Sunday 6 September 2020

Lessons learned from Virtual Hereward


So. That's Virtual Hereward done - I'm not going to say 'for the year' because I'm really hoping that by September 5th 2021 (shameless plug) we'll be able to run another in-person show :D

About now the Hereward team would be helping our traders load out and checking the hall for anything we've left behind... very different here this year!

Anyhow - things we've learned doing the virtual show:

The general:

In an ideal world, you should (stop sniggering at the back) be able to set up your entire show in advance if you choose to do it using pre-recorded videos, scheduled tweets and Facebook and/or YouTube premieres.

You won't. However appealing the idea of spending show day curled up on the sofa with a beer, the F1, the cricket and a very occasional glance at your iPad may be, it won't happen :D Scheduled tweets will fail to post on time or at all, you'll discover you forgot to set up one of your Twitter accounts on your tablet, things you thought were set to premiere won't be (and the iPad client won't work for fixing that), and you will need someone to field tweets, questions, yeet YouTube chat spammers into outer darkness et cetera. To be fair, most of your work will have been done before, but you're still going to have to have someone on the front lines to make sure it all runs smoothly.

By the time you're all set up, you are going to wish someone made a tool that allowed you to say 'here's a video, a title, a description and a time, please upload to FB and YouTube, schedule it for this time and tweet 10 mins beforehand...'. Sadly, it doesn't exist (unless, I suspect, you want to pay quite a bit for it), and for a show the length of ours you are going to spend most of the previous day watching upload progress bars and scheduling tweets and videos.

Both YouTube and Facebook do support mass upload of videos, so you can do all the typing at the beginning and then wait for it all to finish... But (and it's a big but) you are still going to have to watch it like a hawk, as Facebook browser tabs, in particular, are a bit of a memory and CPU hog, and if like me you have about 15GB of video to upload it may well silently die when you're not looking, and finding out what survived the death is tricky (see below).

Make sure any background music you use on your videos is copyright free (e.g. Apple loops, or stuff which is clearly marked as royalty-free). If you don't, both YouTube and Facebook's remarkably unforgiving automatic copyright detection algorithms will flag it and may either block your video and/or mute the offending portion. You can appeal this, but it can take up to a week with no guarantee of success, so just be careful, OK? 

(Aside note, from bitter experience with music at church: just because the artist says on their website 'for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic our music/videos are OK to use royalty-free', this almost certainly does not mean the big faceless copyright management company who actually oversee their rights are aware of this, or even if they are that the information has made it to YT/FB.)

The specific:

Twitter's scheduled tweets feature (for which you need an account at is a bit of a pain to get initially set up (and you need to register a credit card, even though scheduling tweets is free). It also appears to only let you schedule tweets on the quarter hour, but in fact if you type in a time and hit return it will accept that. However, it does appear to only run its scheduler every 5 minutes, and it doesn't take much for, say, your tweet scheduled for 09:55 to actually post at 10:00 or sometimes later. So, tip therefore - if you want to post something guaranteed to appear ahead of a scheduled video premiere, give it 10 or 15 mins lead time just to be on the safe side, if it turns up at all (two of ours didn't). Also, don't rely on on-time 'just in time' scheduled tweets as your only Twitter promotional vehicle.

Facebook Creator Studio is an appallingly bad piece of web software. I know this may come as no surprise to anyone, but... here are a number of tips for managing video premieres on your Facebook page and getting round the disaster area that is Creator Studio: 

  • Bookmark as it is a swine to find in the new Facebook UI (and sad to say not as well laid out in the new UI either).
  • Whatever you do, do NOT walk away and leave a video uploading: keep your screen active, don't let your machine sleep, and keep an eye on the upload window (move it into its own window rather than a hidden tab). Equally DO NOT close the window or quit the browser until it's done. If your machine goes to sleep, or your tab loses focus, there's a real risk the upload will silently die. As this is difficult to distinguish from the upload finishing successfully (the upload window goes away and nothing happens for 10 minutes while Facebook's copyright detection algorithm checks you haven't broken anyone's copyright...) you could be in for problems.
  • Finding yet-to-be-premiered videos is difficult. I finally discovered the link at which actually shows what's scheduled, without which I wouldn't have discovered Facebook's one mis-scheduled and one completely missing premieres for our show... And as for actually editing any part of it once it's scheduled? forget it. 
  • If you're in the UK, the timezone FB displays when prompting you for a premiere date and time is 'Atlantic/Canary'. This is actually UK time (with the correct daylight savings offset), but really, Facebook?

YouTube's video premieres also have an interesting feature or two.

  • Again, DO NOT close the tab or quit the browser till your upload is done.
  • YouTube only lets you schedule videos at :00, :15, :30 and :45 past the hour, and there is a 2 min preroll, so your video will actually start at :02, :17, :32 or :47. Bear this in mind if you want absolute sync between the Facebook and YouTube premieres.
  • There is a very odd bug with some channels where it will only let you schedule at :15 and :45. As of the time of writing, this has been known about by YouTube for over two weeks (a lot of churches were the first to trip over it), and as yet it remains unfixed. If your channel falls victim to that there is a workaround: change your scheduled timezone to Chatham Islands time, which is GMT+12:45 (weird, I know, but right now, really useful!), and schedule your video appropriately. For example, schedule a 10am Sunday BST video at 9:45pm Sunday Chatham Islands time, or a 6:30pm Monday video becomes 5:45am the following day. There are tools online to help you do the timezone arithmetic if you need them, or you can check once you've scheduled it, as it will display the premiere time in your original timezone.
  • If you want live chat on your premiere, you have to mark the video as Not Suitable For Kids. Also note that live chat stops when the premiere finishes and people close the browser, and further discussion has to happen in the comments (although the live chat can replay along with the video).
Running panels as Zoom calls. 
  • Zoom will let you record locally or in the cloud - I haven't played with the latter so I can't comment, but local recordings are certainly useable for pre-recording panels.
  • The sound quality isn't brilliant - it's liveable, but it is a bit at the mercy of bandwidth constraints between each of the participants and you. If any of your panellists have bad internet (jittery/freezing video and Dalek audio), it's better to get everyone to turn their video off and go sound only. Of our two panels, one was perfect, but Dr. Harry had somewhat iffy internet on the other, and the only cure was for us all to turn video off.
Video battle reports... are hard work. I learned a lot from recording our Battle Of Stilton video, but I'm going to put that in a video/post of its own. I would note that Grahame and Andrew were wearing wireless tie-clip mics for the sound, which seem to have been a great investment. 

So - that's it for another year. Hopefully we're back in the Cresset in 2021!

Virtual Hereward 2020 - it's a strange day!


It's Sunday September 6th.

Were this a 'normal' first Sunday in September, I'd have been up since 6, and I'd have been standing outside the Cresset waiting for the duty manager to open up at 7. By now I'd have already walked about 7 or 8 thousand steps checking the table layout, making sure all our game runners and traders are happy, and handing them all free coffee/tea vouchers, and I'd be sat behind the front desk with probably Pippa, Anne and/or Carl checking people's paper tickets or taking their money with the second or third very large cup of tea and a Cresset bacon sandwich. Yesterday would have been spent printing paper show guides, drinks vouchers and extra floor plans, getting the two show award trophies engraved, fielding last minute questions...

Of course, due to lockdown and the COVID-19 virus, I'm not. Instead I'm sat in my office here with windows open on Facebook, TweetDeck and YouTube, discovering all the little annoyances I didn't know about (like scheduled tweets not being instantaneous, and forgetting to set up the club twitter account on my phone), and generally being at the hub of a collection of pre-programmed posts that should in theory run themselves. Yesterday I spent editing and uploading the best part of 5 hours of video (as well as running and recording a Zoom panel with 4 very enthusiastic and talkative people!) and then trying to get the aforementioned 'should run themselves' bit actually working.

It's very odd!

But anyway - we're up and rolling! The schedule is at if you want to drop in and see how things are going. 

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