When I first read Rowan Trollope’s blog about Cisco’s Wall of America on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show I had a number of questions.
Fortunately, Angie Mistretta (Cisco’s Director of Cisco Collaboration Endpoint Technology Marketing) agreed to give me a quick briefing and share the details. Angie has recently blogged to explain how the Kimmel show created this vision and why they came to Cisco for help. But I wanted to go beyond the “why” and get into the implementation itself
“Jimmy really wanted to reach out to people in a way that hadn’t been done before and really invite people into the show and have the ability to interact with him directly.” – Tony Romero, Producer
The vision and goal were pretty straightforward. The show wanted to provide a way for Jimmy to have direct interaction with his fans, at their homes and on their device of choice.
All of this made perfect sense to me, but I wondered why they chose to use Cisco’s enterprise video infrastructure with Jabber clients for the callers. Why break out the big guns with Jabber, when Cisco has been seemingly more focused on lower entry solutions like WebEx and Spark? For that matter, why didn’t Kimmel just skip Cisco entirely and use Google Hangouts? In other words, if the goal is to connect real people, not business people, why not use a more consumer focused product rather than the business focused Jabber? The answer Angie gave me didn’t just explain the choice for the Wall of America, it turned out to be a great discussion on the continuing value and benefits of enterprise video solutions like Jabber, despite the trends towards lighter solutions.
The issue is that Kimmel needed more than a connection, he needed control and quality. Enterprise level control and quality. If you watch the video above, you can see how the wall is controlled behind the scenes and the power of business class video becomes quickly apparent. While some consumer offerings offer some of the features of the Wall of America, I don’t think any of them can match its current implementation and feature set.
The director uses a “wall control page” (a custom version of Cisco’s enterprise video infrastructure interface) for broadcast level control over the Wall of America. The producers can put guests in a virtual waiting room, then decide which guests to move to the wall. They have the ability to include 20 people on the wall, at high quality, each with proper name/location labels at the bottom of their image. It also allows a director to control the layout, quickly moving any person of interest to a large screen while controlling the positioning of the other 19 people in the “Brady Bunch” grid layout. And of course, they have the ability to quickly mute or remove any troublemakers (after all, this is live TV).
Despite all this talk about enterprise quality and control, do not think that this is overly complex or for IT people only. Signing up and calling in is easy enough that in the words of Kimmel producers “even grandmothers have done it.” This perfect blend of ease of use for the callers and broadcast level control for the show producers results in an extremely entertaining experience for me, the home viewer.
Angie and I remarked at how interesting it is that not much has changed in the history of broadcast TV technology. These guys have been channeling video feeds from the studios to our homes for almost 80 years. Sure, the signals are in color now, and at much higher definition, but the base technology and methodology is still very inflexible and one directional. Which is why they need Cisco’s help to get video going in the other direction. To be fair, broadcast entertainment is an entirely different game than networking and communications, so although it may all be “just video” the implementations and applications couldn’t be more different.
At the end of the day, this marriage of broadcast video, with interactive video, has created the Wall of America, which is an extremely fun and compelling example of how far our technologies have come. Cheers to the Kimmel crew for having the vision and taking the risk and kudos to Cisco for making it happen in a way that works well for the Kimmel team, and looks amazing for the home viewer.