaned after each session. This is not a low-cost solution but for many corporate and organizational events, the CEO and many of the senior staff (C-suite and STL staff) are in a high-risk category (over 55) and yet people want to hear many times from senior leadership.
The studios can have green screens, blue screens, white screens, as well as individual branding. “As many print companies are active, due to the need for special signage and these printers are often in wide warehouse spaces with natural social distancing, we can get special banners and signs printed in 24 hours,” Garling explains. The company also has mobile setups, which are again cleaned and come in special COVID-19 safe packaging. Each kit contains a pull-up screen, a small high-quality camera, a Pro light ring, a PC with the encoders preloaded, and the tech to connect to the internet and thus to the EventCast control studio. While these kits are designed to be left and set up by the host themselves, there is also an option for a single person to deliver the system, let themselves in, connect the gear in isolation, clean and then leave the gear set up – all with minimal touch contact and no direct interaction. Either way, the kit takes only 10 minutes to set up and be ready to test.
Third is Fourth Wall’s notion of Interactivity. The EventCast solution works on two screens. The actual EventCast is broadcast using their own streaming technology to a participant’s computer and a separate Mobile App. The UI is simpler and more interactive than say Zoom or Teams. By splitting the App content from the main session, the menus are less complex and the App can be custom configured with individual organizational branding and design in a matter of days. The primary screen has a set of camera view options always on-screen allowing participants to control what they are seeing and from what angle. The App aims to provide discussion, but EventCast producers moderate the feedback and presenters have the option of ear-pieces so they can be fed questions without needing to stop and read the screen themselves. The Primary screen is not designed to have hundreds of faces of participants with annoying open Mics distracting the presenter or viewers. The main screen is interactive but mostly it is designed for high-end production values and user engagement. The App has chat rooms, polls, participant links, and many other interactive tools. Fourth Wall also offers tips and even remote training for presenters to help people project more effectively on camera.
The company calls this mix of digital and tactile: Digitile, and it is at the core of their offering. Without new engagement tools, innovative ideas and value-added communication, Garling feels many companies will struggle to maintain engagement and capture people’s attention. While much of the large event multi-media style work in the past has been Business to Business (B2B), high-end sales conferences and corporate messaging to consumers (B2C), EventCast is now engineering its work to the new world of Business to Individual (B2I).
The EventCasts are running now – fxguide attended one which was jointly run from New York, London and Sydney, with people in all those cities getting EventCast packages. The event itself ran seamlessly with no technical issues and sharp video content maintained throughout, (although we bitterly disappointed that our particular session was not one that ended with a cocktail kit and session hosted by mixologist !).
At the high end, EventCasts offer virtual studios and sets, with real-time game engines driving backlit screens, interactive computer-controlled lighting, live keying and even elaborate stage sets with front scrim projection screens. Digital characters or objects can be manipulated in real-time to connect the speakers with their virtual environment.
But as elaborate as the sets and the production technology are, the company is only focused on live interactivity and not pre-recorded ‘webinars’. Non-interactive recordings are proving lackluster, and often with low attendance. Fourth Wall knows that in the short term there may be strict lockdowns in cities that limit some events, but they also believe that the situation the world is in will not disappear overnight and that it might take many months for things to return to normal (if they ever do return to normal). EventCast is therefore designed with a long term global view. “If we look at what might happen, people may get used to not doing a lot of events face to face … we believe the EventCast approach is going to work and integrate into the future. If you were forced to just watch a bad video stream for the next six months, you’ll be thoroughly bored. People need something that’s more interactive and that still delivers that experience that addresses your senses,” Garling concludes.
Do you have a new approach or business model?
If you have new business models please email us at [email protected] We are keen to see how the various parts of our industry adapt.