When COVID-19 struck, the entire live event industry ground to a halt. Yet ironically, the lockdown created even stronger demand for entertainment. Faced with high content demand and strict safety protocols, ATK Versacom (Valencia, CA) set out to develop new tools and techniques for remotely producing broadcast-worthy live events.
Intercoms for large productions are an ATK Versacom specialty, routinely handling hundreds of audio pathways via RTS digital matrix systems and keypanels. But with talent and crew in lockdown, an outside-the-box solution was needed. The answer was VLink, an online virtual intercom matrix, also by RTS.
“Needless to say, it got a little scary as we scrambled to figure out how to generate some kind of revenue in this new world,” says Jim Fay, ATK Versacom General Manager. “That meant finding the devices and applying technology so people could do their jobs away from the set. Communication becomes even more critical in that situation, and RTS VLink was the ideal solution.”
ATK Versacom Technical Development Manager, Juan Gallardo, partnered with audio specialist Sean Prickett of Drop Ship Audio to develop dedicated “flypacks” for remote production. They designed a system of audio and computer gear, all pre-wired into a large Pelican case. Software elements like the VLink intercom were preprogrammed onto a tablet. They also produced a cheat sheet – a laminated set of instructions – so that even the technology-challenged could connect remotely. Once the flypack was delivered, all the talent had to do was open the case, plug it in and follow the directions, using their own earphones and an Internet connection.
Gallardo and Prickett developed the system for the season finale of a top TV singing competition. After a few lessons learned and some insightful streamlining, they had a production audio system that could produce live events in real time with seamless communication. The show’s tech team were very happy with the VLink solution. Jim Fay credits RTS VLink with being a key element. He notes that VLink essentially provides the same functionality as an RTS KP-5032 keypanel, enabling traditional intercom functionality without interfering with talent performances.
“VLink is pretty amazing. It allows us to do mix-minus, direct IFB, and straight program feeds,” says Fay. “What’s great is that the app itself is free. You just buy or rent a license seat for every person who needs to hear the IFB or program feed, for every round trip from the analog to the VoIP side of the audio circuit. It also works seamlessly with traditional RTS gear.”
As a result, ATK Versacom is as busy now as they were before the pandemic. Their productions have included this year’s major space launch and political convention coverage. The new audio production system, with comms powered by RTS VLink, will also be a key element on the upcoming season of another high-rating vocal talent TV show, with the performers and audience interacting live between separate locations.
“It just shows you how creative people can be, adapting to this extreme situation,” concludes Jim Fay. “Remote production is the new reality, and with tools like VLink, we can still produce amazing content. It’s an extremely robust product, and it works like a champ.”
RTS offers a 30-day free trial of the VLink virtual intercom matrix.
VLink™ is an IP-software multi-channel/multi-access communications solution that intelligently connects to RTS intercoms, creating the optimal fusion of hardware and software capabilities. VLink is highly scalable to thousands of soft keypanel users, supports virtually an unlimited number of point-to-points and PLs, boasts LDAP integration, SNMP traps, AES encryption, and SIPREC recording.