Hybrid event AV is a complex business that requires attention to detail, a solid technical skillset, and the ability to think fast on your feet. AVTEAMUK has mastered all three. At the start of the pandemic, Matthew Thompson, owner and managing director of the company, helped his team and clients make a quick pivot from in-person event production to a hybrid model. We sat down with him to talk more about this transformation and how he is leveraging technology to keep pace with a rapidly evolving space.
What inspired the launch of AVTEAMUK, and what services do you provide?
I was head of AV at the Royal College of Surgeons in England when the organization decided to demolish and rebuild. I opted to purchase the college’s existing equipment and launch AVTEAMUK in 2017, incorporating the year before (2016). We are predominantly a live event production company and work with customers in defense, cybersecurity, utilities, healthcare, education, enterprise, and entertainment. Through our project work, we’ve also established relationships with key venues across the UK. Our team helps figure out the best way to help clients execute an event, whether physical or hybrid. We handle everything from the rental equipment to the crew, planning, and logistics. Once we sign a client, we build a proposal that outlines risk assessments, project floor plans, and more. After the event, we complete wash-ups with clients to identify any areas where the next event could improve and our learning points.
Tell us more about your role and start in the business.
As founder, owner, and managing director of AVTEAMUK, I wear many hats and am involved in running the business – from project planning to technical direction, operation, delivery, billing, planning, and marketing. I fell into AV by accident after graduating from university with a degree in media production. I fully intended to work in film VFX, but went another direction and started working for an AV company. My second gig was as an AV technician at the College of Surgeons, where I later served as media production supervisor, then by 2008 as the head of AV. To this day, I have kept up a good relationship with the College, and AVTEAMUK is now their preferred supplier.
How has the pandemic impacted your line of work?
Since the pandemic hit, we have witnessed a paradigm shift in event production that has drastically altered our day-to-day. We had to pivot to support more hybrid events, which translated to new technology investments. Now 99 percent of the projects we take on are hybrid. However, clients embracing a hybrid event model for the very first time require extra coaching. We help guide them through the process, as they are often surprised by how much extra work the virtual component adds.
Are hybrid events here to stay?
When it comes to event production, the pandemic opened Pandora's box, and hybrid is the new norm; there is no going back. Thankfully, the technology to execute hybrid events has rapidly progressed, and there are a lot of advantages to blending physical and virtual events, including a broader, global audience reach. That said, physical events are not going away. Some client sponsors want access to audiences in physical seats rather than a list of leads post-webinar. Hybrid offers the best of both worlds.
Describe some of the associated challenges in producing hybrid events.
We did not realize how much more work hybrid events take, until we started doing them. It’s not only about pre-planning but also managing multiple elements during an event, from moderating live streams to incorporating real-time social media interactions. For instance, if 3000 people are watching a live stream and one wants to ask a question, we might have a crew run virtual green rooms where we run a test with that participant before sending them live into the stream. We also must prepare most content ahead of time, because last-minute changes to PowerPoint or Keynote presentations can create delays. Even so, we can’t always get access to everyone’s content before an event.
To get ahead of these challenges, we often have a technical director on site who is camera and show calling, a graphics technician running the presentation material, a sound engineer, camera operators, runners, and other key staff. As a result, hybrid events require bigger crews. From a technical perspective, there are also so many available hybrid platforms, and each client has their preference (i.e. Hopin, Zoom, Teams, All in the Loop, etc.). We are continuously developing new solutions and services to enable our customers to carry out their hybrid vision with their preferred platforms. It can be cumbersome to keep up with all this new technology.
How have you evolved your workflow to support hybrid event production?
We have invested heavily in new technology, including the AJA Io 4K Plus. It is a portable I/O solution that we can take anywhere and allows us to input any SDI sources we need into our laptops in seconds. This speed is crucial, as venues often charge an overnight hold, and time is money. Thankfully, we can pull the video portion of the workflow together quickly because the Io 4K Plus easily connects to a computer over Thunderbolt. It also has such a nice feature set that gives us the flexibility to handle unexpected client curve balls. AJA is a true market leader in video and builds reliable, quality products. Depending upon the project, we also use NDI to bring in other sources, we primarily use vMix for streaming. A lot of this technology plugs into a mobile hybrid event production trolley we built. It includes all the mics, monitors, streaming tech, recorders, and other gear, as well as a slot for the Io 4K Plus. Our team can unload the unit from a truck, roll it into the venue, and we can be quickly ready to go.
Can you tell us about one of your latest projects?
We recently completed production on an aortic surgery masterclass. Surgeons traveled from Holland, and we captured and streamed their demonstrations to virtual attendees around the world. We did not have much time to set up the AV in the surgical area, so Io 4K Plus came in handy, as we could easily hook into our laptop. We had a team member walking around with an easy rig camera system, an overhead camera, and a camera on the surgeons’ head. We were able to capture some great shots.
What technology trends are you monitoring?
Even though most of our projects are streamed in 1080p, we acquire footage in 4K when possible, especially when a highlight reel or promo is part of the package. It gives us greater stabilization and more flexibility in post, so we are keeping an eye on 4K technology innovations. We are also more generally looking at technologies that can accelerate deployment on-site without compromising production quality. It can take quite a long time to implement these live event workflows when you factor in video, audio, projection, staging, lighting, and other needs. The goal is to reduce setup time to just a few hours.