In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights series video, Mike Vizard speaks with Larry O’Reilly, CEO for ARHT Media, about holograms for business.
Mike Vizard: Hello. Welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO videocast. I’m Mike Vizard. Today we’re here with Larry O’Reilly, who is the CEO for ARHT Media, and we’ll be talking about holograms. Larry, welcome to the show.
Larry O’Reilly: Great to be here, Michael. Thank you.
Mike Vizard: About ten years ago we were supposed to have flying cars and holograms would be everywhere, and we would have digital versions of ourselves that could go anywhere and do almost anything. We’re not quite there yet, but are we getting closer? Has COVID kind of changed the way we might think and feel about holograms?
Larry O’Reilly: Yes and yes. We definitely are getting a lot closer, and COVID certainly has helped expediate and move along the adoption of HoloPresence technology and using holograms to communicate.
Interestingly or interesting to me anyway, we’ve been doing these live hologram activations for about five years now. We have big global enterprise clients as our primary client base, and they were using us an awful lot for events to get somebody, a special speaker or somebody who might not be available otherwise to a big meeting or a presentation.
But the real opportunity is actually using it every day, to your point, and displaying capture technology at locations around the globe, so that you can improve, dramatically improve the impact of your digital communication. It’s coming, and I think as people return to the office you’re going to see much broader adoption of this technology, beyond just the event industry.
Mike Vizard: What is that hologram experience like exactly? Am I seeing something that I might expect out of Star Trek or am I seeing something that is a little more compact? What is the state of the art right now?
Larry O’Reilly: The state of the art and really what we’re trying to do, and we believe that we have achieved this, is we try to create the illusion that a presenter or a speaker or a guest is actually in the room with you. So we present people life-size. I would present them in high definition. They appear to be 3D, without the need for 3D glasses. And there’s really no noticeable latency in the audio.
When you combine all those elements and you’re an audience member, your brain is telling you they’re in the room. That’s what we call creating presence. That changes the emotional relationship between the two parties who are actually communicating or the many people who are involved. That’s a really, really powerful thing.
Mike Vizard: What does it take to set that kind of thing up? Do I need special hardware on both sides of that equation? Do you watch it and also produce it? What’s involved in the gear side of that?
Larry O’Reilly: Sure. I guess the good news here is almost everything is off-the-shelf equipment that’s readily available in most places in the world. There are a few proprietary pieces, and then obviously we have expertise around staging and setting up for capture. I’d probably say our software is a key element in terms of reducing the latency and allowing these large data packs of information to quickly, in 0.3 seconds or less, go anywhere in the world from an information perspective.
The capture equipment looks like a green screen capture, like the weatherman on TV. So we capture a person on green screen. We capture using a 4K video or a pro similar type camera. We are also capturing the audio. Then we take that rich video and audio file, we compress it, we encrypt it. We send it over the Internet, looking for ARHT Engine servers to actually display the information at the other end.
We project a video image onto a mesh that is painted with a highly reflective proprietary paint. Then we have the audio playback through the audio system in the auditorium or in the meeting room or wherever the venue may be.
At the same time, we are capturing both video and audio of the audience that you are addressing and sending that back to the presenter. So the presenter is looking at a monitor about, typically, anywhere from 18 to 20 feet in front of them, and on that monitor is the audience that they’re addressing. That could be five people. It could be 500 people. It could be 5,000 people.
So as long as they’re looking into that monitor of the audience that they’re addressing, they’re actually looking right into the barrel of a 4K camera. We create the illusion that the person is in the room, and we create it by the angles that we use when we’re shooting. We actually create eye contact with the audience.
Interestingly, there’s like a Mona Lisa effect. It really doesn’t matter if the audience member is stage left or right or right down the middle. Everybody thinks that the presenter is looking right at them. That’s part of the magic of how we actually do the capture.
Mike Vizard: Do you think as we go forward that more and more of these capabilities will just be standard parts instead of maybe the laptops that we’re issuing people, as the technology advances and eventually we’ll just need software?
Larry O’Reilly: For sure. The advances in technology on the optics side are leaps and bounds happening. There are already cameras that can eliminate background information and key out the subject that they’re trying to do. It creates a little bit of latency in doing that, which for what we’re doing isn’t acceptable, because if there’s a big lag like you used to see on the CNN reporter, the foreign correspondent when the question would be asked in an interview and a two or three-second pause, you understand the person is really far away. But if you’re trying to create that illusion that the person is there, you want no or very limited latency.
In the future, there will be a camera that will either be embedded into the laptop or mounted to the laptop that will enable this. However, with that, typically when you’re capturing on a laptop, like we are right now in traditional streaming, it’s more of a headshot or from the chest up. Move of the activations or almost all of the activations that we do, we’re capturing from your feet to the top of your head.
The reason that we do that is we want all the body language. When you’re addressing an audience, so much of communication is nonverbal, especially things like – let’s say it’s a panel discussion and you have two or three people who are there in person, and you bring in a fourth person who is a hologram. It’s important that you can read everybody else’s body language, even something as simple as knowing when it’s your turn to talk, because you give nonverbal cues to signal that. That’s why when you have traditional streaming and you get more than three of four people involved, it can be rather awkward and not natural in terms of communication.
Mike Vizard: See, there’s that pause, so it’s my turn to talk. All right.
Larry O’Reilly: Which is really easy, Michael, when there are just two of us, right. But if there were four or five of us, there’d be a pause and then people would be like, “Okay. Who’s next? Who gets to speak?”
Mike Vizard: You get it. We hear a lot about the metaverse these days. Is this all going to be part of that metaverse conversation as we go along? Or what’s your sense of where this metaverse thing is and how does it all come together?
Larry O’Reilly: Well, like so many others, we’re trying to understand the value and the place of the metaverse, even the definition of what the metaverse actually is. There are so many different platforms that are emerging. Like any technology, where you see really broad adoption is when the population at large sort of bets on one horse or two or three maybe, in terms of what those metaverse platforms or locations actually should be.
I had a conversation yesterday with a rapper from Atlanta, who wants to use our platform to be beamed into the metaverse, to actually do a concert for his fans. I was asking him, “How do you define the metaverse?” He said, “Some people say it’s this and some people say it’s that.”
The one thing that would be very natural, the thing with our technology is in effect it already is the metaverse, because we have an online platform called Virtual Global Stage, which through the pandemic our clients have been using a lot, where we capture people on a green screen and then we digitally composite them into any kind of an artificial set. In some cases it might look like the CEO boardroom behind you, or it could look like a television newsroom, or it could be outdoors. It could be anywhere.
That’s what the metaverse is. It’s an artificial location that you bring characters into, and they can interact with one another and audience members, et cetera. So that’s what Virtual Global Stage does. It’s really effective.
Where it’s powerful or where it’s most powerful is when we capture people in different parts of the world and digitally composite them together in the same environment, where they interact with one another with no noticeable latency. The first activation that we did using this technology, which was in 2020, was for a respiratory conference that was supposed to be in Germany. We had a panel discussion with one speaker in Australia, another in Greece, and a third one in Germany, and they all looked like they were on stage together.
They would take turns making presentations. Then the panel would come together and interact with one another. If that’s not the metaverse, I don’t know what is.
Mike Vizard: What would be the impact on business travel then do you think, when we kind of look at all of this? Am I only going to travel when I need to go to dinner with somebody or have a cocktail somewhere? Or do you think this will just kind of slide in alongside all those business meetings and time spent on airplanes, where I get like four hours of downtime, I guess, because I’m doing e-mails and writing? I guess that’s what we call downtime these days. What do you think is going to happen travel-wise?
Larry O’Reilly: I think it’s going to have a massive impact on travel. Personally, I think that especially interoffice travel will either be eliminated or dramatically reduced. People won’t fly from one corporate office to another to visit with their employees that report to them or will do it less often. Where they might have done it quarterly before, they might do it once a year, so that they can go out and break bread and get to know people on a more personal level.
They’ll use other digital communication, one-on-one or small groups, things like Zoom, absolutely perfect to use. But if you have a meeting that’s a little bit more important, then beaming in holographically is much more impactful.
We have measured research from our clients who use the technology for in person meetings. They get higher levels of engagement. They get higher levels of entertainment value. Most importantly, they get higher levels of content retention when they present holographically as opposed to the exact same presenter presenting in person. So it’s not a substitute for going there. In fact, it can be more impactful than physically traveling there.
The other big thing that’s happened is many organizations made way more money in 2020 and into 2021 if their revenue line stayed the same or went up, but they got rid of the travel and entertainment budget. So everybody is looking at the T&E budget really hard, because all that money just fell through the bottom line.
Now it’s one thing if you have an excuse not to travel to go meet with your clients because you can’t, because there’s a pandemic going on. But going forward, I think people are going to be much more careful with that spend. Obviously, especially from a sales perspective and a business development perspective, even with key suppliers, it’s important to have that face-to-face meeting from time-to-time, but our technology will allow more powerful interaction on a more frequent basis.
As an example, in my prior life I was with the IMAX Corporation. I was the president of worldwide sales. Every Sunday night or Monday morning, I got on a plane and went somewhere in the world. Especially when we were building out the Asian market, I spent a lot of time in Japan initially and then a ton in China. In fact, China is a bigger market for IMAX today than America is, shockingly.
But in the early days, I would be there at least once a quarter and sometimes maybe a little bit more frequently, and it was important to have those face-to-face meetings. But then I’d have a gap of when I’d be back again. Even at that time, there wasn’t the video conferencing tools that we have today. The holographic stuff will allow those relationships and those conversations to continue in a very meaningful way.
The other thing I would say is when we were building out into China, the number one concern for exhibitors in China was content. How many movies can we get? Will the Hollywood studies distribute their movies into China?
Our head of film, Greg Foster, he would come to China once or twice a year in the early days, when we only had say three to five locations. Well, if I would have had him in the meetings, we probably would have accelerated our rollout by about two years, because he was dealing with Hollywood executives every day, and he would bring that credibility to give people the confidence to move forward and build out that distribution channel for those movies.
Mike Vizard: All right. So there may come a day when we actually may be in two places at once, but we’ll see what happens.
Hey, Larry, thanks for being on the show.
Larry O’Reilly: Great to meet you. Thank you very much for having me.
Mike Vizard: Take care.
Larry O’Reilly: Bye now.