Covid-19: How the events industry can recover

Covid-19 has had a gutting effect on almost every industry it has touched and none more so than live events, conventions and AV industry events, which disappeared practically overnight in the wake of the pandemic. Reece Webb explores how the event industry plans to get back to business as (semi) usual.

Although the world appears bleak, the cogs of normality are beginning to turn again. With the prospect of potentially ground-breaking vaccines on the horizon, infection rates decreasing and confidence beginning to emerge again, the world of AV industry events is again learning to find its feet in this unfamiliar Covid-19 era. 

So how can you host an event in 2020 and 2021? How do you mitigate the potential risks? Can people be convinced to attend in person? Has the Covid-19 pandemic shown the potential of virtual and hybrid (physical/virtual) events to be the way forward, not just to mitigate the spread of infection but as a convenient and expedient way of engaging visitors through the pandemic and beyond?
“The big advantage for live studios is the possible interaction, displaying information on the LED screen in the back to make the setup more interactive and interesting for presenters and audiences.” – Christian Czimny, Absen
These are all questions that are burning in the minds of venue staff, trade show organisers and concerned attendees, but the answers are likely to be complex and subject to change as the months and days go by. 

Where is the world today? Looking to Europe, where the largest AV industry events are held in the EMEA region, this question can be tricky to answer. Covid-19 has affected European countries in different ways, and with that comes a variety of restrictions (or none at all) and relaxations of rules from country to country and in some cases, region to region.

At the time of writing, most of Europe has introduced new, tougher measure including a ban of meetings of more than 10 people in public or private, permission to leave the home restricted to essential activities only and the closure of restaurants, bars that venues for additional activities for exhibitors to host their own events, networking opportunities and the evening relaxation that can define a trade show experience.

This isn’t great news for shows and exhibitions if measures like these continue or worsen into 2021, as events and exhibitions rely not only on the successful running of the show from AV exhibitors on site, but also the countless food stands, hotels and nearby restaurants and bars that provide a venue for additional and for exhibitors to host their own events, networking opportunities and the evening relaxation that can define a trade show experience. 

XRstudio4©AEDgroup
The world of work and live events may be changed forever should a vaccine not be found. A study of Inavate readers* shows that a staggering 83% of AV professionals are not planning to attend physical events in 2020, with a 41% also planning to avoid physical industry events within the first quarter of 2021. 

Industry confidence is lacking for future events, so could virtual events be the answer? Not according to 44% of those surveyed who said that virtual trade shows and conferences could not provide the necessary value for time or information compared to a physical event, with 22% having never attended a virtual event. 

What could be the solution in this balancing act to restore industry confidence? Could a hybrid of physical and virtual events become a temporary or even permanent fixture in the events of the future? 

Best of both worlds

Increasingly, the focus of the live event debate has been turning to going virtual, with event organisers looking for temporary alternative solutions to continue to drive audience engagement in creative new ways. 

Christian Czimny, R&S industry dfoirector, Absen, explained: “There is really a demand created in the market due to the situation of Covid. Rental companies are now finding a small segment where they can still have income using their existing equipment and space. There are some concepts where temporary fixed setups are used and prepared for high frequency because of that demand in the market.” 

Czimny continues: “The demand had been there before but Covid changed the market and it will change for the future. We see it still as an addition, so once we recover from Covid then those virtual studios will be reduced again but they might be used in addition to physical events. For those who can’t join or need to travel long distances, those virtual studios will keep existing.”

LED is becoming more commonplace in virtual studios, as the concept begins to mature. “A lot of green screens still get used, but now the advantage using LED is that we get more realistic environments. I would split virtual studios into two parts: Live, virtual studios and postproduction virtual studios. The big advantage for live studios is the possible interaction, displaying information on the LED screen in the back to make the setup more interactive and interesting for presenters and audiences.”

Creative studio Univate has developed its own virtual studio and virtual venues to provide not only a means to watch an event but to engage with it in real time alongside other virtual audience members as Jasper Steenkamp, managing director, Univate, explained: “In our own studio, we have a green screen studio and we have an office space which we completely transformed into a studio to become a virtual event studio. We don’t want to work only with green screen because the quality is not as nice as a physical object in a studio so we placed a small floor and backdrop with LED and the rest of the environment is virtual, but the place where the presenter is standing is a physical environment. 

“If you are used to organising events for a thousand people, you can have even a million people attend for other locations and for some clients, this can be a major add on for the event experience. We are focusing on that, not only to solve problems for today but also to see opportunities for the future.”- Jasper Steenkamp, Univate
“The presenter has the feeling that they are standing on a stage, not in a green screen environment. We have also created a virtual venue where clients can ‘enter’ an event, look around and be welcomed by a host. We can create this venue with standard templates that we created ourselves and we can create client-specific venues in an area where the event is to take place, an office building or even a fantasy world. It works on any device including mobile devices and laptops. 

“We’ve had a complete focus on virtual and hybrid events for four months. We believe that what we are creating now is something that will stay even when real events are back as we are used to. Our clients are now able to have a larger audience or give people who are unable to attend an amazing experience from other locations in real time.” 


Steenkamp: “If you are used to organising events for a thousand people, you can have even a million people attend from other locations and for some clients, this can be a major add on for the event experience. We are focusing on that, not only to solve problems for today but also to see opportunities for the future."

Virtual Event Studio - PF -00013

Ease of use sits at the heart of a successful virtual studio design as Steenkamp clarified: “We’ve designed a couple of stage designs that our clients can choose from. The whole stage design can be much bigger than an actual studio environment because it’s augmented and we can create any environment for clients, whether it’s pre-designed templates or a custom design. 

“It should be easy and simple to use. It shouldn’t cost tons of money and if you just want to do a live event for one hour, you should be able to come in the morning, do a quick run and broadcast in the afternoon then be home for dinner. Our concept is quite affordable but also easy to reinstall in other places.” 

Virtual studios are increasingly seen as the preferred environment for hosting events in the Covid-19 era, providing flexibility for event organisers and an enhanced user experience that improves upon the traditional ‘viewer’ format of live streamed events.

Thierry Heldenbergh, managing director, AED Display explained: “We started discussing an XR studio concept as a joint venture between different companies. The studio is located at AED’s studios with AED Display as the LED and video supplier, MalfMedia who provide the creative content and Euro Grip, who specialise in the grips, cranes and the cabinet tracking. By joining all the different partners together, we came up with this setup. There are other comparable setups in the world, but we wanted to go the extra mile.”

Heldenbergh
“In the setup we have made, it's not only a single camera setup. It’s a very scalable setup. Most of the XR studios today are just built up of two background screens at an angle of 90 degrees with an LED floor. 

“We built a far bigger stage that is wider and higher than normal XR studios which gives us a lot more flexibility and options for set extension in real time which allows us to focus on higher quality renderings. We used two types of camera tracking standards such as standard stYpe for a single camera and RedSpy tracking, allowing for the preferences of directors.”

The XR studio makes use of Disguise media servers and ROE Visual Diamond 2.6mm screens alongside an ROE black marble LED floor with a matte surface applied to lower the risk of reflections and keying issues. The system is running at 10 bits for optimal core calibration and real time colour correction.” 

Looking to the future, it is possible that these solutions could phase out within the next year; however, uncertainty surrounding the progress of Covid-19, a second wave of infections in the winter or even continued adoption of the technology in the aftermath of the pandemic are at the forefront of professionals. 

Heldenbergh closes: “I think for the next 12 months there will be a lot of interest for these kinds of studios to replace in-person events or as part of hybrid events instead of webinars or online presentations. I can imagine that a large corporation or a bank will use these kinds of studios to allow a CEO to address employees. Today it is impossible to do that in one location, so it will be interesting to use this system to allow 100-200 people to follow the presentation on a screen instead of sitting behind a desk. 

“I think it will gradually disappear in the event business after a year or so when normality returns, because I am convinced there will always be a need for live events and that need for something happening in front of you, but I am also convinced that a lot will also change in broadcast production to these kinds of setups as it saves a lot of time in recording and post production.”

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