Without a doubt the one thing that I’ve focused on more than anything else over the past month has been TEDxTokyo.
What is TEDxTokyo?
I was first invited to participate by good friend and fellow tech-lover @SteveNagata. Knowing my interest in live video projects, Steve gave me responsibility for ensuring that TEDxTokyo reached as wide a global audience as possible. What at first seemed like a fairly simple role turned out to be a whole lot more, ultimately providing me with a great opportunity to get hands-on experience of not only live-video project-management & execution, but also of a limited social media campaign.
Just the kind of thing I’d been looking for.
The first thing I needed to do was decide which service we were to use for the live video stream. My natural inclination was to use USTREAM, mainly due to their reach and integration of Twitter. Thanks to the Tokyo Marathon Project I had a contact at USTREAM in the US who was able to introduce me to the head of USTREAM here in Japan. We had a memorable meeting one morning a couple of months back at the Softbank HQ (Softbank having investing millions of dollars in USTREAM here in Japan), a meeting which resulted in an offer to help promote the event.
However, at that point I was unaware of the extent of the natural synergy existing between the company producing the video for us on the day (Virgin Earth Inc) and a local live-streaming company, Gotcha Media KK – the two companies that had collaborated to live stream TEDxTokyo 2009. When this became apparent, it was clear that we would be unwise to not enlist their support again: they both knew the systems of the other company, meaning that integration of technology was something that we wouldn’t need to worry about on the day. They also happened to be thoroughly nice people – it was important to be working with ‘good’ people!
The attraction of the reach of USTREAM was still there however, and so in the end I opted to use both companies. Gotcha Media KK specialise in high-quality multi-stream broadcasts (basically meaning that people on differing internet connection speeds can all get video optimised for their local conditions). Also, with them being on-site they offered a more reliable service, with USTREAM unable to offer any tech support on the day. Thus, it was decided that Gotcha would provide our main HQ streams in both English and Japanese, embedded in our website.
The only presentation I managed to see on the day – amazing techno-illusionist Marco Tempest
With the pressure off us, I was then free to use USTREAM in an experimental manner, and chose to label it the ‘backstage channel’. We would re-stream the main English channel during the main sessions (i.e. when presentations were happening on stage), and then switch to a live mobile camera during break times, with which we would interview speakers, volunteers and participants. Basically, give the audience a chance to see behind-the-scenes and get more of an idea of the atmosphere at the venue.
By this stage I was communicating with USTREAM in the US directly, as it was English speaking viewers we’d be chasing. The deal was that if we could provide them with times at which we could guarantee the quality of our connection (i.e. be on a wired connection using their software Producer-Pro), their marketing department would feature us on their front page. Two days before the event I was able to do that, and sure enough, up went the banner about 18 hours before we went live. They also very kindly provided us with a license for Producer Pro, the broadcast software from the makers of Wirecast that they resell with their own branding.
Here then is a summary of how it went on the day (taken from a blog post I originally wrote for the TEDxTokyo website:
In 2009 Tokyo hosted the first TEDx event outside of the United States. Keen to share the experience with TEDsters around the world, volunteers from Virgin Earth Inc. and Gotcha Media collaborated to provide a live stream of all presentations, in what was another first for TEDx.
When it came to planning for TEDxTokyo 2010, we looked to see how we could share the ideas presented on the day with a far larger audience. An obvious solution was to cater for local TEDsters by providing simultaneous Japanese translations of the talks. To do this we’d need not only a team of experienced interpreters, but also a lot more cable, double the bandwidth and an even more enthusiastic post-production team to edit the resulting 42 videos.
The day before the event we arrived at the venue with 4 cameras, hundreds of metres of wires, countless computers and a huge array of additional components, all of which were then painstakingly connected together like a huge jigsaw puzzle.
The resulting picture was fantastic. As we went live at 9am hundreds of viewers logged on to our two main high-def streams, choosing whether to watch in English or Japanese. As the online buzz spread (aided by the social media team tweeting out links and uploading photographs from inside the auditorium), so the numbers steadily climbed, reaching over 4,300 unique viewers in 57 countries by the end of the day.
In another first for a TEDx event, we decided to give our global audience a chance to see behind the scenes between sessions. With the generous support of USTREAM, we set up a third live video channel, interviewing speakers, participants and volunteers throughout the day. Thanks to the wonders of Tokyo’s high-speed 3G data network, we were also able to join the lunchtime buffet down on the shores of Odaiba. This proved to be immensely popular, and by the end of the day this channel had seen over 7,700 unique viewers.
On-demand videos online in hours
A key part of our strategy was to make all talks available on-demand as soon as possible, as, due to time zone differences we were aware that the largest segments of our potential audience (in the US and UK) would be going to bed halfway through the event.
Thanks to an all-digital workflow pioneered by the volunteer production crew, the generous provision of computers by Tokyo 2.0, and the speed of the post-production team from Virgin Earth, we had the first videos up on YouTube within a few hours of the speakers having left the stage. This strategy worked very well, with the videos being viewed over 90,000 times during the following week (partly thanks to Yahoo News picking up on one of speakers’ toilet talks)…
Whilst these viewing figures were not spectacular, I feel it was a big success. I was particularly happy with the USTREAM figures, as that’s where most of my energy had been spent.
The biggest reward was being able to work with such a team of professionals. I was in awe of Drew – the chap behind the Virgin Earth mixer doing live switches between the four cameras in the auditorium. It was like watching an artist at work, composing his next sequence of flowing shots on the fly, directing the cameramen in their movements. I sat there, mesmerised by his array of screens, now and then glancing at my own computer to see the final result of his work as it went out over Ustream.
Cirque du Soleil
I also found it inspiring to observe Virgin Earth owner Richard Kipnis direct his team. A real motivating leader who kept his cool no matter what came up.
Personally, I enjoyed dealing with all the challenges faced on the day. It was a delight to be able to push technology to its limits and see what could be done on a budget of $0.00. Highlights included our totally mobile broadcast from the shores of Odaiba (using the Emobile network), meeting speakers such as brain scientist Ken Mogi and musician Jake Shimabukuro, and working with Mika, Nick, Dave, Cindy and Paul.
I think next year we could do much better. I’d start the social media campaign a few weeks earlier, I’d blog a lot more and empower others to blog too, I’d utilise mainstream media in the lead-up to and after the event, I’d get the US and the UK to change their time zones so they’re awake throughout the event, I’d finalise the USTREAM set up a lot earlier so that on the set-up day we could do a practice run with all team members – as it was it was a bit touch-and-go (I’d also hope that Ustream Producer Pro had been improved by then, or instead use the Adobe Flash Media Encoder instead).
Host of ‘I survived a Japanese Game Show’ Rome Kanda (whom I also met for lunch a couple of days ago)
On Demand videos
The Virgin Earth team had the first videos edited and output before the event was over, and had the lot done within a couple of days – amazing given our resources and the number of videos to upload (about 40). It was then down to me to upload them to YouTube, which unfortunately turned out to take a lot longer than anticipated. Limits on the speed at which it could ingest our videos meant that it took over an hour for each video to upload. It frequently failed to save the video descriptions, tags, dates, locations entered, and on a few occasions threw up unknown errors. In the end it took about 15 hours to get them all up (excluding the time it took to actually to upload them, which happened overnight).
Once the official videos were up, it was time to turn to the interviews we’d broadcast over USTREAM (and simultaneously recorded on my Canon HFS11). I’ve only realised this now, but it turned out that there were 18 of these – more than expected. Thankfully the edits were simple – find the beginning and end points, insert title, speaker intro overlay, outro. I then uploaded these to our TEDxTokyo YouTube channel.
(Not the best of interviews on my part. Head somewhat full of live-streaming challenges! Our cameraman was simultaneously tweeting out about the interview with Ken – thus the lack of the top half of my head!)
This year’s TEDxTokyo is now almost done with. Whilst a lot more work than I’d anticipated, I’m glad I was a part of it. I learnt a lot, enjoyed it a lot, and look forward to putting the skills I picked up to good use elsewhere.
To finish off, I’ll embed a couple of presentations that I particularly like. Do check out the full playlist at http://tedx.to/2010playlist.