As we crossed the 12-month COVID-19 milestone, out of curiosity I looked back at some of the coverage TPi was putting out a year ago and went down a rabbit hole of binge-watching some of the original ‘lockdown streams’, which you can still find on YouTube. The reason I bring this up is that I recognised a pattern in that almost every artist said the same statement: “It’s great to be connected to you all at home.” But as the weeks turned into months, the music industry seemed to collectively decide that this one-way form of streaming just didn’t create the artist-audience connection that both would prefer. Since then, there have been myriad companies attempting to address this situation, with many utilising existing platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to bring the at-home audience into the performance.
This is what separates inKLICK from its competitors. A bespoke virtual platform that has been built from the ground up by a number of familiar faces from the touring industry, inKLICK can integrate seamlessly into a technical crew’s current workflow and provide a solution to bring virtual attendees into any streaming scenario. With two-way audio and video interaction, performers are able to interact naturally with their audience. As for the global entertainment industry, it provides a solution to reach directly into the homes and devices of those who would otherwise be unable to attend a live show or event.
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Speaking of inKLICK’s origins was Co-Founder, Mike Smith. “From the start of this project, it has always been an industry collaboration,” he began. “Between the team and I from Treatment Studios and Solotech UK, the initial goal was to generate work for our industry. One common ground we agreed on was that none of us liked the term ‘social distancing’ and we wanted to create a solution to ensure audiences were ‘physically distanced, socially connected’.”
With this broad concept in place, this coalition of industry professionals spent several months researching how this could be achieved. “A lot of people have tried ways of bringing the audience into streams by adapting existing video conferencing systems, but none so far have really provided a production solution.” With this in mind, inKLICK assembled a development team to provide what the company cites as “the most comprehensive live solution for the global entertainment industry”. Smith continued: “We collated our collective knowledge of what productions need and, with the development team, ensured that inKLICK would slot into any workflow.”
Smith was also keen to highlight the work the team had put into the moderation side of the application to give as much control as possible to the show creators. The system makes it simple to mute or remove attendees if needed, as well as highlight certain members of the crowd with the unique Spotlight feature, which enables an audience member to be singled out to have a one-on-one conversation with the artist on stage.
Drawing from this collective knowledge of fellow industry professionals was one of the main selling points for Treatment Studios’ Lizzie Pocock, who spoke about the joy of collaborating with like-minded individuals. “We were working with friends and colleagues on a project we were all passionate about but, above all, wanted to ensure that it was enjoyable,” she reflected. “The dynamic of the team was great from the get-go, so none of the challenges ever felt insurmountable. We’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best minds in our industry and the combined experience across design, production and technical infrastructure allowed for a truly unique understanding of what was required to get the technology a step above everything else on offer.”
It was a statement that was echoed by Pocock’s colleague, Julia Goldberg. “As a team of professionals in the industry, it was a no-brainer for us to immediately pivot from live shows to an online solution. We feel strongly that inKLICK is not only a solution for current times, but post-COVID, opens up artists and audiences to an entirely new way of experiencing a live show or event.”
Highlighting the transferable skills Treatment brought to the table, Pocock pointed to the team’s “years of experience developing shows that connect audiences to artists on stage”. She elaborated: “We worked in our team to make sure that alongside technical development of the platform, we remembered the audience and artist experience. We also worked on brand design and development, screen layout, production support and avenues to secure the funding required to build and develop the platform.”
She explained what she thought separated inKLICK from other similar platforms. “The near real-life communication between artist and audience sets this apart from anything else we’ve seen on the market,” she stated. “We worked hard to ensure the user experience is hassle free so all the energy can be put into having a great time watching the show.”
With most of the team coming from the music industry, live gigs were at the forefront of the inKLICK team’s mind. But what they have found is that the platform is very well suited as a promo tool for new albums as well as other applications such as virtual fitness classes.
Although inKLICK has been designed to be used anywhere, the platform has partnered with 80six to set up a permanent home at the company’s Virtual Production Studios just outside the M25. With the high-end, LED-stage facility offering XR (extended reality) and Virtual Production stages, the inKLICK team is inviting clients along to showcase the platform and how it might integrate with their own setup.
Having been involved in a number of other virtual streamed productions, 80six’s Dan Hamill gave his thoughts on inKLICK. “Frankly, with inKLICK, we now don’t need to look at any other system,” he stated. He explained since the early tests, 80six saw a number of opportunities it could bring – specifically to corporate clients. “Since the initial test, the UI has come on leaps and bounds and it’s now a fully functional, sellable service. When it comes to using it for live events, it’s certainly a level up from using things like Zoom to bring in audiences.”
He continued to state how although there is evidence of live events beginning to return, what is clear is that this will only be localised to certain regions, so if an artist is wishing to connect with fans across the world, they are still going to need a robust streaming option. “This platform is offering something new to the market,” he assured. “The past 12 months have changed virtual events forever and inKLICK adds another string to our bow.”
TECHNICAL STUMBLING BLOCKS
Key to these initial tests and providing a selection of equipment was Solotech UK. Leading the charge for the supplier was Ian ‘Woody’ Woodall. “I think that I have a reputation for being a ‘can do’ type of person,” laughed Woody, as he talked about how he entered the picture. “After the initial brainstorming conversation, it was very apparent that my position at Solotech and being the technical guru within the team would position Solotech as the technical partner and equipment supplier for inKLICK.”
Woody went on to describe some of the technical difficulties faced by the team while developing the platform – a challenge that he was more than willing to take on. “I love a challenge, so I relished the thought of getting deep into doing something that hadn’t even been thought of before, never mind actually achieved,” he enthused.
Among the issues faced during the development of inKLICK, Woody cited latency, user experience, different devices and operating systems as some of the steep learning curves they had to contend with. “However, the biggest challenge is getting everyone to understand why inKLICK is not Zoom and what it can provide over and above any similar platform. These other platforms are designed to let you hear a single person and keep everyone else quiet, which is exactly the opposite of what is needed with an audience attending online. So, we took an approach to the audio rather similar to that of mixing a large orchestra. Equally, we took an approach with video that was sympathetic to the fact that the average audience member sitting at home is not going to have the best internet connection, latest laptop, or 4k camera with the best lighting.”
Woody – along with the rest of the team – asserted that the fact that inKLICK is specially designed for the events market makes it an indispensable tool for the future of streamed events. “I see inKLICK as the SM58 of the online market in that it’s just what you use,” he stated.
Having been a part of inKLICK’s story since last year, Woody reflected on the journey so far. “The fact that this has been built by fellow industry professionals has been the most interesting part of the project,” he said. “Pre-pandemic, we would all focus on trying to win as much work as possible and sometimes miss the value that being part of a collaborative team can bring. I’m under no illusion that the industry has suffered massively over this terrible time, but even during situations like this, there are some positives and genuinely working as one team with people that you may not have had that opportunity to be so transparent with previously has been a real breath of fresh air and something that I want to continue with.”
While Woody is looking forward to the return of live shows, he foresees inKLICK having its place in the events space. “It’s not trying to replace live events. It’s going to make events accessible to more people who may not have had access to it before, maybe because they couldn’t physically attend or are in a territory that an artist may not be able to travel.”
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PROOF OF CONCEPT
With all the hard work put into the platform, the team were keen to bring in artists to test drive the system. The artist in question was Tom Grennan. “We did our first test with Tom last summer,” stated Smith. “During that test, we learned an awful lot about what works and what doesn’t work with this style of performance. For example, we found early on that the virtual crowd needs to be ‘warmed up’ at the start of a show to give the audience time to be educated about the platform. It’s a similar idea to why it’s important to have a support act before a headliner, to get the audience engaged with the medium.”
During Grennan’s latest livestream in February, he welcomed fans from across the globe for an exclusive listen to some of his new material. The performance made headlines in the mainstream music press as the artist announced how he “broke the internet” due to the number of fans crashing the system. “The story behind that was we had only estimated and assigned 500 spaces within the platform,” stated Smith. However, when over 27,000 arrived online, this created a slight issue for the servers. “In a way, it was a good problem to have as it was great that he had attracted so many people and it was a good test for the system. As soon as we reconfigured the server to deal with a bigger audience, we were back up and running.”
Raye Cosbert, MD for Metropolis, had been a key liaison between inKLICK and Grennan’s production team in the build-up to the show. “I started speaking to the inKLICK team last year, not long after we went into lockdown,” he stated. “Everyone was looking for a new gig solution and this appealed to me. This is a new way of performing to an audience, knowing that you can talk to them directly.”
Cosbert reported that Grennan had been very impressed with the solution. “Of all the new, innovative ways of performing live in these strange times, Tom’s team found the platform to be perfect.”
Looking ahead, Cosbert predicted that inKLICK could open doors for more artists. “This is the future of artist promotion,” he stated bluntly. “We are at the tip of the iceberg with this tech and it will get better.”
For Grennan’s latest performance, he and his production made use of 80six’s virtual production studios, which feature a high-resolution curved LED wall built with ROE Diamond 2.6mm acting as the backdrop for the performance, along with a disguise VX4 media server backend and a Blackmagic 4M/E PPI.
To capture the action a Blackmagic URSA broadcast camera and a Junior 4 remote motorised Dolly on a camera track was used, which cut down on the number of crew needed to be onsite.
Solotech provided a number of Panasonic UE150 PTZ cameras along with a full audio control package for Grennan and his band. The key to bringing the audio together was the separate audio control package that was provided by Solotech supporting the inKLICK platform, which enabled all the artists to hear a perfectly mixed audience in their monitors.
VISION OF THE FUTURE
As with any innovation that sprung up during COVID-19, the question of how the platform fits in once we return to some sense of normality remains. However, the inKLICK team is confident that the platform will have plenty of longevity. “Even when live events return, there is still a huge potential for inKLICK,” stated Smith.
“Away from music and live events, fitness at home will continue to be a massive market and one we will continue to explore. Then in music, this style of platform gives artists the option to reach a massive global audience. From what we’ve seen so far, fans really love the fact they get a chance to talk and interact one-on-one with the artist in a way that simply was not possible before.”
Smith also highlighted the obvious other advantage with inKLICK in that it prevents the environmental impact of travel. “Even when things return, you have to question whether delegates in the corporate market are going to travel for conferences in the same way when they could save costs and reduce their environmental impact.”
Like many innovations, it will be a case of watching this space to see how the wider market reacts to this new solution and how it may be integrated in the future.
This article originally appeared in issue #261 of TPi, which you can read here.