Live Video Production gets a shot of Indian Innovation

Sandeep N. Ohri & Rupesh Bhurke of April Broadcast give a complete inside view of the unconventional Indian style innovation which helped the live video production of TEDxGateway at NCPA, Mumbai

Ken Robinson’s TED talk on How Schools Kill Creativity has been viewed over 33.6 million times, Amy Cuddy’s How Body Language Shapes Who You Are 26.5 million times and Simon Sinek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action 22.8 million times!

Just the Top 20 TED talk videos have been viewed nearly 300 million times – and there are over 2,000 TED talk videos. This gives you an estimate of the power and influence of these talks.

TED - An Introduction
TED – An Introduction

At some point in time, we have all seen, and been impressed, by a TED talk – whether it be from those mentioned above or from Bill Gates, Al Gore, Julian Assange, Tony Robbins, Larry Page, Richard Branson, James Cameron, Thomas Dolby, Stephen Hawking, Sheryl Sandberg, Salman Khan (Academy), Elon Musk, Kiran Bedi, Nandan Nilekani, and many other leaders and influencers from every part of the world.

What makes a TED talk so special, and its video even more so, is the manner in which it is shot and edited. TED talks specifically highlight “Ideas Worth Spreading”. The focus of each talk is the Speaker himself/herself.

TED talk videos are a pleasure to watch and the reason for that is there are extremely strict ‘guidelines’ to adhere to, while video shooting them and then editing them.

Strategic camera placements, specific angles and framing of shots have actually been documented in detail in the official TED Video Production guideline.

TEDxGateway, November 2014

In November 2014, TEDxGateway, the Mumbai affiliate, organised its flagship event, at the Jamshed Bhabha Auditorium inside the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) Complex. Being in its 4th year, the event has created a niche of its own and commands tremendous respect amongst attendees.

In India, a US$ 150 ticket is considered expensive and since Auditoriums have limited seating, TEDxGateway tries to ensure maximum visibility – which can be achieved only via live streaming.

A webcast was planned, along with a simulcast at another venue, the BSE Auditorium, where 2 large LED walls displayed the output, free, only for students!

TEDxGateway partnered with Mumbai based April Broadcast Pvt. Ltd. and entrusted it with the responsibility of webcast and simulcast. April Broadcast used its recently launched Windows-based solution, AB-Live to stream out the video. AB-Live allows mixing/switching of up to 16 layers of videos and graphics with simultaneous outputs that can be simultaneously broadcasted/displayed, streamed as well as recorded.

The nonstop, 8 hour webcast had over 2,000 views with over 230 of these coming from around the world!

TEDxGateway Women, May 2015

This year, another program was added, an event featuring ONLY women speakers, TEDxGateway Women. It was held on 29th May, 2015 at the Tata Theatre also in NCPA.

Having successfully done the earlier event, April Broadcast was again retained, but this time not just for the webcast/simulcast, but to execute the entire video production, as well!

Since we had done it before, it was thought to be a breeze…till we got down to the nitty-gritties. It soon became clear that this was no ordinary event and therefore needed an ‘unconventional’ approach!

Here is our story – the challenges we faced and how we overcame them – with a little bit of clever technology that we built… and loads of “jugaad” (unconventional innovation, Indian-style!)

Challenge No. 1 – Working around Amphitheater Style Seating

The Tata Theatre with its amphitheater style seating posed unique challenges in camera placements, because we had to fulfill the strict TED guidelines.

Camera positions at the Tata Theatre
Camera positions at the Tata Theatre

To ensure compliance, the video production team, including the cameramen and Director of Photography had to make several visits to check physical placements of each of the 5 cameras and prepare a detailed layout for each angle/shot to be taken by each camera. Each cameraman was briefed in detail and given printouts of the specific shots they were to take.

The DOP also sat through various practice sessions which were held prior to the event, to understand each speaker’s presentation, identifying shot selection and determining lighting.

Challenge No. 2 – highlighting Key Aspects

TED speakers sometimes use slideshows or videos to highlight key aspects of their talk. These are usually shown on large displays for the benefit of the seated audience.

However, during the November event, only the camera inputs (with only the speakers’ visuals) were streamed out. As a result, when the speaker referred to a slide, the online viewer did not get to see what was being referred to!!

To solve this, we again turned to our in-house developed AB-Live. A few Picture-in-Picture (PIP) style layouts were specially designed to ensure that the speaker, as well as the slides/videos could be seen by the online audience. This provided for a far better, richer experience for them.

Powerpoint slides on screen at TEDxGateway Women
Slides on screen at TEDxGateway Women

Challenge No. 3 – Hiding PIP Layouts from LED Walls

TEDxGateway Women 2015 Video Production Equipment List
TEDxGateway Women 2015 Video Production Equipment List

Since the in-house audience already got to see the speaker as well as the slides/ videos, we needed to make sure that these PIP layouts did not appear on the in-house LED walls.

This task was entrusted to a separate team from Event Tree, who put in another independent switcher just for controlling the video feed to the LED walls to switch between the AB-Live output and the laptop slideshow/videos.

 

Challenge No. 4 – Working in a Smaller Space

The Tata Theatre is primarily a venue for a theatre-style stage show and not really for an event of this complexity! Their light room too is a separate small enclosed room with an extremely small window, just enough for one or two people to peer through.

For video production setup such as this, we needed a much larger workspace for all the equipment – and we had an army of technicians from video production to DOP (lights) to LED wall display to audio to slideshows to video playback.

We eventually had the contractor build us a large table top space over the seats, blocking off the last two rows of one section! In fact, the pre-event testing was delayed because equipment could be setup only AFTER the table space was built!

Video Production Team positioned all the way back
Video Production Team positioned all the way back

Challenge No. 5 – Lip-synch Issues

At the venue, a few Plasma TVs were put up in the lobby for the simulcast – for the benefit of those who stepped out briefly for refreshments. During testing it became evident that the simulcast output on these Plasma screens were going to face lip-synch issues as they would be carrying video from the video production unit while audio would come from the theatre sound system!

To counter it we took an HDMI output with embedded audio, from AB-Live, split it, and connected it to these Plasma screens using separate HDMI cables, thus ensuring this audio & video always remained in sync.

Vuideo Production and Live Streaming workflow for TEDxGateway Women
Video Production and Live Streaming workflow for TEDxGateway Women

Challenge No. 6 – Increasing Engagement

TEDxGateway asked us for suggestions on how to increase engagement during the event. We suggested adding a Twitter widget, to the live stream page, which displayed the tweets to the official Twitter handle. This would make for a more engaging experience, as, when someone online heard something quote-worthy that a speaker said, and tweeted about it, it would appear on the live stream page for all to view and further reply or re-tweet.

Challenge No. 7 – High-speed steady internet bandwith to stream out the feed

The key to the success of the entire exercise depended on getting high-speed, steady internet bandwidth to stream out the feed, right from the venue. All telecom service providers either declined our request citing technical reasons or quoted exorbitant rates for providing dedicated connectivity.

Finally one came forward, but due to NCPA guidelines it wasn’t possible for cables to be laid right up to the auditorium. After a few pillar-to-post runs, we received permission for cables to be brought up to 300 meters away from the auditorium, near a kitchen in the open parking area!

We were aghast but decided that if the connectivity was stable, we could setup another AB-Stream system right beside the kitchen, and do a deferred live stream! Deferred, by about 30 minutes. At one point it seemed that connectivity wouldn’t be established at all, but then we got through, exactly 29 minutes into the event!

Thereafter, at the end of every speaker session, a person (a runner, literally!) would carry a USB pen drive containing the clean feed recording from the auditorium AB-Live video production equipment to the 2nd ‘Under-the-Blue- Sky’ streaming system. There it would be mixed and streamed – deferred by 30 minutes, but continuous! The AB-Stream system ensures seamless, frame-accurate splits, making it a smooth experience for the online viewer!

Conclusion

Eventually, the entire program went off without any technical glitch! The online audience enjoyed uninterrupted stream, got to see the slides/videos and were able to engage themselves via their tweet posts.

Over the three and half hours of stream, 850 views were logged, with about 50 from the North American continent, despite the time zone difference!

TEDxGateway Women was a huge video production challenge – but was eventually carried off because of the close coordination and innovative “jugaad” methods that we, Indians, are so good at!!

April Broadcast Execution Team for TEDxGateway Women 2015
April Broadcast Execution Team for TEDxGateway Women 2015

(This article appeared in Studio Systems Magazine, July-Aug 2015. The number of views of the TED talk videos, mentioned at the start of the article, have since gone up to 37.9 m, 32.4 m, 26.1 m and 334.6 m respectively)

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