Black Friday shopping is a unique cultural event. Recreating the excitement of that experience online is no small challenge, but Zest4.TV pulled it off for fashion and beauty retailer, PrettyLittleThing. Zest4.TV was engaged by event streaming specialists Groovy Gekko to stage and host an alternatively themed Black Friday 2020 shopping day, they called Pink Friday, consisting of live competitions, flash sales and models showcasing the brand’s favourite styles. As with many events today, public health guidelines limited the number of technical engineers allowed on-site, so Zest4.TV relied on Clear-Com’s FreeSpeak II Digital Wireless Intercom System and Eclipse HX Digital Matrix.
Pretty Little Thing wanted to create a live shopping channel experience, mimicking the style of live shopping network TV. It incorporated engaging graphic overlays, live feeds mixed with pre-recorded content, and high-quality production to showcase their stylist-picked looks that would be played out live on Black Friday. The interactive live stream produced fantastic results, with over 14,800 people tuning in and high interactivity with over 13,500 comments posted in the YouTube chat from the audience.
The Zest4.TV team split the technical and engineering duties: Managing Director Simon Roe serving as the on-site technical lead in Manchester, and Technical Project Manager Tom Herrington working remotely with a sound engineer in West London to push the final program feed to the Groovy Gecko team in North London (who then distributed it to various streaming platforms for online viewing).
“It was very much a decentralised production,” Roe said. “This type of hybrid production combined with the live, ‘no-second-take-allowed’ environment of a live event stream, required an intercom communications system with the right level of flexibility, reliability, voice quality and customisation. Zest4.TV chose FreeSpeak II for its four-wire interface capabilities, creating separate paths for ‘talk’ and ‘listen’.”
The FreeSpeak II system can operate in 1.9 GHz, 2.4 GHz, or a mix of both on the same system. The base station offers 12 wireless partyline channels, with the base including four two-wire analog partyline ports with call signal and four four-wire audio ports with call signal. The system can be configured in several ways with varying numbers of beltpacks, allowing controlled and efficient communications among directors, crews and talent.
The Zest4.TV team used Intinor video transport technology to deliver the camera feeds over 200 miles from the event site to its offices via the public internet. The Intinor solution also provided four-wire audio circuits to connect the FreeSpeak II to an Eclipse Delta frame.
“The ease-of-use and quality of our comms were critical elements to making this event the success it was,” Herrington said. By having the Eclipse Delta Frame interface with the video transport system over four-wire, Herrington and Roe remained in close communication, as if each were on-site together.
“I was able to talk to Tom over that four-wire channel on a wireless pack while I was walking around the studio,” Roe said. “At one point, I even had to run off into the event offices about 100 meters away, but I was still able to maintain solid communications. We could feed Tom’s voice into the FreeSpeak II base stations, and then route it to the presenter earpiece. Because we could create different channels with FreeSpeak II, I was able to talk quietly into the talent’s earpiece with just the press of a button.”
The FreeSpeak II system also allowed the team to create separate channels for “side” conversations. The remote director was able to speak directly to the presenter on set, and separate lines were also created for the engineering, camera and audio teams. “There were several ways to create the different audio links over the internet into FreeSpeak II to anybody who was roaming around,” Roe said. “More than just the system’s brilliant clarity, there was never any latency in the chats. The system gave us the creative freedom to do our jobs efficiently without being tethered and cabled.”
The FreeSpeak II base station’s rear panel has two LAN connections, which the team found helpful during the event as well. “Simon was able to connect to one LAN, and I could connect on the other,” Herrington said. “We could both control the GUI to see what was happening over comms. If someone had technical issues, I could just log in from my remote location and figure out why someone couldn’t hear. ‘Oh, he’s got the channel turned down.’ It’s simple as that.”
Roe added, “Other systems often need to re-establish contact when moving between antennae. That creates a break in transmission as you’re walking around, which is obviously a bit of a nightmare on a live event.”
FreeSpeak II is now the Zest4.TV team’s comms system of choice, mainly for its plug-and-play simplicity, solid coverage and ability to scale up or down for any event. The team has replicated the FreeSpeak II system model used for PrettyLittleThing for many of its other events.
“Now, our priority for any event is always to get comms established first,” Roe said. “Then we know everything else will go smoothly. FreeSpeak II has become a standard piece of our event kit. We know it will get you out of jail on every job.”