ViacomCBS just launched Paramount+, its new streaming offering and arguably the most important premiere in the storied studio’s history. A product launch in normal times is a massively complex endeavor. Executing one in the midst of a pandemic? Even more so.
With the stakes so high, ViacomCBS could only undertake such a bold maneuver by making a grand entrance. The media conglomerate assembled its top executives and A-list talent to pitch the new platform.
Multiple agencies worked in tandem to create and deliver assets that command attention -- from Super Bowl spots to an omni-channel campaign. However, the company’s February 24th live virtual event is perhaps the most vivid example of operating within a Covid-19 environment.
The purpose of this event was to unveil the platform to media and investors, and you can only do that live. Accomplishing this in an engaging way -- for the full three hours of the event -- was a considerable undertaking.
Here are some ways the team got it done:
For a virtual event not to feel like another video conference there needs to be cohesion. Story and showmanship are important, especially in the context of entertainment.
Travel restrictions and quarantine measures restricting movements don’t easily enable this.
The agency team had to develop a way to put on a show that felt consistent, thoughtful, and orchestrated. Movie magic was the perfect solution. Through photo-real CGI and intricate VFX, they worked with the company’s stage designers (yes, the same crew as the Grammy’s, Emmy’s and VMA’s) to create a virtual set that made the presenters feel like they were together.
Shot on green screens in NYC and LA, the set design evoked Hollywood and was reminiscent of the physical Paramount lot.
“Working with detailed LiDAR surveys of the Paramount lot we designed the sets and brought it to life using lighting, textures, and animation,” said Rob Sabatini, creative director and founder, Piranha. “With nearly two hours of screen time, the set was a major feature of the show.”
The ability to use CGI for real-time rendering and auto-composting was also critical to production. Utilizing cutting-edge camera tracking software, ViacomCBS’ lead director, Matt Herron, was able to precisely place presenters on the green screen. Because they were not on set at the same time, understanding how the presenters would occupy the space in the virtual world through the camera lens allowed for the show’s dynamic transitions to be choreographed as if in person.
Understanding how to embrace remote work tools in small team settings has finally gained traction. However, with over fifty stakeholders and multiple time zones spanning several countries, this project became about coordination as much as it was about creation.
Zoom for calls; Slack for group messaging; and Dropbox for file sharing propelled the team forward.
“In a traditional office setting, drop-ins and in-person troubleshooting are the norm. But, in a virtual setting -- with dozens of stakeholders and thousands of files -- the entire project team had to commit to a standard operating rhythm and be flexible to adapt along the way,” said Sean Ananou, managing partner, Piranha.
When the crew did eventually come together, an entire new arm of production developed to coordinate safety. Covid tests were administered 36 hours prior to shooting and daily on set. PPE and health specialists were essential. The team was working with very tight deadlines, with no room for reshoots or schedule delays. The show had to go on, safely.
The execution of a live event in a pandemic world demands contingencies at each step. This is nothing new in business, but the need was magnified in our current environment.
The team looked at every angle of potential scenarios, including how to handle a shut down; how to manage changes in direction due to emerging information; and how to identify multiple paths to success no matter what might occur.
“These are all very real questions that created many sleepless nights for the team,'' added Sabatini. “But when six months in the making comes down to the final two weeks; when over 1,000 clips are rendered and edited in a matter of days; and when a three hour cinematic presentation that basically equates to two feature films is delivered, it makes it all worth it.”
On to the next…