In the Live Event Production Trenches with PRLX Creative Production
The democratization of live streaming technology has helped event organizers expand their horizons and grow their international followings in recent years. In fact, proAV outfit PRLX Creative Production attributes client growth to rising demand for high quality live streams. We sat down with PRLX Director Ashley Blenkinsop for his take on trends in the live production and streaming space. Check out interview highlights below:
How’d you get started in live streaming?
I started working at a local TV station in Darwin, Australia in high school. After graduation, I continued to work there, until I joined Nine Network Australia in Sydney, where I focused on sports and live news. After ten years working in studio and technical director roles, I returned to Darwin to freelance. As I started to pick up local gigs, I found a group of people who I clicked with, and we collectively founded PRLX Creative Production. Here we are today, two and half years old, and one of the Northern Territory’s largest live streaming production companies.
What is PRLX’s specialty?
Live event production and streaming is our sweet spot, but we also offer post services. Although we largely work with Darwin-based clients, we also travel to Melbourne for other projects. We’re a prolific team of four, but we also pull in local help from proAV companies when needed.
Where are you seeing the most demand for your services?
The hybrid events space exploded during the pandemic, and we’ve seen more conferences, sports, and live performances embrace a virtual model. In turn, the demand for live event production and streaming for these events has skyrocketed. With this shift, however, more event organizers have had to become broadcasters, or in the case of our clients, hire them. Overall, the trend has helped to broaden the audience for many of our clients, attracting attendees from around the world who otherwise wouldn’t have likely attended.
How do you determine your streaming pipeline for each event?
We’ve designed a robust, compact 14RU fly pack that we take to every event. It includes a range of cameras, as well as a switcher; an AJA HELO for H.264 encoding, streaming and recording; and a KUMO 1616-12G SDI router. Our pipeline is largely the same for each event. We feed our camera signals to a patch panel and into KUMO, our routing backbone, and then through our switcher. The switched feed is then sent back through KUMO to feed on-site control room multi-viewers and split-off multi-viewers for on-site event commentators. Using HELO’s loop out function, we hard patch our main switcher output to HELO and into Vimeo, our content delivery network (CDN), after which we split it off to Facebook Live, YouTube or the final delivery platform. All productions are also recorded via HELO for archiving purposes.
What do you look for when making equipment decisions?
When it comes to making technical decisions, I’m always evaluating new live streaming tools that can make our job easier and enhance the quality of our streams. We’re located far from any major cities, so testing out or renting equipment isn’t always an option. When we purchase gear, it’s a long-term investment and I do my due diligence. AJA gear is almost always at the top of my list as it’s reliable and straightforward to use.
KUMO, for instance, minimizes our setup time and we don’t have to change much settings-wise when jumping between different events. Web interfaces are huge for us, and with KUMO, all I have to do is log into the web UI, and make a few adjustments. Prep is so easy, so I can focus on making the production as awesome as possible. If I’m not on-site, I can also easily remote in and adjust parameters as needed, and the salvos provide a convenient set and forget style operation. With KUMO’s 12G-SDI connectivity, we’re also 4K-ready should we wish to go that route in the future. As mentioned, reliability is another big factor for us. There’s nothing more annoying to a consumer than having the video feed cut off or buffer. Since adopting HELO, our frames remain stable; the device is so robust and solid.
Tell us about a few of your recent projects.
We work on a lot of projects, but one of our longstanding clients is Northline Speedway, who streams live dirt motorsports events. I started working with them as a freelancer, so it’s been fun to refine the workflow alongside the streaming picture quality over the years as they’ve grown. We’ve seen a direct correlation between a higher production value and expanded international audience. Another fun project that comes to mind is the Virtual iRacing Competition iCOT, another live stream motorsports series that followed remote drivers across Australia and the US during the 2020 lockdown. It drew in 47,000 viewers across five nights on Facebook and Vimeo. For both projects, we leaned extensively on HELO to ensure high quality streams.
What challenges do you face in the field?
The biggest hurdle for us is keeping pace with audience expectations and setting client expectations based on their budgets. As streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime have continued to release 4K HDR content on their platforms, clients and audiences expect that caliber of content in their live streams as well, even though they don’t realize the massive budgets required to bring those to life. With every production, we’re also always trying to create a smooth, professional and high quality stream that brings value to our customer. We want our clients to be able to see where their money is going.
Are there any trends you’re following and why?
With business growth a focus for us this year, we’re closely following developments in remote production, which would allow us to support more events without ever leaving the office. To this end, we’re exploring SMPTE 2110 and NDI technologies that support IP workflows, and have looked into AJA BRIDGE LIVE as a possible remote solution for our work.
What advice would you offer to professionals in the field?
Garbage in, garbage out. There’s a lot of cheap, subpar technology floating around, so don’t focus solely on price. Do your research and ensure you can trust your equipment in the field.
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