FIX8Group upscales The Hub for global virtual conference

FIX8Group’s The Hub was the centre of what is believed to be one of the largest ever virtual global meetings recently, as more than 500 speakers from over 70 countries joined a worldwide conference for a think tank organisation.

A global, full-service events agency collaborated closely with FIX8Group to deliver the optimum solution for the project, which was by far the most technically challenging yet for The Hub – FIX8Group’s broadcast and connectivity centre. Due to the company’s significant investment in advanced infrastructure to ensure resilient connectivity capabilities and robust data security protocols in the delivery of virtual solutions, the project was made possible.

This incarnation of the organisation’s global conference moved into the virtual realm as a consequence of COVID restrictions. The range of speakers included thought leaders from Fortune 500 CEOs, government officials, Nobel Laureates, Oscar winners and Olympians to journalists, philanthropists, scientists, investors and digital pioneers. During the eight-day conference, they addressed more than 4,000 participants located across the globe.

“Nothing existed in the UK to facilitate the scale of this virtual, direct multi-contributor event so we were approached by our partner events agency with the challenge of formulating a solution,” says FIX8Group’s Neil Trenell. “The concept for The Hub emerged at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Whilst many production companies were still considering how to take events online, we acted in a proactive manner with tenacity and speed. What we created was pretty cutting edge and presented a considerable challenge in such a short timescale. This was the enabler in our ability to deliver a project of the required size and scale.”

The task involved FIX8Group’s newly upskilled team of broadcast, live streaming and network engineers creating rock solid connectivity infrastructure and managing significant amounts of data. A custom-designed solution was engineered to include a remote contribution system spread across eight servers, facilitating up to 64 simultaneous FullHD contributors. This in turn converted all contribution feeds to NDI signals which were vision mixed and streamed live. Over the eight-day conference, more than 1,400 remote contribution connections were established at The Hub.

“A significant requirement for this project was that all presenter contributions had to be web-based and without any software installed on their remote computers, such as Zoom or Teams,” Trenell continues. “Due to security restrictions in place across the various government and corporate IT systems, it meant that all remote contributions had to be via our dedicated customised WebRTC-based contribution platform. In the week leading up to the event, every presenter had a scheduled technical test, to ensure they could connect successfully.”

Four separate vision mixing teams each had a dedicated producer, call handler, and vision mixer to manage and operate the live sessions, based in The Hub’s Gallery and show-production space. In addition to the live aspects, which meant working irregular hours on Eastern Standard Time, the team recorded all the sessions and provided them for editing for on-demand viewing via a number of outlets.

“It was an off-the-scale project,” says Trenell, “and I’m incredibly proud of what the entire team achieved in its successful delivery.”

In addition to the live streamed presentations, a series of green rooms were created for the presenters for welcoming guest speakers and networking. The FIX8Group team designed virtual green rooms that up to 16 participants could join, which assisted in recreating the personal connections that are often lost with virtual events.

The client’s virtual conference sessions had a truly global reach, generating significant impact throughout the world with experts discussing topics including business, diversity, policy and innovation.

“The backend data management was very challenging and completely new to anyone,” adds Trenell. “Part of our success was our ability to act with speed and precision, and in readiness for anything not going exactly as planned for both contributors and viewers. Our team embarked on a steep learning curve with this new broadcast platform – our software and technologies continue to improve as client expectations grow. FIX8Group’s investment and increased knowledge will shape the future of these kind of projects and we will continue to apply this growing skillset in delivering demanding, large scale, virtual events.”

The Hub, which is located at FIX8Group’s facility in Greater Manchester, has been designed to enable worldwide remote contribution and remote production for live, hybrid and virtual events. This is based around a highly efficient managed network, able to operate both onsite and to worldwide locations. It encompasses 250m2 of Studio space with fully customisable lighting rig and 60m2 of LED screen, a 15-person Gallery for producers, vision mixers, sound engineers and other roles. Central to the offering is a Master Control Room (MCR) and Network Engineering services, which provide management, visibility and overall control of all network communication. The MCR contains a number of specialist systems to provide ultra-low latency WebRTC based contribution, ISO recording of presenters, full NDI processing and routing, centralised content management and graphical monitoring of all interconnected systems – providing visibility and insight into a highly dispersed network of connections.

The entire FIX8Group facility, including The Hub, is operated to strict COVID protocols, maintaining an environment which is as safe as possible.

Photo: © FIX8Group