Clear-Com’s Eclipse HX and Agent-IC in play for US Spring Draft

Sound and Vision Entertainment (SAV) stepped in to provide the secure communication infrastructure needed to broadcast the 2020 Spring Draft, keeping all production crew connected while working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Clear-Com Eclipse HX digital matrix system along with LQ IP Series was the chosen intercom solution to support the large network of remote Agent-IC intercom app clients required for this broadcast.

For the first time ever, the annual meeting of American football franchises to select newly eligible players for the upcoming season was held via video conference as a result of worldwide travel restrictions. Instead of the planned spectacular live event in Las Vegas, all team selections took place virtually, with league broadcasting picks taking place from the commissioner’s basement as well as various other locations. This historic Draft was broadcast live from 23 to 25 April.

Freeman, Brady Belavek of SAV and engineer Dave Ragains of Show Machine were hired to handle all production communications between the league, the networks and all production staff. Freeman, along with Belavek and Ragains have been providing the communications solution for the Draft for over a decade, but never in a virtualised setting.

Belavek said: “When the decision was made to virtualise the Draft broadcast, we were tasked to come up with a reliable and secure remote communications solution that would enable a large number of production staff to operate from their homes while still being able to communicate on the production intercom freely over many channels. What turned out to be one of the biggest challenges was managing ISP connections in individual’s homes and offices, not to mention the security requirements from the league, who were understandably concerned about cybersecurity threats.”

Once the LQ license count demands and firewall concerns grew too much, SAV and Freeman turned to Clear-Com for support, and received an unprecedented offer.

Justin Emge, applications engineering manager, Clear-Com, explained: “We had an AE Lab Eclipse HX system in our Alameda headquarters that we use to run remote demonstrations across our product range, so it already had the required software licenses installed and the IP infrastructure set up to handle large numbers of remote Agent-IC client users. Freeman and SAV were already familiar with our equipment, so when we offered it as an emergency fix, they were happy to accept.”

Over 80 members of the production crew downloaded Clear-Com’s Agent-IC mobile app to their iOS and Android mobile devices, which connected back primarily to the Eclipse HX system, or alternatively to an LQ system set up at SAV in Los Angeles. Both the Eclipse and LQ systems were then connected to several phone conference lines for communication between Agent-IC and various control rooms.

Agent-IC is a proven and cost effective solution for location productions, remote coordination and other critical tasks, essentially turning mobile devices into fully-featured, easy to use intercom panels that integrate into existing workflows and connect securely over 3G, 4G, LTE or Wi-Fi networks.

“It was the first time that many of the crew had used Agent-IC but since it looks and feels like a regular intercom panel, the learning curve was very small; we gave them a one-page instruction guide for how to navigate the app and that was all they needed,” added Ragains. “Each crew member was able to listen and talk to as many conference lines as they needed to, as well as conversing point-to-point with specific staff, with the option to turn different audio streams on and off as required.”

Since the Eclipse system was connected to Clear-Com’s corporate network, Clear-Com’s IT department was brought on to ensure the ISP data connections required were all running properly and to check that the firewall could facilitate all required connections, guaranteeing 100% uptime throughout the three day event.

Belavek said: “I’ve never been approached to do a remote production of this scale, it was nuts! But I am so proud of what we were able to achieve, and the entire production team was thrilled by how smoothly things went.”

There were upwards of 90 to 100 end point connections, including around 80 Agent-IC connections, up to nine conference lines for meetings of 10 people, and seven audio trunks running down to back-up equipment based in Los Angeles.

“Everyone was able to work from wherever they were, and they were able to maintain the same person-to-person and group communication options that they would have had for a normal studio production,” Ragains added.

Emge concluded: “Production teams are having to invent new remote workflows on the fly to cope with this evolving situation, and Clear-Com was happy to partner with SAV and Freeman to come up with a solution in such a tight timeline. The communication solution for the Draft broadcast is a perfect example of the collaboration that we have fostered with our Partners. We’re excited to help develop communication workflows that can serve other events, large or small, that need to go virtual.”

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