Designing a Beautiful Stage for Live Stream

Live Streaming for company events is a major new feature in the business world.  More companies are using this technology to keep their global audience involved now because of regularly available fast internet and the promotion through YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.  With these three companies providing this service for free, it is up to the event company and its AV vendor to create a beautiful video.  Investing in a smart and clean design for video streams promotes an atmosphere of quality.  It is also exactly what Facebook and YouTube want us to do to promote their service.

We recently designed a stage for Quartz during their Next Billion live stream.  The venue selected was SF Jazz which already had great sound and lights, but needed more exciting decor and a video friendly stage.  To highlight the people on stage, we had to balance an awesome experience for the live audience, and a good looking video signal for the cameras.

To accomplish this, we spent a lot of energy thinking about video exposure and light level balance.  For the live audience, we flew a 27′ x 9′ super wide projection screen with high resolution super bright projection mapped content.  We knew this would look great live, but not on camera, so directly behind the presenters was a black vinyl printed banner with minimal white text, subtly lit with in house fixtures.  Then, we covered the shiny wooden floor with a short dark grey carpet.  Once properly lit on stage, any presenter and demo products would visually pop out. Also, the framing for camera was safe and avoided frame rate syncing or exposure issues with the projection. It totally worked, and the darker backgrounds visually fell away and created a seamless experience with the digital content. Many online viewers remarked that it was the best looking live stream they had ever seen.

The Next Billion conference presented by Quartz, held at the SF Jazz Center in San Francisco, CA Thursday, October 13, 2016.

What is so great about bringing live stream into a stage event is that it begins marrying two very different art forms.  Theatrical events create beautiful experiences for live audiences, and television studios create engaging experiences for the camera.  Live streaming an event means taking the best of both of these crafts and expanding the potential audience for any show.

This leaves us wondering, what is really possible for this new craft? Theater brings an immediacy and a shared social experience to a performance.  Television offers a completely realistic escape into a new world.  Certainly the opportunity for a company to excite the special few that are present live, as well as the hundreds or thousands that may watch online means great messages and executive vision can be delivered all at once, and retain consistency.

Some interesting thinking points to consider are:

  • Camera placement
    Eye level is optimal for the talent on stage, but this means the camera could wind up in the audience.  Especially if you want to do a proper reverse shot for fireside chats. Who is the target audience for this event and where are they? Sometimes, the cameras add a stimulating element for a live event too!
  • Lighting Design
    Stage lighting can quickly turn moody and cast deep shadows.  Stage lights usually have to be far away and therefore are designed to focus and throw light the distance.  For video, the lighting should be a smooth wash from broad and diffused fixtures.  Again, this is an area of compromises, and the sight line of a live audience my be more important.  Conversely, people want to look good on camera, and using a soft diffused light is the tried and true way of brining out a person’s flattering look and healthy skin tone.
  • Audience presence in video
    Is it important to show the audience in your video? Sometimes, the speaker is particularly engaging and it is a big part of the experience to know how the room responds.  An extra camera placed up at the front next to the stage can quickly pan over and snag some audience shots.  Consider even mixing the audience audio with the stream.  This isn’t a mic for the room audio, but just for the stream.  It makes sense to kill a presenters mic when she is done speaking, but this can sound harsh and awkward on video.  The viewer wants to hear the room, the laughter, and know people are asking questions.  If a camera will be showing the audience, we should hear them too.

I look forward to the stages of our future.  We may find a trend towards the live studio audience approach of sitcoms.  A stage will be lit and arranged in favor of the cameras, but keep an open fourth wall for the live audience to enjoy.  The VIP in room experience can be authentic and also populated with the closest members of the executive team.  The camera broadcast will offer a TV show style experience for everyone else in the company and press.  The major difference between live and pre recorded is there are never multiple takes or edits, so that authenticity is preserved.  That authenticity sparked the movement towards live content, but it is still difficult to bring production value.  With the democratization of technology and the growing number of experts in this field, we will be able to have both authenticity and quality in one package.

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