How Virtual Events Are Becoming More Like TV

By redback

As event organisers head into what is generally their busiest time of year – think awards nights and annual industry galas for starters – in 2020 things are decidedly different.

Driven by physical distancing and social gathering restrictions due to the ongoing vigilance required to live in a COVID-19-affected society, most end-of-year events have been planned as virtual events.

What’s more, organisers and producers are pushing the boundaries of virtual content and creating experiences that are more akin to a packaged live television event than simply filming a physical event without adapting it for a virtual audience.

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Take the recent Emmy Awards for example, which saw winners – watching from home, hotels or in small, appropriately socially-distanced groups – handed trophies by ushers in hazmat suits styled like tuxedos.

The broadcast was produced using more than 100 camera feeds from around the world, with nominees encouraged to set up their cameras wherever they felt most comfortable.

Producers sent nominees kits that included high-resolution cameras, ring lights, laptops and microphones to ensure high-quality images and sound.

Most of the Emmys ceremony was live except for a few packaged montages. The broadcast came together without any major technological blunders, aside from a few glitchy images and momentarily dropped sound.

Other similar-sized virtual events with viewers in the many millions, including the broadcasts of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the 2020 Daytime Emmys, took their television program-style approach even further.

The DNC, for example, included more pre-recorded video, and a massive 800 video feeds and 64 set designs, while the 2020 Daytime Emmys held in June was completely pre-taped from the lounge rooms of the show’s hosts as well as the presenters and nominees.

But this new style of approach to online events is not only relevant for events with viewers in the millions.


How the AMI is taking its virtual events a step further


Closer to home, the Australian Marketing Institute – the peak professional body representing marketers in Australia and a regular holder of events around the country – pivoted its events to virtual in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it initially considered hybrid events for its annual awards program, the AMI decided to hold a series of fully virtual events instead.

In September 2020, it recreated its Experience Marketing Excellence event (including announcing its AMI Award finalists) as a studio-hosted virtual event designed to appeal to a wider audience than simply the award entrants.

The key was to create engaging, purpose-built content that was much more like a television show, in contrast to a traditional stand-on-stage awards night that was simply filmed and broadcasted.

To do that the AMI used both formal and more casual interview-style formats, including pre-recorded content, to create a virtual, 45-minute, television-style presentation.

The event included two head judges as hosts, including a winner from 2019 talking about their campaign and what it felt like to win.

Two interviews were filmed at Redback’s webinar studios, and two were filmed remotely.

There were also two MCs in the studio either standing against a green screen background or seated to conduct chat-style interviews.

Other content included previous AMI award-winning campaigns, a video about the AMI’s charitable partner, the 2020 finalists’ details, and new incentives to support marketers.

Studio broadcasts and shorter form pre-recorded videos, inserted with the appropriate intro and outro, can add a professional element to your virtual event.

Studios also come with all the important essentials such as professional lighting and multiple high definition cameras which provide a range of angles and editing options, and you can also customise the set to reflect your brand, messaging and theme.

For the AMI, the event proved a success with a 50 per cent attendance rate. The event was also made available on demand.

Here are a few tips to make your virtual event a more engaging televisual production.


1. Get the right presenter


Hosting a virtual event is different from hosting a traditional event. Not only should your presenter be comfortable hosting live, they should be experienced in the virtual format where there is no crowd to feed off and help the presenter build atmosphere.

They should also be ready to ad-lib if there is a technical hiccup or delay – a five-second pause (especially when it comes to sound) can feel like a lifetime in a virtual event.


2. Make sure your content is engaging


Make sure your content is suited to the medium and catches the attention of your audience from the word go.

It’s a lot easier for your audience to tune out or walk away from a virtual event.

That also means making your event shorter than you would for a similar face-to-face event, because it’s harder for viewers to stay engaged when they only have a screen to look at.


3. Put plenty of time into planning


Planning your event is crucial, and, depending on the event size, it pays to give yourself from four to six weeks to make sure you have time to tick everything off your to-do list.

It’s also important to have a clear schedule for the event itself. Some of our clients use two run sheets, including a filming run sheet that covers the camera angles and positions of your hosts, and an editing run sheet that covers the order in which you want your various segments to be edited.


4. Break it up


Most TV shows feature a carefully curated list of scenes to offer variety and hold the audience’s attention.

Consider a studio broadcast, on-the-couch-style interview segment, panel discussion, pre-recorded video and other elements that can be edited together.


5. Bring on the brass


Think about how many times you’ve watched a live or recorded TV show which hasn’t included some kind of music. It’s pretty rare. Even news bulletins are introduced with a dramatic musical theme.

Music can be used in your intro and outro, to break up different segments, to accompany lists — such as when you want to show a list of award winners, and so on.

So think about creating a televisual feast for the senses to boost engagement, create excitement and generate immediacy when you’re designing your next virtual event.