Global Citizen Live: 24-Hour Live Production Is the ‘Olympics of Music’ With a Cause

Transcontinental concert is among the most complex productions in history

More than 70 performances, 100 standups, 30 features and profiles — all done over six continents in 24 hours. A live music event the size and scale of Saturday’s Global Citizen Live comes along once in a generation. With that in mind, the production team behind the scenes is taking a page out of the largest live sports production on earth in carrying out this monumental live show.

“This is not just a music-festival stream from a production, ops, and engineering point of view,” says Broadcast Lead Jeff Jacobs, a veteran of multiple Olympics productions at NBC and music festivals at MTV. “It’s a music Olympics. That’s why we are utilizing many live-sports-broadcast-workflow principles and people with experience in both entertainment and live sports to get this show done. If you’ve done a live Olympics, you can do anything. So we have people for this show at master control who, a month ago, were working in Tokyo and Stamford for the Olympics. And this gives us a major advantage for a show this big.”

Executive Producer Jane Mun has devised a 24-hour run of show that includes a multivenue “Opening Ceremony” and cross-venue pop-ins connecting the globe via behind-the-scenes cameras and a series of cross-talk.

To pull it off, Jacobs and the Global Citizen team led by SVP, Broadcasting and Events, Lee Rolontz brought on production companies Ken Ehrlich Productions, Deviants, Done + Dusted, and LiveWire out of London, which have deployed mobile units for live feeds from Lagos, London, Los Angeles, New York City, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, and Sydney (as well from the International Space Station), pulling all feeds into All Mobile Video’s 57th Street Manhattan facility, which will serve as the Global Operations Control Center for the broadcasts.

NEP’s mobile unit is on hand at the Eiffel Tower in Paris for the Global Citizen Live production.

“We put together an all-star team of the best creative and technical producers in the live-TV business to create a master feed and feature shows for Global Citizen. Global Citizen Live is broadcasting to and from six continents,” notes Rolontz. “With no direct network affiliation, we had to create our own bespoke international operations control. When we get to create with our partners and artists this caliber of music entertainment and at the same time spread the message of Global Citizen, everyone wins.”

To Make a Difference: From Ending COVID to Promoting Equity for All

Global Citizen Live is a 24-hour global event starting on Sept. 25 to unite the world to end COVID-19 for all, end the hunger crisis, resume learning for all, protect the planet, and advance equity for all. Produced from six continents, the broadcast will feature artists, celebrities, and world leaders who come together to create change and impact climate change and poverty.

The 2019 Global Citizen Festival at Central Park in NYC.

“Finding the right technical partners to customize their facilities — or build one — to the needs of this show was [challenging]. There is no turnkey solution that fits the requirements of our production,” says Technical Producer Gayle De Poli. “The biggest challenge [involved] the number of remotes coming in from all over the world simultaneously. What made this show even more complex was the length of time we are on the air: 24+ hours.”

The entire event will be live-streamed on ABC News Live, YouTube, Apple TV, and Twitter and is being carried by more than 30 broadcasters around the world. In addition, on Sept. 26 in the U.S., ABC will televise a one-hour Global Citizen Live special, and FX will broadcast a four-hour show. In the UK, Global Citizen Live will be broadcast live on BBC One on Saturday night with a special highlights show on Sunday.

Colossal Undertaking: Seven Locations Across Six Continents

Each venue around the globe has at least one mobile unit, one audio-mix truck, and several editors onsite. All Mobile Video is providing mobile units and satellite-uplink trucks at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and at Central Park in New York City (plus one outside AMV’s Manhattan facility). NEP has supplied mobile units and satellite uplinks at the Sky Garden in London, Eiffel Tower Paris, and the Sydney Opera House in Sydney.

All Mobile Video has provided a mobile unit at Central Park in NYC.

“Last year, [Rolontz] invited me for coffee and told me this was going to be the largest global music festival in history,” says Jacobs. “That’s when I said, ‘This ain’t no music festival; this is the Olympics of music.’ My next two emails were to [NEP Broadcast Services Global President] Mike Werteen and [AMV President] Eric Duke, and I said, ‘We can’t do this without your involvement and global reach.’ And they have delivered exactly what we needed for such an epic show like this.”

These mobile units will serve not only the live broadcast but also the onsite video-display production for attendees at the respective venues. Performances at Lagos, Mumbai, and Rio have been taped, but these locations will also have live elements.

“Our executives and production teams have worked with the best production companies in the world,” says De Poli. “They were able to bring in the best of the best to put together the local festivals in each country. In turn, our technical team has worked around the world and has relationships here and overseas that broaden our spiderweb of connectivity for transmission and production facilities.”

NYC Central Production Hub: AMV Is the Axis on Which the Operation Spins

Global Citizen has taken over a control room at All Mobile Video’s facility on 57th Street in Manhattan and has rolled up an AMV mobile unit to create a massive production with more than 50 live-video feeds going in and out at all times.

All Mobile Video’s 57th St. studio in Manhattan has been converted into Central Tape, housing an EVS farm and Tagboard

“There is no comparison in NYC [with AMV’s studios] really,” says De Poli, who previously used the facility to handle the large capacity of international transmission for National Geographic’s Earth Live broadcast in 2017. “[AMV provided the] capacity at their teleports and connectivity to other earth stations, along with all of the equipment needed. We have been able to replicate the satellite and fiber check-in process onsite on 57th Street.”

In addition, AMV’s engineering staff customized all the spaces to fit the GCL production’s needs, and De Poli says the building itself on 57th Street has a substantial amount of support space for a show this size. “If we went anywhere else,” she says, “we would be parking office trailers for blocks to support us.”

In addition to EVS production systems at AMV, Picture Shop (recently rebranded from SIM) has also provided more than a dozen video-editing systems, which are being used for pretapes, packages, features, profiles, and so on. These postproduction edit suites also serve the cutdown and highlight shows that will start airing as soon as two hours after the event concludes its 24+ hours of live broadcast/streaming.

Taking a page out of the NBC Olympics handbook, Jacobs is centralizing all graphics insertion at AMV, with more than 3,000 lower-third graphics being programmed for the 24-hour show and providing talent intros and throws.

Beyond NYC: VISTA Worldlink, IMG Studios, MAM System Play Key Roles

The GCL production is relying on VISTA Worldlink’s Fort Lauderdale Centralized Broadcast Facility for distribution of the final program to its dozens of broadcast and streaming partners across the globe. The production is also using AMV Gateway Satellite Services and SES for satellite-transmission needs.

VISTA Worldlink’s Fort Lauderdale Centralized Broadcast Facility for distribution of Global Citizen Live

“It’s a complete smorgasbord of distribution choices: uplinks, fiber, BT Tower, drives, RTMP, AsiaSAT — you name it,” says Jacobs. “Everybody has a different flavor, so there’s a lot of coordination needed on that end. VISTA Worldlink has this down.”

Across the pond, IMG Studios at Stockley Park in London serves as Global Citizen Live’s transmission center for Europe and handles edit facilities and asset-management services as well as studio and coordination to create the BBC One live broadcast.

IMG Studios has also been enlisted to create a media-asset–management (MAM) system to manage the tsunami of live content coming in. Then, via Signiant MediaShuttle file-transfer technology, the production team will share content with the various onsite productions around the world.

“Developing the MAM for the sharing of content is saving an enormous amount of time and money by allowing us to more efficiently send content and elements to individual venues,” says Jacobs. Every song and every standup gets clipped and put into the media-asset–management system. Then we’re sharing content with all the venues for their screens and other needs via the MAM system. Instead of feeding, say, Paris, the return feed from London and New York for [Paris] screens, we throw everything into the MAM, and Paris can download, playlist, and put it into their EVS to display on the IMAG screens [at the venue].”

Global Citizen’s social and digital group is also deploying the MAM to acquire preclipped content to distribute to its social-media and digital platforms

Contingencies, Contingencies, Contingencies: Planning for the Worst

Any multipronged production the size of Global Citizen Live is going to have at least a few surprises. With that in mind, the organizers and production team have created a multitude of backup plans to account for any issues that might arise during the event.

Global Citizen Live is using the Live With Kelly and Ryan studio as a backup facility for the New York City performances set to take place in Central Park.

“We have had countless meetings on contingencies,” says Jacobs, “not just the regular contingencies that every broadcast goes through, like a backup generator and light bulbs, but much deeper than that. All of our venues are outdoors, so we have the threat of weather, violence, structural, and a lot more [issues]. We’ve planned contingencies for almost any possible situation.”

In Paris, for example, organizers have rented the Gustave Eiffel multipurpose room on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower to serve as the backup venue should the performances need to move indoors.

In addition, after the high-profile We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert in Central Park was rained out last month, Global Citizen Live is taking precautions to avoid the same fate. In the event that the Central Park stage is unusable, the performances will move indoors to WABC’s Live With Kelly and Ryan studio at 67th St. and Columbus Avenue.

“We are core-crewing the WABC studio Friday and Saturday in the event that the Central Park show needs to move indoors or to a secure location,” says Jacobs. “That’s a lot of extra work and essentially an entire extra show, but it’s an efficient insurance policy.”

Global Citizen Live begins at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 25 and will be live-streamed at ABC News Live, YouTube, Apple TV, and Twitter. ABC will televise a one-hour Global Citizen Live special, and FX will broadcast a four-hour show on Sunday, Sept. 26.

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