20.08.07

AV with a purpose

AUTHOR: Inavate

In the UK alone there are over 23,000 venues offering conferencing facilities, ranging from small hotels to purpose built exhibition and conference centres with the capability to hold many thousand delegates. Multiply that across the EMEA region and you’re talking big business.

Almost every country house, golf course, theatre, racecourse, museum and city hall is in competition to attract and host events, adding their own individual benefits and offering additional attractions and unique advantages in an attempt to gain a slice of the corporate conference budget of every company in the land.

The vast majority of these venues can cater for audiences between 20 and 100 people and have fixed, facilities, although some have the ability to remove room partitions and enlarge the spaces to make them more manageable and intimate.

At the higher end of the scale, there are fewer sites offering the ability to cope with groups of over 1,000 delegates with all their varied needs: catering, conveniences, accommodation, transport and so on. One of the emerging trends is the transformation of these centres to become multipurpose. One day, for example, hosting a full corporate city presentation, a technology seminar the next, an in-house staff meeting the following day and a large-scale video conferencing session after that. Each type of event has its own specific requirement for seating layout, lighting, video presentation and audio play-out. Very often these types of venue are part of another primary business – such as a golf course or museum, or perhaps forming part of a massive exhibition and conference centre of the scale of Earls court or the NEC, Amsterdam’s RAI centre or Barcelona’s Palau de Congressos.

De Vere Venues operates a chain of 29 conference and training venues, many based within city centre or country hotels. The emphasis is on providing everything that business and corporate marketing departments might possibly require. Each site has a standard complement of audio visual equipment managed by in-house IT and engineering staff. A similar trend is apparent through out the industry. Simon Thompson, Director of Conferences UK, a company that provides a nationwide booking service summarises the situation: “Many venues nowadays have a set of equipment that is ready installed and configured, so is integrated well within the rooms. This means that the overall quality level is high for their clients and ensures that the screens and audio equipment are readily available. Also it means that there are no trailing wires and temporary stands for loudspeakers and displays that adversely affect the ambience.”

In some locations, particularly medium-sized venues, equipment will be hired-in from AV suppliers on an event-by-event basis. Generally the process is that the client will request a specific range of facilities and the venue operator will be responsible for liasing with suppliers and hiring it on the client’s behalf, often earning a level of commission. Usually the chosen supplier will be familiar to the venue operator so that problems associated with on-site operation of third-party staff and insurance are eliminated. Some venues go so far as to restrict unknown suppliers from operating on its premises. From the AV industry point-of-view a contract with a venue is extremely valuable leading to continuous and highly lucrative repeat business.

The Palau de Congressos in Barcelona provides a flexible multipurpose venue catering for almost any number of visitors and almost any type of event in a superb location close to the Olympic site in the centre of the city. It is based on a zoned system, which allows multiple, flexible combinations of 32 individual spaces to form a selection of dedicated rooms to suit requirements, together with full office, catering and hotel services on site. Audiovisual equipment is supplied by a local organisation: Grup Jaume Muntaner, although individual clients may use their own suppliers by agreement with the Centre’s operations staff. Frederik, Project Manager at Jaume Muntaner explains the benefits: “It is not cost-effective for the Palau du Congressos to have anything more than the basic standard lighting and simple sound system due to the enormous cost of the equipment. It is much more logical and efficient for companies running conventions to come to us to for complete design consultancy and then to install and operate professional audio, visual and lighting for their event, as well as translation booths and video production facilities. Most recently there has been interest in LED lighting and very high power projection of 10,000 lumens and above as well as HD video presentation. We have an adequate stock of high quality equipment that matches the flexibility of the centre”.

Conferences, product launches, awards ceremonies are, by their very nature, glamorous, high profile events in which thousands of pounds are likely to have been invested in image and presentation. This is reflected in the client’s demands for reliable equipment of the highest quality. In venues with permanent installations, installed equipment is static and will usually operate well, even though it may not be state-of-the-art. Multipurpose venues call in specialist suppliers who will work closely with the marketing and promotion teams of the end user to create an overall look-and-feel for the event. Andy Dyson, Conference & Events Manager at Saville Audio Visual: “The mid-range conference industry is very buoyant at the moment, with companies prepared to spend to achieve an effective level of presentation. It is often a great benefit to work in multipurpose venues and locations as you are presented with a large empty space, hence no limitation on equipment and no problems having to integrate with existing AV systems. This can be problematical, for instance if you are trying to provide multi-source switching onto an existing single channel projector. Many clients’ events rotate around the country to provide good access for their members or staff and are they are generally open to suggestions on ways to provide new effects and interest”.

The most critical component in these situations - and the one you can least afford to lose - is the sound system. Andy Dyson: "It needs to be clear and extremely reliable. The basic equipment has not changed significantly over the last few years compared with video systems. We have seen digital audio mixing and audio processors that contribute to the clarity, but fortunately most audio systems are extremely reliable.”

Video is another matter, as new switching and distribution technology is being introduced, as well as new forms of playback, recording and of course, high definition TV. Broadcast technology is percolating down to these levels as the basic cost of equipment falls. Andy Dyson is familiar with the use of the hard disk player/recorders at presentations. “The ability to record presenters’ video sequences offline and then control them at the same time as several cameras and other sources, rather than trying to handle DVD discs in players, which is fraught with problems, is extremely valuable to the smooth running of a live event. The next step up is to add event recording to hard disk for subsequent distribution or Internet transmission.”

Video Conferencing is taking hold of the business communication environment, particularly as HD videoconferencing systems are becoming available from suppliers. One significant area that is likely to become more prominent in future is that of combining videoconferencing into events within the multipurpose venues environment – perhaps by linking two or more large meetings together. This will allow speakers to address multiple halls of delegates rather than just one, with some level of interactivity between them. Simon Thomson: “Companies like Regus who provide open access venues would benefit greatly by the addition of multi-venue videoconferencing allowing teams of staff and customers from the same company to communicate and participate over large geographic distances. This has been achieved successfully by Microsoft who laid on a very impressive global meeting between large venues in Manchester and New York including real time videoconferencing capability.”

Video distribution is also important to companies presenting a total event, perhaps with exclusive use of a single venue such as a theatre or football ground, where a company presentation or the live conference is to be run in peripheral areas such as reception or bars. The use of Cat-5 is becoming more common with companies such as Smart-e and AMX Endeleo offering products that allow centralised video switching onto Cat-5 networks and distribution over distances up to 300 metres. Fibre transmission is also becoming more common in the presentation environment, particularly when there is a greater distance obstacle to be overcome, however it is yet to enter the world of the large venue to any great extent. Some of the larger venues, such as the ICCB in Barcelona are beginning to install fibre to provide audio and video distribution between larger halls spread over great distances.

As production techniques and AV technology advances, it is clear that the world of multipurpose venues is expanding and evolving into one where specialisation and the supply of sophisticated solutions are set to take over. What this means to those in the AV market is that there is a whole area of opportunity in which to develop new ideas, partnerships and business to win.