Cool Cars, Mobile Live Streams and a Blackout…Oh My!

Self-proclaimed “Satellite Guy” Rob McWilliams of McWilliams Productions shares tales from producing multiple live shows at CES

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

I’ve been in business for 29 years and have done everything from producing regional TV commercials and local TV spots to live hits for global news, clips for movies and corporate videos.  

In the early 90’s, my wife Kristin and I saw an opening for live broadcasting and started partnering with satellite trucks and uplink companies. We’ve never looked back. Live has been one of my favorite things to do and we’ve “done it live” thousands of times from Aruba, Mexico, Canada, forest fires, floods and mudslides.

We were first introduced to LiveU technology by our client, The Golf Channel. The technology is great and works well, especially when you need to be mobile and untethered. We’ve been using the tech for seven years, regularly producing live hits for Sky News in Australia. We recently used LiveU Solo to produce some live hits from CES. But first, let me set the stage!

Satellite Truck Roadblocks. Literally.

One of the main challenges for some of the live productions we do is bringing in a satellite truck and finding parking spaces for it. It can be a logistical nightmare to get into places or find a space to park and then run cables at a big event, tradeshow or corporate conference. The footprint can be quite significant.

For a massive show like CES, the largest consumer technology tradeshow on the planet, we knew we needed to be truly mobile and flexible, but couldn’t risk the chance of reliability or quality — especially for two paying clients.

Killing two birds with one stone

LiveU was the right solution for CES for two reasons – we knew we could be mobile and we knew the quality would be good. We used a portable LiveU transmission backpack unit to produce live coverage of the show in Vegas to Australia for Sky News daily.  

For our client, National Car Rental, we were tasked with doing multiple 45-minute live streams to Facebook per day, which included walking through different booths and interviewing executives. We were introduced to Solo and thought it would be a home run for this production. And it turned out, it was!

Power outage hits the convention center

Our biggest production challenge had nothing to do with the gear, but instead a power outage that crippled the Central and South Halls for a few hours on Day 2 of CES. Enter Murphy’s Law — it happened literally one minute before we were set to go live for National Car Rental.

So, picture this, five minutes before the power went out, we were setting up the shot in front of a beautiful video wall with a dynamic city landscape. I was excited we were going to have this beautiful background for our live shot. Then everything went black. But because we were mobile and our entire system from lighting to camera and sound relied solely on battery power, we could light up the booth and go live amid the blackout for 45 minutes as planned. You can watch the stream for yourself.

Mobility for the sake of liability

When you are producing video — live or recorded — in a big conference like CES, the biggest thing you must take into consideration is liability. This was our 25th year covering CES and it’s amazing (and scary!) to see so many people not paying attention to what’s in front of them. As a producer, you must worry about whether someone will trip on your cables or tripod. With Solo, we didn’t have to worry about that. We were lean and clean.

Solo Scores Big at CES

Solo enabled us to be completely free! We put the belt on our sound guy and walked the show floor daily. CES is known as a bandwidth hog – not a lot of available bandwidth. With Solo, we never had an issue with bandwidth or getting on the air. It was bullet-proof.

Tips for Live Streaming in a Convention Center

  • Invest in your tech: Invest in good camera source in, good audio and lighting.  When you have those three things, it transforms your stream over what you’d get from a cell phone.  
  • Pack smart: Don’t forget batteries, and more batteries, and more batteries.
  • Take your live streams seriously: It doesn’t matter if you are producing a live shot for Good Morning America or a live stream for Facebook. Light it well, hide the mic cables, be professional about it and make it look as good as possible. It’s going through a lot of pipes to get where it’s going so the better-quality image you start out with, the better it’s going to look down the line.
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