For Convene‘s March-April CMP Series and cover story, our editors share how seven convention centers are responding to the challenge of the pandemic disruption by experimenting with new models — and doubling down on the experience of human connection. Here’s how the Monterey Convention Center addressed the issue.
When Doug Phillips, the general manager for the Monterey Convention Center on California’s Central Coast, went looking for a way to provide the facility’s customers with a solution for hybrid and virtual meetings, he didn’t take any half measures.
Last summer, a 6,000-square-foot immersive studio with a wrap-around, 360-degree video wall was installed in a ballroom at the center. The studio was a leap made at the nadir of the pandemic lockdown, Phillips said, after he found himself virtually alone in the convention center. Doing something that could help customers more easily produce virtual and hybrid events was better than walking around an empty building by himself, he said. “I’m a risk-taker.”
Phillips brokered a deal with the Montreal-based Immersive Design Studio, creators of the state-of-the-art technology developed for use in esports and gaming applications, as well as events. Monterey’s studio has two screens, each with 1,100 “tiles,” which means that the images of 2,200 remote participants can be displayed at the same time. “That in and of itself is unique,” Phillips said, but the technology “also gives presenters the opportunity to spotlight a member or members of the remote audience and have a conversation with them.” The technology is easy to use, and reduces some of the costs of doing hybrid, because the backbone is already installed, Phillips said. “And the quality is comparable to a live television broadcast.”
Phillips has encouraged Convention Center staff to look at the studio as a living laboratory, where they can “try different things and see what works,” he said. One recent and successful experiment was a breakfast for past presidents that was hosted by a state human resources association. There was a table set up on the stage, where breakfast was served to 12 in-person participants. Remote participants joined via the screen.
“It was really fascinating,” Phillips said. It took a little time to educate the people who were in the studio on how to communicate with on- screen participants, “but by the end of breakfast, you had this great dialogue going on between the people that were in studio and the people who were virtual.”
Phillips plans to keep the studio experiment going, with one change. He plans to move the studio into space near, but not inside, the convention center. With in-person meetings returning to the convention center, space is at a premium. It’s a priority, he said, to regain full access to the ballroom where the studio currently is installed.
Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.
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