IMS Technology Services, an award-winning national provider of event staging and systems integration solutions based out of Garnet Valley, PA, relied on Clear-Com® digital communications equipment to support the Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (NEA) at the Minneapolis Convention Center located in downtown Minneapolis, MN.
With an on-site crew numbering in the 30s, IMS was responsible for all media aspects including audio, video and lighting, with operators for robotic cameras, video switchers, audio boards, graphics, as well as staff for video editing and streaming.
“The NEA’s Representative Assembly has about 8,000 representatives from all of the states determining policy, with keynote speakers, production elements and a fully produced national anthem,” said Chris Leonard, Director of Audio for IMS. “In addition to our own team, the NEA had its internal business staff on site who needed to communicate with us and with each other — Clear-Com made this all possible.”
This was IMS’s first year handling the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly, having been hired directly by the association. “For us, one thing that stood out about the previous set-up was their analog-based intercom system and its lack of quality and flexibility,” said Leonard.
To prepare for their first meeting, IMS and NEA created a mock setup in the IMS warehouse, with a fully laid out Clear-Com communications system. “We stressed the flexibility in digital communications, especially point-to-point communications, which was something not previously available to the NEA,” explained Leonard. “We also stressed that they wouldn’t have to worry about loss of signal with wireless, as we would have antennas distributed throughout the convention center, so they would always be covered.”
When the convention kicked off in Minneapolis during the summer of 2018, IMS had a full complement of Clear-Com equipment. This included a HelixNet-based digital partyline system with two base stations, six remote stations, 24 beltpacks, one LQ-R 8-channel interface for I/O expansion, three LQ 2 channel interfaces with Agent-IC for tying together rooms within the convention center and remote access, a FreeSpeak II base station with six antennas, 15 wireless beltpacks, two Agent IC channels for up to six people, and a two-way radio interface.
“What we got from Clear-Com was the concept of using HelixNet as a family to construct a very large system with great party line channel count, ease of use and deployment, and — most importantly — no hum or buzz thanks to a digital system,” said Leonard. “The system was able to easily handle digital snakes and networked video villages, with staff being able to go to any location with a wireless beltpack. The system was super-efficient, and best of all, the client noticed how crystal clear the intercom was.”
“When you have an audio network infrastructure already in place, adding HelixNet across a converged IP network turns it into a very flexible system. You don’t have to think about it, it just works – there’s no finagling,” said Aram Piligian, Senior Audio Engineer for IMS. “While we know from experience that there will always be changes, especially on-site, the flexibility of Clear-Com’s systems made those changes easy.”
Last year, IMS made a significant investment in its communications ability with HelixNet, FreeSpeak II and LQ interfaces, but added Agent-IC to its Clear-Com inventory specifically for this event, seeing it as an internal tool, as the communications needs of the NEA and the communications needs of IMS are sometimes very different.
“At Clear-Com, we understand the special needs of event staging companies like IMS; we ensure products are easy to deploy and provide the performance necessary for fatigue free operation. With browser-based live configuration and management, whatever communications requirements come up, that they can be handled easily,” said Simon Browne, Vice President of Product Management for Clear-Com. “With our smartphone app, Agent-IC, adjacent users can be fully in touch with the production no matter where they are.”
“Agent-IC is really an internal benefit for us, especially for the directors of each department not having to eat up FreeSpeak channels,” said Leonard. “Plus, our Account Rep and VP of Production can be in their offices on site — and on comms — knowing what’s going on during show...following along with what’s happening.”
The ability for remote communications served IMS very well, as they had a second webcaster located at their headquarters over 1,100 miles away in Garnet Valley, PA, who remoted in to the webcasting computer in Minneapolis, and was tied into both the production and secondary communications channel by phone on Agent-IC.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Leonard. “No lag or latency or bandwidth issues. It looks cool on paper and in concept, but until you try it, you really have no idea of how good this system is. Just to be safe, we first tried this during a locally produced show and couldn’t believe how well it worked. It’s completely stable. We are just utterly impressed with the low latency and the high quality and flexibility.”