When done properly, the technology fades away and lets the experience shine
Eugenie Bouchard was surrounded by fans. Half the group stood around here in a pavilion on the grounds at the Rogers Cup Tournament in Toronto, the other half connected through a massive digital display behind her. She sat in the middle and took questions, in both french and english, taking time to respond to each fan by facing them — even if that fan was in Montreal — 500km away.
Media gathered in a press room in Montreal, waited for Rafael Nadal to appear. Another group started to congregate in front of a video screen in Toronto. Both are covering the same event, both have the ability to ask Nadal questions. Nadal can see the questions being asked from both cities and is able to respond in the same way to both cities, but speaking to the journalist face-to-face.
We typically think of Telepresence as room-to-room, corporate meetings where users address each other from separate boardrooms. The examples showcased at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Montreal in Toronto highlight additional possibilities. Jeff Seifert, chief technology officer at Cisco Canada, the company responsible for the video setup, said life-size video like that being used for the fan experience at Rogers Cup is spontaneous, much like a typical face-to-face conversation.
Seeing a life-size Telepresence setup in an outdoor venue was impressive, especially when surrounded by digital signage showing Twitter feeds and live tennis matches. The installation required some special tinkering from Cisco.
Since the fan experience has grown in popularity every year it has been available, the organizers have had to devise a solution to allow more fans to participate. To solve the problem, Cisco used a large custom standalone television instead of a regular Telepresence screen to create a life-size window between the two cities. Seifert said having the right form factor helps improve the fan experience. “How do we make it more exciting for the spectator to be here as opposed to be at home watching?” he said.
On a more functional level, the media room at the Rogers Cup had its own connection between Toronto and Montreal. As players sat down to be interviewed a telepresence screen in both cities streamed video and audio back and forth. If a question was asked from another city, the video panned around so that the player could address the journalist just as if they were sitting in the same room.
For large events such as the Rogers Cup, which geographically, covers a massive distance, the tool could be invaluable. The link made covering both sides of the event easier for a single journalist in one location.
Cisco is a sponsor of the upcoming 2015 Pan/Parapan games in Toronto and the goal is to use a lot of the same technology to connect venues around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. Ron Dekker, vice president, new enterprise business, Cisco Canada said there is an opportunity to make the games more than just about Toronto and the venues. “How do we make this a national source of pride and inspiration, as only sports can deliver?”
Dekker said there is an opportunity to use technologies beyond telepresence, such as digital signage to connect local communities to the games. For example, using retail digital signage to showcase local athletes and achievements around the country, use the technology in a way that gets the country excited about the games.
For their part, event organizers at the Rogers Cup were happy with the results. Karl Hale, tournament director, Rogers Cup, said Rogers Cup is the only tennis tournament in the world currently taking advantage of two-way video to connect media, fans and players. He said the media centre in particular has been a huge benefit because it let the media connect with Canadian players in both cities, which is most important to fans.
What’s most interesting about the use of Telepresence at the Rogers Cup, beyond the capabilities of the technology, beyond the innovation, is how easily users adapted to using it. Fans in Montreal were genuinely excited about speaking with Eugenie Bouchard over the video screen, and Bouchard seemed to have no trouble conversing back and forth with the fans. Likewise, the media room was equally as fluid. The technology has certainly reached a point where it is truly enabling these experiences while not being the centre of attention. When it really works properly, the technology fades away and that’s perhaps best part of it.