The Texas Tribune Festival Goes All-Virtual for 35 Days with Support from WorldStage’s Digital Oasis

When the coronavirus pandemic forced The Texas Tribune Festival to go virtual for its tenth anniversary edition, it selected Masaya Events as a partner to pivot the live festival to a virtual environment. Masaya Events then selected Digital Oasis, the industry’s most advanced online event hosting solution from WorldStage, to ensure that the first all-virtual event would enjoy the same enthusiastic response and success of the annual live festival.

A celebration of ideas featuring the most interesting and important people in politics, policy and the media, The Texas Tribune Festival was transformed into virtual TribFest, a month-long online extravaganza.  The fact that no travel was required for the presenters to participate was a huge plus – the festival was able to garner top names like Hillary Clinton and Dr. Anthony Fauci whose schedules had not permitted them to commit to travel and on-site time at the festival in the past. Massive in size and scope TribFest ran daily throughout the entire month of September 2020 and featured 280 presenters in 113 pre-recorded and live sessions.

Laurea de Ocampo, Executive Producer with Masaya Events, was tasked with transitioning the Tribune Festival into a high-quality virtual experience.  “We needed to produce a virtual event that matched the energy and scope of the Texas Tribune’s live production.  I reached out to WorldStage to learn more about what was possible with their Digital Oasis solution.” she explains.

“Laurea and I started talking in April when the live event industry shut down” says Jim Richardson, Senior Account Manager at WorldStage. “As we talked about the size and scope of TribFest combined with the need for the highest quality experience for attendees and presenters, it was clear that Digital Oasis would be an ideal solution.”

John Denion, WorldStage Senior Project Manager, notes that, “Most digital events last two or three days – it was unprecedented to do one for 30-plus days.” Denion was tasked with leading the team that would transform the festival’s artistic vision, created by the Texas Tribune team and Masaya Events, and execute it from a technical standpoint.

Designed specifically for the live-event community, Digital Oasis was built to deliver a far superior production experience and achieve higher attendee engagement at the same level of live, physical events.  Flexible, highly secure and dynamic, Digital Oasis provides a turnkey, customized solution for virtual events of all types with HD content delivered to attendees who enjoy the broadcast quality experience.

“Think of a live event with a video village or control room – everyone together in the same room.  We needed to replicate that,” says Denion.  “The virtual production spanned the US, and we all needed to communicate with each other to address what needed to happen.  Laurea was in Brooklyn, the show caller Doug Murray was in San Francisco, and I had notes from the engineering side that Laurea and Doug would relay to the presenter at their home location.”  

A reliable AWS cloud architecture-based solution, Digital Oasis formed the backbone of the show.  The flexible production process allowed presenters, event professionals and production crew to thrive within a traditional production environment where they felt comfortable. To facilitate internal communications, WorldStage established a team Slack message channel, managed voice comms over a Unity IT-based platform and shared production multiviews distributed by Chrome browser, which enabled Denion and de Ocampo to monitor the pre-records.

A big advantage of Digital Oasis was its ease and accessibility for the presenters.  “The speakers clicked one link to get into system, were greeted by the production team and got comfortable just like they were in a green room,” says de Ocampo.  “We had tech rehearsals on the same platform, and as the producer I could go back and forth visibly and invisibly before and after each session.  Everyone was able to feel comfortable and confident about this new world of virtual production.”

When production got underway “Laurea and I framed the speaker in camera and checked the audio levels and lighting to deliver the best look and sound possible given their home systems,” Denion explains.  “Some people haven’t spent a lot of time on camera so we built a rapport with them to get them comfortable so we could record their presentation in a couple of takes.  Although the digital technology is complex on the back end, we try to make the process as easy as possible for the presenter.”

To expedite the post production, WorldStage scrubbed through the records, made notes for the Texas Tribune team and did some basic editing.  The Tribune post team did the final edits incorporating graphics, lower thirds and video spots from festival sponsors.  Digital Oasis published the finished pre-records online and developed a new way to handle automated streaming playouts of live presentations.

“I was floored by the dedication of the WorldStage crew; they were gold!” says de Ocampo.  Masaya Events is “already working on future virtual productions.  Digital Oasis continues to grow and expand its capabilities and we are looking forward to pushing the platform to engage more audiences in the future.”

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