M+E Europe

EES 2021: Live CGI Showcases the Future of Interactive TV Content

Although just about everybody now owns multiple touchscreen devices that games and other interactive content is used on, what we still can’t do is use those touchscreens and interact with TV and movie content viewed on those devices, according to Live CGI, a software company out to change that.

Gavin Douglas, head of partnerships at Live CGI, used the Diversity & Virtual breakout session “This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s TV Studioat the 21 July inaugural, all-virtual Entertainment Evolution Symposium (EES) event to take us behind the scenes of Live CGI’s interactive virtual TV studio.

Viewers are physically able to reach into the virtual TV studio’s set to shop, bet, play and more, he showed during a demonstration.

Douglas started the session by saying he would be providing a “rapid tour through the world of virtual production” at television studios, interactivity and addressability – three things that he noted are “top of mind in the industry for a lot of people.”

Everybody is using smartphones, PCs and TVs – devices that have interactive, touchable screens – but there has been no touchable interactivity while watching a TV show, he pointed out.

“So we felt very strongly that what we needed to do was bring those interactive moments inside the show, inside the studio, and allow the audience to actually physically reach in to touch the content, to shop, to spin things around, to answer questions, to bet even inside these studios,” he explained.

The cloud-based production studio that Live CGI built works on the same Unreal Engine that has been used for computer and video games, and “cuts traditional production costs by 90 percent because you’re not having to build a very large piece of infrastructure with cables and cameras and operators and lights and reception and everything else,” he said. “This is purely a 360 studio running on a computer.”

For Wimbledon recently, the BBC created a virtual production studio. Although the area with the hosts and what was happening outside the window on set was real, “everything else was completely virtual, and it makes a very small studio seem absolutely enormous,” Douglas pointed out.

Another way of using virtual production techniques was demonstrated by Fox with its NASCAR coverage the past two years, which features hosts in front of a green screen and a virtual 3D car that races around a virtual track inside the studio, he noted. The studio created by Fox combines augmented reality with 3D graphics.

But, in both of those cases, viewers still can’t reach in and move anything on the virtual set, Douglas said.

Using an app, however, viewers can reach in and touch the virtual studios created by Live CGI that are initially launching with the Home Shopping Network, he said.

“The beauty about virtual production is this could be the inside of a submarine, it could be the cockpit of an aircraft, it could be a cloud bank, it could be a beach – it could be anything,” he said with a laugh. It can be “whatever is required by the industry,” he noted. However, for now, it’s the inside of a studio.

Live CGI has discovered “there’s three priorities of the people that we’re talking to in the industry,” Douglas said, noting they are: to “drive viewership to their particular show” and engage viewers for longer periods of time; collect data on the viewer’s habits and preferences that affect what happens next; and drive revenue.

During a show that uses a Live CGI virtual set, there can be personalised products that show up on screens in different cities for different viewers based on their age, gender and location, as well as how the viewer watches and bets, according to the company.

During the demo he provided, Douglas noted that “anything in the studio can be made interactive.”

The Entertainment Evolution Symposium event was produced by the Hollywood IT Society (HITS), Pepperdine’s Graziadio Business School, and MESA. The event was sponsored by Whip Media, PacketFabric, 5th Kind, Qumulo, EIDR, Klio and the Trusted Partner Network.