During Covid-19 lockdown, legendary UK creative agency Treatment Studio produced a platform to enable performers to see and hear remote audiences and bring them into the live event. Now that lockdown restrictions are easing, the software is finding new applications for interactive events.
Live Design talked to producer Sam Pattinson, who co-founded Treatment Studios with LD Willie Williams, and Mike Smith, production designer at Treatment Studios and technical director and co-founder of inKlick.
Live Design: During lockdown a lot of tools to connect people became very popular, from Peloton to Zoom. How is inKLICK different?
Sam Pattinson: Whereas Zoom and all the others have limited audio feeds, our system has audio feeds for each individual audience member so the artist can talk to anyone personally or hear the roar of the whole crowd. In terms of digital audiences, we understand that after the pandemic everyone will want to go to a real show but we think the bigger picture for us is concerts or shows that can’t tour or can’t go to certain parts of the world but where fans could still join in with inKLICK.
Mike Smith: In terms of Peloton and other popular pandemic systems, they are great for the people on the bike to see the presenter, but the presenter isn’t getting any feedback. For us, it is all about closing that social loop between the artist and the audience. When we started out, everyone was talking about social distancing and we are trying to get away from that phrase and towards the idea of being physically distanced but socially connected.
We started this to do it for the concert industry because that is where we all come from, but we soon realized there is a wider application, for example in the music world the artist promo market which this is really good for. [UK best-selling singer/songwriter] Tom Grennan did a promo using inKLICK with his fans who were able to talk to him. They would never get the opportunity to do that in a normal concert.
LD: In that case Grennon could call on his fans by name and see them onscreen. In order to do this, have you adapted a previous system?
MS: We looked at how we could do this with Zoom or Microsoft Teams but we quickly realized that there wasn’t an off-the-shelf solution out there, so we started from scratch. We brought our own development team together and made it a bespoke system that would suit what we needed.
LD: You built the software, who are you working with for hardware?
MS: Solotech supplied audio and broadcast equipment plus their valued technical experience. We have also been closely supported by 80Six which has a studio in Slough that we used as a test environment. The great thing about this project is it has allowed us to join multiple companies to work together on something, and that has been really nice during the lockdown period.
But inKLICK is hardware agnostic, it is a software base that brings the audience audio and video in and then allows us to push that to outside systems, like media servers, it is very much a component that fits into the workflow.
LD: Are there any constraints on what hardware the system will work with?
SP: It works with Hippo or disguise or any other media server.
MS: Our system easily integrates with onsite workflows with the minimum of physical hardware. It is NDI and Dante-based so it sits on the network and the media servers and sound desk can see it and connect to it.
LD: Is it plug and play or is there a learning curve?
SP: We tried to make the system as simple as possible to use. From the audience point of view they connect via a web browser, there is nothing to download, they follow a secure link and they get straight on to the concert. We then get their video and audio—obviously once they’ve given us permission to receive that. Onsite the system we designed is really plug and play and that’s from our knowledge of production workflows. We all have a background in live event production so we made it to fit straight into the network. We are not a ticketing system or media server because those things already exist, it’s about just providing those connections between the audience and the artist. We can work with Ticket Master or anyone other company, it is up to the event promoter how they want to sell their tickets.
LD: So what is the performer or presenter looking at?
MS: Ours is a two-way system, if you want the artist to see you we can put the audience on to a videowall or in projections, and cycle through everyone attending or create a two way VIP experience for a select few. Technically, we have very few capacity limitations on our system, but it comes down to how many people can the artist really see and interact with? We can rotate feeds to show different people, we can display 200 people at a time but allow the artist to hear the whole audience, so they get the real full house experience and response.
When we did the promo with Tom Grennan we had people singing along and he could hear that. As much as we think this is for the audience, it is just as much for the artist because a lot of the time they are just staring at a camera and they are getting no response. That’s why we are a bridge for digital events—Tom has done a lot of one-way streams and as soon as he jumped onto our stream he was like, “this is incredible!”
LD: Is there a role in entertainment technology for inKLICK after the pandemic?
MS: In our conversations with clients the new buzzword is hybrid events. They really foresee a time where you will have a live audience in the room and then there will be people who can’t travel or don’t want to travel as much in the future, so this allows them to stay home and still participate. For corporate clients it eliminates the expense of travel and there is also the environmental impact. It is not the greenest thing to do to fly someone around the world for a 2-hour conference or event.
LD: Since the sound quality will be very good are there industry concerns about people ripping music on live shows this way?
SP: That concern is across the board, piracy happens and will continue to happen, but I think the artists believe the economics work for them.
LD: Will the audience be able to access the shows afterward?
SP: Technically yes but depends on the artist and how exclusive they want the event to be. We are just providing the tech.
LD: In a hybrid event can the remote audience be seen by the live audience?
MS: If you want it to be. The stream that goes out is the camera feed of the performance or presentation. The camera can cut to the stream with the audience on to play in the space, and we have a two-step pre-moderation process before participants are moved to the next screen so we can very quickly remove someone and ensure that they are not playing on a giant videowall. The system is touchscreen-based for ease and speed of use and it’s web-based, so moderators can be anywhere in the world, they don’t have to be onsite. The promoters take ownership of that side of it so they make the decision as to who stays and goes during their concert. This feature was introduced for Comic Relief [an annual televised fundraising event] because obviously we were live on BBC One so it needed to be broadcast-safe.
LD: What has the corporate event feedback been?
MS: They see it as the future. There are various features that they would like to see which we are developing. We have Spotlight Mode, which allows us to pick one person out of the audience and display them on a separate video feed to allow for really clear interaction, and we are looking at Panel Mode so clients can have a board of directors on the screen and the audience can have a full conversation with all of them. It is designed to work for award shows and product demos giving them a global reach.
LD: How many remote participants can you host?
MS: We can put up to a thousand faces on the video wall but it’s down to how big a canvas the performer can actually see. For example, 200 people on a video screen is roughly a 100 square meters of videowall. When the stream is one way you can have as many people as you want, but when both ends are visible it is going to necessarily smaller than that. The audience become the VIP ticket holders.
A few weeks ago and we did an event that had about 10,000 people watching via the company’s normal streaming platform and then we had a small audience of 50 – 75 people who were on the screen and it worked really well. We were able to bring that added value to the event.
SP: It allows someone on inKLICK to be spontaneous and join a Q&A along with the live audience members. With [other video platforms] you can only have two or three people talking at the same time because the idea is to only hear the person who is speaking. We’re trying to do the opposite of that, we want to hear everybody and get a real live audience feel. We are averaging 100 milliseconds delay so it is a natural interaction as well.
LD: How does the performer experience this?
MS: A lot of the time we’ll put the audience into the performer’s ears. We have our own separate inKLICK sound engineer so we’ll mix the audience in first and send the production engineer a left and right audience and they can change the level as they want. In-ear is the best way of doing it, we can put it through speakers but in all the tests we’ve done the artist wants it in -ear.
LD: How does the performer see the audience?
MS: It is very intimidating for a performer to stand in front of a big video wall of people and that’s where Treatment’s role is, to make the audience part of the show design. During the song a performer might prefer to hide the audience to concentrate on the song, but then in between songs we can bring the audience back in. It is down to the artist and understanding how they want to interact. The audience can also be behind the artist and part of the show.