How to design an optimal virtual broadcast set

Jack Blog

March 30th, 2020 By Jack Morton

As virtual experiences become more commonplace, brands are suddenly grappling with how to create them. One of the core ways to deliver content is to broadcast it. But brands aren’t traditional broadcasters and yet, they are being thrust into a new territory for the first time. What do brands need to consider when a virtual broadcast set is now the backdrop instead of a live stage?

virtual broadcast set

In the absence of being able to come together in person, brands still need to create connections with stakeholders. In fact, now more than ever. The first step in creating a virtual experience is having electrifying content. But how do you make that content look and feel engaging when you don’t have a room full of thousands of people with all eyes on a mainstage?

The answer is to think like a TV producer and create a visually stimulating format and complementary set that will best communicate your message.

Cover Girl pregame event

Choosing the right format
What is the best format? And when do you decide which to choose? Can you achieve your goals through a news program, a talk show, a news magazine?

After designing broadcast sets for television for over 30 years, I’ve learned a lot about what people want to see. News magazine formats tend to be the best option since it combines elements of news programs as well as a talk show type presentation but without a live audience. And it can take shape in many different ways:

  • Host-driven news. Think CBS’ ‘60 Minutes’ where documentary style pieces and remote guest interviews are common
  • Round table discussions. Akin to NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ which creates an opportunity for lively discussion
  • Intimate one-on-one interviews like the Today Show
  • Stand up presentations with video support like CBS Sunday Morning

News magazine formats are ideal if you want to immerse your audience in a topic guided by experts, asking the questions, or if you need to train or educate your audience about new products or services. It’s also the best format if you are looking to replace a high volume of meeting content and need to keep things interesting.

virtual broadcast
So, what’s the most important element in executing a great magazine type set? Design the space to have enough variety and movement to keep the viewer interested and engaged.

There are three things that brands need to keep in mind when designing an environment for broadcasting content. Interest and engagement are certainly achieved editorially by crafting engaging messaging and using storytelling techniques. But how the setting is designed is also critical.

1. It starts with good design.

Any virtual broadcast set should be arranged so the cameras can get intimate shots of the host and guests, as opposed to the presentation style of many meeting and conference videos. Think close ups, relationship angles, and over the shoulder shots of people talking to each other. Each are ways to make your program more intimate and engaging. And it all starts with a good design allowing for the capture of these shots. The design aesthetic helps craft your message. Ask yourself, is it casual Brooklyn loft or modern minimalist? These choices affect how your message is communicated. It sends a clear message from the moment the viewer first views the program.

Feeling like you’re in a time crunch? There are some simple ways to produce an effective show in a pinch. 60 minutes is a great example. The set is created by placing a host on a stool in a green screen space. From there, the graphic background is keyed in. Another way to do this is by using large format screens or a video wall as your background.

2. Virtual broadcasts are more than live, recreated.

We know in-person events bring energy. They are magnetic. They are alive. But sometimes there are circumstances that require virtual or hybrid experiences. Don’t try and recreate your live plan. Identify the best format to deliver your content and messaging, based on scale, technology and audience profiles. It’s also an opportunity to bring in cultural trends that can really make a difference when you have a set that people watch versus experience live.

A virtual broadcast set is more than just a sofa and chairs. It can say a lot, particularly about the local culture. And it’s an opportunity to show things the audience can relate to in real life, especially when they can’t experience it live. For example, replicating the feel of an office headquarter that is authentic to a brand but still modern and warms the viewer’s eye.

3. No studio? No problem.

Today, even professional broadcasters are taping segments from their home offices. (Yes, like Savannah Guthrie.) Especially in light of mandates that require people to stay inside.

This doesn’t mean that the content can’t be shared though. However, not everyone can build a virtual broadcast set. Brands should think about a ‘set in a box’. Producers and tech teams can put together key elements to get to presenters quickly – such as easy to rig webcams, phone or laptop stands, wireless clip mics and small LED light panels. The at-home studio allows broadcasters to deliver an authentic message to their audience despite travel limitations.

Sets in a box can also include custom branded or scenic backgrounds. Virtually, you can direct the best position in someone’s home space from which to broadcast. You can also teach the basic skills required to operate the equipment. Tricks like this allow you to become a professional broadcaster in no time.

virtual broadcast

We got this
A less than ideal situation can be shaped into a world-class brand experience with the right tactics. When you need to take an event virtual, and broadcasting important content is in the mix, the right environment is key. It needs to inspire people and be visually engaging to watch.

Because even though you think you have a captive audience and an interesting message, your viewers can still change the channel.

Find out more about our Virtual and Hybrid Experience services here.

Jim Fenhagen is Executive Vice President, Design at Jack Morton. Jim has been bringing innovative set design to network and cable television news, talk and sports programming as well as retail, corporate interiors and exhibit environments for over 30 years. He’s won over 20 Emmys and 26 DBA awards and has designed some of the most iconic sets in broadcast including The Late Show with Steven Colbert, The Daily Show, CBS Sunday Morning, Election Night coverage, the Republican National Convention and CBS’ Sports end of season football championship game. Jim and his team’s work is seen by over 35 million people worldwide each weekday.