Protec proudly supported the NFU’s 2021 annual conference and AGM which took place over two days as a virtual event on February 23rd and 24th. Usually held at the ICC with an audience of 1500, this was the first time the event was held virtually. It was attended by VIP guests Defra Secretary George Eustice, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson recording a video message to share with delegates. Engaging over 2000 unique visitors the virtual event was a huge success, signalling that the future of events like this post pandemic is hybrid. Opening the floor to a wider audience, a hybrid event would certainly disrupt past practices and democratise conferences and summits.
Stuart MacLachlan, head of production at Protec, explained its role in delivering this high-profile event.
“Protec were called upon to deliver a custom-built virtual platform, complete event design and branding, the web portal development, technical production & crew solutions, and due to lockdown restrictions, a COVID-19 safe venue.”
When the original event venue was no longer viable, the Protec team were quick to offer an alternative solution. Conveniently located near the NEC in Birmingham, its accessible location made the Protec offices a suitable location. With the client in agreement, the team quickly set about making the COVID compliant office an even safer environment for both the crew and clients by putting extra measures in place. The boardroom was converted into a live presentation area for President Minette Batters and Director General Terry Jones of the NFU. The large open plan office was deployed as a backend technical production studio.
COVID-19 Safety Measures
With health & safety being paramount, Mr MacLachlan explained the measures in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
“Adi Giles and I were trained by a healthcare professional on how to correctly administer Innova Lateral flow tests in compliance with government guidelines. We identified these as the best solution and set up a log sheet for results which we logged with the governments test and trace system. These tests were carried out externally to ensure nobody entered the building at any time without a negative result. Once tested, the individual was equipped with a PPE set including mask and sanitiser. Finally, everyone entering the building logged their presence via the QR codes situated on each entrance to the building. Sanitiser stands and wipes were dotted around the building particularly at high traffic areas. Social distancing measures were taken seriously, and we had a system in place where clients and presenters used a different entrance to crew to minimise interaction.”
Social distancing also influenced the technical decisions. Protec wanted to ensure the presenters felt safe and comfortable, so the team decided against using manned cameras in the boardroom/studio to restrict the number of people in it.
“The solution was HD remote hot head cameras that were controlled from the production studio rather than manned in the room,” commented MacLachlan, “We employed a system called QuVu for this, which is an existing television studio and live event system that is tried and tested. This system allows for the cameras to be placed directly behind the autocue screen or on top of a large monitor, so the presenter is looking straight down the lens when presenting from autocue. As this was going to be a television type broadcast it was important that we had that look and feel and not use conventional glass-based systems for this. It also solved the issue of social distancing of course, so was a win win.”
Protec utilised a custom-built high-powered desktop PC that hosted the vMix software that controlled the whole virtual mix of the event and pushed it out to the platform.
“This was complemented with a Yamaha CL5 and QL1 for sound, dozens of laptops doing all sorts of things from NDI calls to PowerPoint operated remotely from someone’s house. Black magic hyper decks to record, about 1000m of cable and routing, lots of LCD screens and plasmas, set, lecterns, furniture etc.”
Connectivity, Backup & Engagement
As NFU Live was a fully virtual event, it was 100% dependant on a secure internet connection. Leaving nothing to chance, Protec installed a backup 4g and 5g internet connection ensuring if there was any drop in connectivity the end user would not be affected.
“The event itself called for us to be able to have a live transmission from our studio but also bring in virtual presenters from all over the country to engage in the conversation. We facilitated two- and three-way conversations seamlessly between studio presenters and virtual presenters all in different locations. In addition to this, attendees could ask questions live through the platform. These had to go through a moderation system and then were pushed out to the presenters on foldback screens in the studio and another device in the virtual locations.” MacLachlan elaborated.
Virtual Breakout Rooms
Due to the influential nature of both the presenters and the subject matter, Protec also had to manage a very high press presence at this event, and the challenges that presented.
“We obviously had to ensure that we catered for the press as well as the paying membership. We therefore had separate press conferences that happened after each high-profile presenter finished their section. This proved challenging as these press conferences were overlapping what was happening on the main stage, as it were. Additionally, we did not want the presenters to have to dial back in to get into a press only room. Once we had established the link with the presenter it was imperative that we kept them on that call, and we moved them around from room to room virtually,” MacLachlan explained.
“The solution to this was a complex NDI and Dante network plus additional vMix servers. All the presenters that needed to come in and move to another room for the press conferences came in over NDI which then allowed us the ability to move them from one vMix server to another without them even realising at their end. We had over 100 members of the press on a call where they could ask questions of the presenter and of course the NFU president and get an immediate live response. The feedback from NFU and the press for this was awesome and it worked extremely well.”
MacLachlan and the Protec team delivered beyond expectation and are already considering hybrid options for next year’s event.
Chris Taylor, Membership Events Manager for the NFU agreed wholeheartedly and praised Protec’s delivery of the event.
“I just wanted to say a massive thanks to everyone at Protec for the effort they put into making NFU Live 2021 a huge success for the NFU. They have been helpful, professional, solution driven and have gone above and beyond to help us deliver our annual conference under extremely difficult circumstances.”
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