InfoComm: 10 Trends in Live Events 2013

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InfoCommThe live events industry has grown massive, driven by a confluence of factors. The music industry continues to rely heavily on concert touring to replace revenues lost to digital distribution and piracy; sporting events are getting bigger and more global, with branded spectaculars from ESPN’s X Games to a year’s worth of run-up games to the World Cup adding music, lights and projection video; and corporate extravaganzas put on by edge brands like Red Bull and Nike are becoming more AV-dependent as they try to attract press and spectators. Every event uses some combination of audio, video, lighting and — increasingly — live streaming via the Internet.

And that’s not all. Here are some trends to keep an eye on as this season gets underway.

Wireless Squeeze

Spectrum reallocation will make using multiple channels of wireless microphones for an event even more of a squeeze play. It’s not that professional users are gobbling up more spectrum; rather, mobile devices are devouring the stuff — smartphones alone use 24 times more data than a traditional cell phone, and tablets can consume 122 times more data than old traditional phones, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The agency is working on ways to free up additional spectrum, including wresting it from other government agencies and working with TV broadcasters to develop incentive auctions that will allow TV stations to put their unused or underused spectrum up for sale and get a cut of the proceeds. The goal is to free up an additional 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband use by 2020.

In the meantime, several spectrum-management databases are now (mostly) in place. The first TV Bands Device Database, operated by Spectrum Bridge went live a year ago; Google’s and Key Bridge Global’s went into trial in March. Since three to 15 wireless microphones (depending on model) can operate in one 6MHz TV channel, the TV channels currently reserved for pro use will accommodate the needs of most wireless users. Users of larger numbers of wireless systems may register in the TV Bands Devices Database to protect additional TV channels during a specific event. Unlicensed wireless microphone users must request database protection from the FCC, while licensed users may register in the database directly. Until the FCC registration system is fully operational, unlicensed users must submit registration requests directly to the FCC Office of Engineering Technology atTVWSinfo@fcc.gov.

Resurrecting Deceased Performers?

Don’t look for Elvis anytime soon. The stunning holographic effect of Tupac Shakur strutting around the stage at last year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival prompted the promise of more dead celebrities showing up at shows and events. They reportedly include Presley, Jim Morrison of the Doors and Marilyn Monroe. Digital Domain, the visual effects house co-founded by director James Cameron that produced Tupac, flirted with bankruptcy late last year before being revived with $30.2 million in financing from new Chinese and Indian owners. No digital ghosts have been announced yet, but we may see more of the visual effects used on the band Primus’ fall 2012 “3D Tour,” which saw fans receive 3D glasses so they could see the three-dimensional imagery projected from screens behind the band. When it comes to holograms and 3D imagery, jam bands may yet succeed where ESPN and others have floundered.

MADI Migration Continues

MADI is the acronym du saison. The Multichannel Audio Digital Interface is an AES-standard communications protocol that defines the data format and characteristics of an interface for multiple channels of digital audio. We first saw MADI in recording studios two decades ago as a way to move multichannel digital audio between consoles and digital tape machines (remember those?). From there,MADI migrated to broadcast, where it’s used to move multichannel digital audio between routers. Lately, MADI’s been making its presence felt in live sound applications, where instead of being the central matrix for what can be hundreds of audio signals, digital mixers are becoming the GUIs for routers capable of potentially thousands of endpoints, with signals carried over fiber. This simplified matrix arrangement of console and router using MADI over fiber allows more signal paths to be sustained and managed in a single show. For instance, the All-Star Jam, a music event that was part of the NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston last February, let multiple digital consoles share routers in different locations.

Flat-Panel vs. Projection Walls

Projection video, long the mainstay of large-scale events, may be sharing the spotlight with flat-screen displays this season. “While the use of large video projection systems by corporations and business entities for training and presentations have been in place for many years, the new generation of LCD, multicelled videowalls offers many advantages over traditional front- and rear-projection systems,” says Paul Allen, president of Adaptive Video Walls & Displays. “One significant difference between the two technologies is picture clarity in environments with strong ambient light. Projection systems need darker room environments to deliver clarity, while an LCDvideowall will shine through normal room lighting, allowing audiences to be able to review very detailed materials during a presentation. With the advent of extremely narrow bezels on professional LCD screens, visual segmenting of an image is greatly reduced, while the size of a video wall can go from modest to giant to accommodate any installation setting.” Allen cites other flat-screen advantages, including elimination of the need to replace bulbs, and lower power consumption.

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Speaking of Videowalls

Expect to start seeing a lot more videowalls at events where they might not have been considered a year ago. Thanks to the plummeting costs for processing and displays, videowalls are more accessible by more event operators than ever. Rick Seegull, vice president of sales & marketing at Aurora Multimedia, says its newest processor costs $1,800 per unit, allowing the processing for a 3×3 wall using nine displays to cost about $16,000, plus the cost of the displays. “And those can be consumer-grade LCDs; the processing is agnostic,” he says, putting the videowall concept within the reach of the typical indie touring band or local charity fundraiser. “A couple of years ago, videowalls were the mansions on the hill,” says Seegull. “Now they’ve gone mainstream.”

Insure It!

In recent years, fatalities, injuries and losses from damage due to winds and storms at live outdoor events have put new emphasis on insurance coverage. But even those who escape direct weather problems may still pay a price. Scott Carroll, executive vice president and program director of Take 1 Entertainment Insurance, says that at the very least, coverage terms will become more restrictive. For instance, higher deductibles may be required; engineering sign-offs for stages and trusses may need to be submitted to the insurance carrier as part of the trigger for when coverage applies; written processes and procedures may need to be provided to carriers regarding who is responsible for calling the show or lowering the roof truss structures when high winds or bad weather are forecast.

“In other words, insurance carriers will be looking for more proactive approaches to potential and sudden changes in the weather, rather than an after-the-fact approach, as was seen in so many of the stage accidents in the past,” Carroll warns.

Speaking of Weather

Staging companies will be looking for their own weather prognosticators, as they seek to avoid liability for weather-induced damages. And they’ll have a few options. On the DIY end, there are more and more websites that offer real-time, moving Doppler radar images that can drill down to a matter of meters to show the location of storms and in which directions and how quickly they’re moving. Taking periodic, time-stamped screen shots of these in the hours before an outdoor event can document a company’s efforts to monitor conditions, if that kind of information is ever needed. A more elaborate solution comes from Weather Decision Technologies (WDT), which sells dynamic, Web-based and mobile interactive mapping solutions to media companies and high-profile concert-touring clients, including classic rock band Heart. WDT clients receive per-show, event-specific meteorological data under WDT’s event venue safety information service, WeatherOps.

A Definitive Safety Guide

The Event Safety Alliance (ESA), a group of about 600 industry members ranging from manufacturers to riggers and touring production managers, is now in the final six-month stage of review for the U.S. Event Safety Guide, a 300-page compendium of best practices for all aspects of live event operations, from rigging to sound to lighting and pyro/special effects. ESA executive director Jim Rigby says August 5 is the target date to close peer review, with publication expected before the end of the year. While that might be a little late for this year’s live-event season, Rigby says the lengthy and comprehensive review process underscores the fact that the safety of workers, performers and audiences is now a primary concern. “The Guide takes into account all of the experiences, good and bad, of the last several years,” he says.

Google Docs — Yes, Google Docs

As live events become more complex, entire forests are denuded of trees as scripts undergo countless revisions. Increasingly, AV supervisors are turning to Google Docs to create paperless management systems that allow for revisions of scripts distributed through personal laptops, tablets and smartphones. That’s how audio supervisor Michael Abbott has been managing the information flow for the Grammy Awards show for the past two years. He and his crews use Google Docs to create scripts and convert them to .PDF files distributed throughout the show’s backbone. New versions are pushed through to everyone instantly, and individual user revisions can be made. Abbott says he uses this system to move scripts, audio I/O lists and stage plots around the cavernous Staples Center for the Grammy Awards and other shows.

“A typical one-week show will generate a 7- to 8-inch pile of paper,” he says. “Multiply that by two hundred people and you see why we have to move to iPads for scripts.”

4K — Almost

Well, maybe 4K resolution imagery won’t go mainstream for live events this year, but it will soon. Technology is already in place that to project 4K resolution — approximately quadruple that of current 1080p — at 48 frames per second to a 70×30 film screen. That’s 55,000 ANSI lumens, if you’re counting. It’s going to be bright, certainly bright enough for outdoor use. Hollywood is looking hard at4K, and historically formats that become successful in cinema migrate to other commercial venues, including live events, such as corporate product launches. So if you’re anticipating the live events trends for 2014, add 4K to that list, too.

This column was reprinted with permission from InfoComm International and originally appeared here.

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