A Perfect Pivot at the Juno Opening Night Awards

The Juno Awards celebrate Canadian music; the Opening Night Awards is traditionally the party and celebration for artists and their teams. The e=mc2 events team was hired to produce the event presented by Music Canada.

The 2021 event was initially created as a live, in-person gala dinner and awards show; however, with Canada still amid the global pandemic, the team had to shift to create a live broadcast that some will say was a highlight of the 50 years of the Juno Awards. 

e=mc2 events (e) is made up of incredibly creative and brilliant logistical planners. So when the time came to pivot, they seamlessly kicked into “possibility” mode. Drawing on their experience in the live event space and their virtual event expertise, while learning from their on-set partners, they blended the best of both worlds and created an amazing hybrid model – with remote and in-person presenters, a broadcast studio, 185 remote nominees, an audience of thousands, and remote performers all Zoomed and streamed together LIVE on CBCmusic.ca.

 The result was an energetic, interactive, emotional show celebrating Canadian talent!

Key Objectives & Creative Solutions

A key metric around this event was engagement. They needed to make nominees to feel like they were attending, not just watching. By bringing all the nominees together in Zoom Rooms with all the other nominees in their category, they gave them an experience they had never had before. 

At previous in-person Galas, nominees would come with a table of their people; partners, bandmates, managers etc.; they would spend the evening surrounded by the people they brought with them. There would be moments of interaction between tables or collisions at the bar, but for the most part, they would stick to their own. They certainly wouldn’t spend time with their fellow category nominees. But with this new approach, backstage at the virtual event, it was a completely different experience. Veterans and rookies were placed in virtual spaces and engaged in banter, humorous dialogue and thoughtful encouragement. When a winner was announced, their fellow nominees celebrated alongside them.

Each award category was a separate Zoom call, and nominees were invited to join the show 15 minutes before their award was announced. They could watch the program on the call and meet with fellow nominees virtually. The result was an array of beautiful human interactions. The nominees had the chance to connect with their peers and celebrate each other’s mutual success. In an entirely virtual event, they managed to capture the ethereal essence of an in-person gathering. 

With pandemic lessons still being learned and the virtual landscape being a new frontier for many, the chain of command had the potential to get complex. There were experienced television broadcast producers working with experienced virtual event AV techs and live event producers working together on an unexpected pivot with multiple layers. 

The e Solution? e=mc2 is known for being people-centric, so it’s not surprising they found fast answers to how to navigate the planning process and ensure everyone felt visible, involved and had a chance to bring their expertise to the table. Extensive discussions, deep dive planning meetings, uniting people through internal scripts, training sessions and the Google Suite were used to bring everyone together while partner teams from across Canada connected daily in virtual spaces to support and train each other. The key to this event’s success from a people perspective was everyone stepping back to allow others to lead when experience needed to trump titles. 

Talking Technology 

What did it take to pull this off besides incredible talent and teamwork? A whole lot of technology and planning. Have a look, and this is a fraction of what was needed. 

  • 8 virtual presenters on their own laptops/computers
  • 12 virtual stage managers located across Canada 
  • Bespoke Audio Visual and broadcast truck (Dome Production) in Toronto
  • With 40 concurrent Zoom calls, 66+ laptops, and 12 dedicated technician
  • 55 Videoconference Systems (laptops) running Dante & NDI
  • 55 Videoconference accounts
  • A Production Manager, Technical Director, Audio Operator, Video Switcher Operator, Network Engineer, 6 Videoconference Operators
  • Another broadcast truck and entire broadcast team with too much equipment to list
  • Another audiovisual warehouse (Proshow Audiovisual) in Calgary for the virtual Media Centre
  • A virtual Media Scrum with 35 “seats” for virtual media, moderated by Deb Goldblatt-Sadowski of Rock-it Promotions
  • 6 one-on-one virtual media breakouts (eTalk, CTV, Entertainment Tonight, Global TV, CBC, CityTV) hosted on Zoom
  • Countless dedicated “e” stage managers
  • 185 nominees live from their homes across the globe. Each nominee’s journey down to the second was mapped as they moved through the various rooms and phases of the production
  • 12 virtual stage managers had individual tabs in an overall tracker workbook that outlined their path through the 37 Zoom links and any multiple nominees’ paths, including the media Zoom link if they won. 
  • Each of the 9 nominee stage managers travelled from 4-5 rooms, while the two presenter stage managers stayed in their individual Zoom rooms with their three presenters, each popping in and out of their calls; the 12th and lead stage manager roamed throughout the various rooms checking in and troubleshooting from the AV warehouse.
  • 7 virtual stage manager onboarding/training/connect/practice sessions
  • 8 separate virtual presenter rehearsals; 2 of which were rehearsal and pre-record sessions
  • 5 performances in the show. Three artists were filmed in Toronto. One in Nashville and 1 in Montreal, and production arranged for all COVID testing 24-48 hours before the filming, then again onsite. 
  • One celebratory stage management call after the show!

Having all 185 nominees live on screen for their category and acceptance was an award-worthy feat. To keep all nominees organized, the e team designed their screen content with unique video windows for each nominee. Each assigned a number corresponding to a computer that would join the call to spotlight their corresponding video. For contingency, these screen states were built with the artist’s photo as a placeholder so that if an artist were absent, they would see their still photo instead, thus never having a blank screen. One team member’s sole role was to communicate with the director when nominees were absent.

The result was an energetic, interactive, emotional show celebrating Canadian talent!

Pandemic Challenges

Being at the height of the pandemic, a huge concern was the safety of everyone involved as well as the concern that any one of the critical players could fall ill and need a backup. Because of the highly complex production and specialized training, each team member had received, tight contingency plans were put into place to safeguard the execution of the event. A dedicated team member managed extensive communication and records keeping of testing and assessments for employee and supplier travel and the locations for performer and host studio shoots and AV infrastructure in the warehouse and broadcast truck.

All crew and talent were tested prior to and daily to ensure the utmost safety for everyone at all 6 locations – 3 performance locations – Toronto, Nashville and Montreal, the home studio at the Globe & Mail Centre in Toronto, out of the audiovisual warehouse and broadcast truck in Toronto, and in a second audiovisual warehouse in Calgary for the media centre. Another team member flew to Toronto to be confined to their hotel room as the on-site backup for six people should any of them test positive and therefore not be able to be on-site.

This event, besides being a logistical feat, was a test of the technology, talent and timing. The e=mc2 events team, along with their partners, clients and vendors, came together to create a symphony of live actions, each chord, each step perfectly timed to flow together, complement and support the next and ultimately produce a masterpiece experience. There is so much more to share about this event, how they did it, what helped them succeed and the sheer volume of intricacies that made it work.

We look forward to hearing more in the months to come. Watch out for this event at the Canadian Event Awards; it will be a hard one to beat! 

Congrats to everyone who helped make this event a great success, & good luck at the Canadian Event Awards Gala from Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex on Sept 28, 2022. The CEA Gala is the last event of CSE Live 2022, EventFest, Canada’s premier event for Canadian event professionals and can be found here.

Get your tickets now at CSElive.ca