TORONTO, ONTARIO: For Stagevision Inc., clients aren’t just customers, they’re partners, and with the implementation of a highly customizable virtual event platform in 2020, they’ve found an elegant and incredibly flexible means of deepening those partnerships in the virtual space. In doing so, they’ve leveraged the Clear-Com technology heavily, both in terms of hardware and, increasingly, software – specifically Clear-Com’s Agent-IC and Dynam-EC applications.
Headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, Stagevision also has offices in Vancouver and Montreal, and have long provided a range of services including custom set design, event production, and interpretation/translation for a variety of clients as well as serving as the in-house AV supplier for approximately ninety properties across Canada (and one in the US). Additionally, by necessity, they’ve developed an ever-deeper suite of services for virtual events – an initiative backed by a Clear-Com system that,“ is the core across the board,” says John Christie, Specialist in Wireless & Communications, for Stagevision.
“The core of the product we offer has better reliability, output capabilities, intercommunication, and overall, a preferable experience for presenters and viewers,” Christie continues. That began with the creation of a single control room (CR 1) in their Mississauga HQ in mid-2020. Since then, they have converted their entire warehouse and offices to support this effort. “To the point,” Christie adds, “where we now have six control rooms and two sound stages.”
By way of explanation, although the pandemic scuttled in-person events, they are legitimately offering the next best thing – a detailed and nuanced recreation of the workflow and experience of a live show, conference, meeting, or whatever they’re called on to do.
The first event the system was used for was planned pre-pandemic as a live show but ultimately took place remotely in May 2020. In that, and subsequent jobs, the attitude was always: “Yes. We can take this on,” says Bryce Engelman, President of Stagevision's Staging and Events Division. “We then started by laying the groundwork for how best to make this great for the audience, our customers, presenters, planners, and all of the people that we cater to.”
“Meeting audience expectations was the easiest part of the equation,” Engelman notes. “The questions we set out to answer were, how do we make it better for the planners and presenters: how do we give them exactly what they're used to seeing in a live event such as a prompter, presenter notes, whatever they need, and also allow them to talk to everybody involved individually: how do we give them all that remotely, when most are working separately from their living rooms?”
As a solution, Stagevision repurposed their existing Clear-Com inventory, purchased additional equipment from GerrAudio as needed, and leaned into the use of Clear-Com’s Agent-IC mobile application.
“We use Agent-IC for our tech support team and in-house operations,” Christie explains. “We have six allocated account manager logins (one for each control room), so an account manager books CR3 and, on the day of the show, signs into the account manager for CR3 and has access to all aspects of that control room’s intercom, and the presenters, and anything else they may need, remotely. And our clients love Agent-IC because it’s such a simple, easy-to-use interface. We also go through a process, essentially an Agent IC rehearsal, and provide detailed instructions for downloading and setting up the app.”
While they utilized Clear-Com products extensively for pre-pandemic virtual offerings, “Now we’ve taken it to the next level,” Engelman says. “We hadn’t been using Agent-IC that much, but now we have thirty-two licenses and a bunch of LQ boxes, so we have control over all those feeds and link everyone together. “Our customers are typically live event planners who are used to being able to talk to the presenters, backstage in a green room – well, now we have a virtual green room. Even mid-show you can have our stage manager, or a producer, or an EA talking to a presenter who’s about to go on, or the client, the planner, anybody – completely behind the scenes and outside of the broadcast.” Consequently, anyone who would normally have a role in a pre-Covid live event can fulfill that same role, virtually – thus upping the comfort level for everyone by re-creating a familiar workflow.
To provide that experience Christie immediately gravitated toward the Clear-Com Eclipse Digital Matrix as the core element for the system. “Essentially, our ingest person can speak with one or more of those involved, talk them through the process, and give them cues, exactly as they would in an in-person, backstage area. If we equate it to a television broadcast experience, which is my background, it's like talking to on-air people through IFBs to communicate back and forth. Basically, we became a TV studio in everything but name; broadcasting to thousands of people every day.”
“The system has evolved over a three-phase process, and continues to,” Christie explains, “beginning with CR1 in May/June 2020, the provisioning of CR2 and their first soundstage in July, and the addition of two more control rooms and a second soundstage in September 2020. In September we also upgraded our network fabric and internet supply and phase two (during which security and redundancy were our main focuses) ended in early 2021,” Christie adds. “Now we’re looking forward to Phase 3 – Hybrid Events that combine all of these new services with the live events we specialized in pre-COVID.”
By that point, they’d created a campus-wide Dante network and added Dynam-EC, Clear-Com’s Real-time Production Assignments Tool to the mix – as an add-on available for the single Eclipse HX-Median Frame that all four main control rooms use. “That allows our ingest people to provide presenters with virtual private meeting rooms and/or put them into any party line we want. So, say we have six presenters, there are several more presenter laptops available in the control room. The client’s event staff will often take one or two of those. We add them into the main production, or a client party line. And we do all that with Dynam-EC, literally just dragging and dropping them using a touchscreen computer in the ingest position.”
Engelman elaborates: “One of the things we discovered in our early Covid meetings was that our clients’ requests were so varied that we needed to be dynamic and flexible enough to handle all eventualities. One of the big requests was – if several presenters are participating in the second part of a meeting – they wanted to be able to talk and compare notes while the show is in progress and before they go on. With Dynam-EC they can talk amongst themselves independently in a virtual green room, and can also listen to the show, so they know where they are in the event’s progress.”
Christie continues, detailing the makeup of the system and how various Clear-Com products are used.
“Our Eclipse Median Digital Matrix Frame has seven card slots – every one of them is full. We started with a single Edante64 card and now have two. Then there’s the IVC32 IP Card, and every one of those thirty-two virtual ports of IP is being utilized. We have thirty-two Agent-IC Licenses, ten Dynam-EC Licenses, and also some IP panels here on-site and for remote use, so our engineering team can also work remotely. Throughout the building we also have FreeSpeak engaged, the E-Que FreeSpeak II Card, so we have wireless throughout the building as necessary. And we’re using FreeSpeak base stations not for their FreeSpeak capacity but as four-channel main stations for camera control as well as powering local beltpacks.”
As for what type of shows they can facilitate, Christie says: “At the simple end, we can record one or two presenters, insert their PowerPoint and videos, and then package, edit, and play that back at the appropriate time. That may include hosting meetings for which we provide Zoom or Teams accounts for people to join when we stream it. The next step up is our websites with up to four presenters and limited playback and PowerPoint streaming out. Then we have our large control rooms with ten to twelve presenters allocated to each room with complete redundant dual playback sources and PowerPoints running, language translation and teleprompt for the presenters. So, depending on the number of presenters, the system scales up and down.”
“We’ve always offered virtual options,” Engelman puts in. “We’ve always had broadcasts from our live event space to remote audiences, but now our entire warehouse and office spaces have been converted to control rooms and soundstages. It’s an incredible transition and wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have such a great team, talented people like John and our partners who have supported us along the way.”
That work has been well worth it – not only in terms of providing a high-value service for clients but allowing Engelman and the entire staff of Stagevision to work more effectively remotely. “At home, I have Agent-IC running on my iPad, my laptop, two 27-inch monitors, my cell phone, and a mic. For me, this has helped make remote work possible. The last time I was actually in the office was a couple of weeks ago, but with Agent-IC and remote capability for multi-viewer displays, I can talk to and see any control room, like I’m there.”
In assessing their progress from early in the pandemic to mid-2021, both Christie and Engelman credit the other partners who have helped them along the way. Among them, RP Dynamics, BMI and GerrAudio Distribution, Clear-Com’s Canadian distributor – a company that both Stagevision and Christie have worked with for decades.
“Now, and in the past, Gerr has always been highly responsive to even the most detailed of requests,” Christie says. “I’m an extremely high-level user. My modus operandi is taking their products, putting them in places they weren’t before, and using them to the maximum capacity possible. So, I’m their worst nightmare, and – I'll admit it – a needy client,” he adds, laughing. “No matter how many hoops I have asked them to jump through over the years, their service, the attention to detail and the high-level engineering support they bring to bear on any job, is always impeccable.”
Written by: Kevin Young
For more information on Stagevision, visit: https://www.stagevision.com/about-us/en