15 May 2020

A Stream From Two Cities

by Jason Allen

Managing The Move Online

Pivot, pirouette, hustle; whatever you call it, it’s what everyone is doing out of need. Any production and rental company with the capability has built some variation of a ‘studio’ for streaming. We look at two companies that are approaching the move online in different ways; the Melbourne office of Harry the hirer, and Sydney’s AVE…

“In this unprece..” nah, just kidding. No-one needs to see that phrase or THAT word ever again.

One of the surprising things about the pandemic crisis is how quickly all the emails, webinars, and video conferences got boring, repetitive, and annoying.


As everyone moved online, there was an almost immediate ‘sameness’ to everything, a product of the limitations of the medium itself. It is very easy to disengage from content created for streaming unless it’s done very well.

I talked to two companies with two different approaches, catering to different audiences.

Melbourne and Sydney – Harry the hirer Productions – The Studio

The Studio at Harry’s Richmond office already existed before the crisis and was designed to be a pre-visualisation suite and rehearsal space for clients to come in and try out graphics and looks before events.

Live streaming their events was all in a day’s work for Harry’s crew, so all the gear and expertise was already in-house. The concept has worked so well that Harry’s has set up an almost identical Studio in their Sydney facility.

Add to this an already expansive internet connection in Richmond and Parramatta with two Gigabit pipes each, and the stage was set.

“For us, it was about pivoting gear and people,” said Simon Finlayson, general manager at Harry the hirer Melbourne.

“Some have been saying there’s a big learning curve when you get into streaming, and there is, but for us it’s not in the tech or the equipment, it’s in how to interact with the market and engage it.”

One of the big early successes for the Studio has been ‘Delivered Live’, a regular Saturday night live streamed gig featuring music and comedy, hosted by the inimitable Henry Wagons.

Developed as a partnership between The Handshake Agency and Harry the hirer Productions, with the Victorian and NSW State Government backing the project, it can be watched free, but viewers are encouraged to donate the price of a regular gig ticket to support the artists and technicians.

Each artist also nominates their favourite venue and a member of their road crew who receive a percentage of the ticket sales.

The Studio is kitted out with six HD cameras, Roland or Analog Way vision switching (depending on capacity), DiGiCo audio consoles, a grandMA light for the big gigs or a dot2 for corporate, and fixtures to suit the production, with Robe ESPRITES and MegaPointes, Astera AX1 Pixel Tubes, and Prolights Air5Fans all making appearances recently.

Apple Macs are loaded with multiple streaming platforms dictated by customer preference to handle the feed out to the web.

“Zoom is popular with the corporates because of the Q&A capabilities and analytics available after the stream,” observed Simon.

“Corporate AGMs and the like, which would typically run in a hotel ballroom, still need to go on as it’s a legal requirement for the company. We have platforms that can handle up to 10,000 delegates, censor the Q&A before it goes live, and provide engagement analytics.

“Vimeo and YouTube tend to be the preference for more mainstream applications – ‘Delivered Live’ runs on a YouTube backbone, for instance – and we’ve used similar services for simpler applications like cosmetic companies training their staff, running regular streams to keep up their skills, which they normally do face-to-face.”

Of course, all social distancing rules are adhered to, with the giant facilities having more than enough space for separate entrance and exit routes, and the techs to work more than 1.5 metres apart, wearing PPE.

“We’re doing what we have to do,” concluded Simon. “We’re a rental business, and this is a different model. It’s not going to be our core business, but it’s a great add-on.

“I think what will happen when we come out of this crisis, instead of using The Studio exclusively for technical blocking, we’ll develop and pre-package content ahead of the gig, which isn’t a service we’ve provided before.”

Sydney – AVE, Create Engage, and The SMC Conference & Function Centre – ON AIR

When hire and production company Audio Visual Events saw their calendar turn into a wasteland overnight, general manager Paul Keating got on the phone with their longstanding online event production colleagues Create Engage, who were about to have the opposite problem.

Meanwhile, The SMC Conference & Function Centre, a venue both companies regularly work in, was about to make the decision to close its doors, despite recently completing a $4m refurbishment.

Then the Eureka moment came, and ON AIR was born.

“The idea came to all of us to build a studio smack bang in the middle of Sydney, creating an affordable solution for companies to communicate with their teams,” related Paul Keating.

“We all got together and it became clear what we could achieve collaboratively,” added Luke Hammonds, Director at Create Engage.

“We could offer something totally unique that was also a lot of bang-for-buck. It was just what we needed to go back to our clients and convert their cancelled jobs into online events.

“The SMC Conference & Function Centre agreed to stay open for a one-month trial, but after seeing the results and the bookings coming in, they’ve given us the green light to proceed as long as we have to.”

After a site visit with all parties, and extensive venue consultation on how to deliver the package safely, ON AIR went into development. Working to the brief of ‘A Pandora’s Box of high-end audio visual and virtual event capabilities’, AVE put together the tech.

ON AIR features a 7 by 2.5 metre LED wall at 2mm pixel pitch, with ROE LED Strips for eye candy, run off Brompton SX40 LED controllers.

With the LED wall creating a virtual canvas, digital sets can change the look and feel at the push of a button. Stage lighting is all moving head fixtures, capable of simple stage washes and a multitude of looks, controlled via grandMA onPC.

Remote controlled 4K PTZ cameras reduce the need for operators in the room. A Barco E2 and MADRIX vision software handle the vision, with presenter visual foldback provided by two 55” monitors.

Shure wireless microphones feed into Biamp Tesira DSP, handling processing and mixing. There’s even a fibre connection to the Green Room for monitoring or for use as a breakout room.

The operators are technically in the same room as the talent, but they’re 15 metres away behind drape lines!

“I’ve been involved in streaming events since 2008,” continues Luke Hammonds. “I was streaming when video was difficult, nothing was off-the-shelf, and the image was postage stamp size.

“We didn’t even have ADSL2! Audience expectations and their levels of engagement have obviously changed over time!”

So what are Luke’s technical tips for streaming?

“Technically speaking, audio is the most important thing to get right,” he related.

“Audiences are more likely to put up with bad vision than bad audio; there’s no coming back from bad audio, they just switch off. After that it’s composition – online viewers can’t look around, or tilt their head left or right.

“It’s basic showcraft; you need to tailor the event for online by doing things like having the MC look down the camera and welcome the online audience to bring them into the fold.

“You can make a remote audience feel like they’re a part of the event by doing something for you; submit a question and put their hand up online.”

CX Magazine – May 2020   

Entertainment technology news and issues for Australia and New Zealand
– in print and free online

© VCS Creative Publishing


Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.