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Read the world: World Literacy Foundation Awards

Posted on Jan 7, 2022 by FEED Staff

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The World Literacy Awards is an event honouring champions of literacy reached a global audience with a simple, but powerful workflow

More than two billion adults lack essential literacy skills for quality employment. And, of these, 750 million are without even basic reading and writing skills. Around 258 million young people are out of school – that’s more than 10% of the world’s children not getting an education.

In 2003, the World Literacy Foundation (WLF) was founded to increase reading and writing comprehension in children and adults. The foundation’s goals are “to raise global literacy standards, provide free access to quality education materials, innovate solutions that target wide-scale illiteracy and encourage lifelong learning” Illiteracy has crippling economic impacts, and no area is untouched. According to a recent WLF report, around 15% of adults in England struggle to read and write at a basic level, and can be described as ‘functionally illiterate.’  Each year, the WLF holds their World Literacy Summit in Oxford, UK. It brings together experts and innovators from all over the planet, to make the foundation’s targets a reality.

World Literacy Awards
IMPACTFUL NewTek helped create a truly international event

In association with the summit, the WLF holds its annual awards show. The 2021 edition of the World Literacy Awards was due to be held on International Literacy Day in early September. But, despite many countries patting themselves on the back for declining Covid-19 infections, the pandemic was far from under control, and doing an in-person event was still ill-advised. After a successful virtual event in 2020, it was clear the wide span of nominations made it imperative to open it to the whole world. Award-winners were selected from over 600 nominees, in seven categories – including a new category recognising rapid and creative responses to the pandemic’s effect on education.

“Because of the huge uptake in nominations this year, it made sense to make the show globally accessible,” says WLF COO Caroline Burkie. “Because of all the time zones represented, we could also make it an on-demand show.”

On the same page

Burkie’s team had enough on their plate without having to learn how to put together an international streaming production. The foundation again called on technology partner Vizrt Group, who had helped to produce conferences at the summit in 2020, both streaming and recording panel sessions.

A year and a half ago, I could have produced this with a bunch of zooms – as long as the connection was stable. But now, people expect something more

Also returning was producer Films United, which specialises in PR campaigns and fundraising for charitable causes. This has included the Teenage Cancer Trust and last summer ’s Asteroid Day, raising awareness about the science – and potential danger – of Earth’s many rocky neighbours.

“One of my goals was to do a top-quality production, along with some really high-profile people, who would accept the awards and be on the judging panels,” explains event producer and Films United founder Grig Richters. The limits of what is possible – and considered to be a good standard – have advanced rapidly. When lockdowns began in early 2020, just getting something on the air was enough. Now, having live, high-quality, impactful virtual events is expected.

“A year and a half ago, I would have been able to produce this with a bunch of Zooms and everybody would be happy – as long as the connection was stable,” says Richters. “But now, people expect something more. We worked to put this award ceremony together in a way that does justice to all the hard work the World Literacy Foundation has done.”

Reading the room

Richters brought in a raft of amazing talent, including four Pulitzer Prize-winners and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. Other nominees and guests included Eddie Izzard, Brooke Shields, Julian Lennon and choreographer Dame Arlene Phillips – as well as Vizrt Group CMO Steve Wind-Mozley. Vizrt Group’s senior solutions architect for its NewTek products, Liam Hayter, returned to oversee the technical implementation of Richters’ vision. In a very compressed time frame, Hayter developed a workflow that incorporated live switching of remote guests and audience with Skype TX and Zoom, to deliver a star-studded event to the world.

He worked from his London home, with Richters and host broadcaster Lisa Burke operating from Hamburg and Lisbon, respectively. In what was essentially a desktop set-up, Hayter used NewTek’s TriCaster 2 Elite and Talkshow systems, which gave four additional channels. The TriCaster 2 Elite accommodates Zoom natively; this enables the feeds from nominees to be managed all at once, and selected on the fly through a browser control interface. The workflow incorporated six peer-to-peer Skype TX between the presenters and judges that were switched over to new sets of participants for the second half of the show.

It's just amazing...what used to take 12 people, Liam did as a one-man band from home

“Grig was keen to preserve the element of surprise in the production,” says Hayter. “Normally with these Zoom awards, people know they’re going to be on in advance, or are queued because they have to be prepped in the background. We decided to push against that, with the nominees all in a room on Zoom – and then Grig and his production team would pick whoever won and put them on full-screen.”

Camera feeds from the judges, spread around the world, were brought into the TriCaster via six Skype TX connections. But at any point, the team could cut to the room full of nominees as if there were an audience in attendance. The direct Skype TX line, with the presenter and judges, also functioned like a virtual green room, allowing for off-camera interaction. This brought virtual events one step closer to the typical in-venue experience. Richters and Hayter also kept in touch via WhatsApp, as a backup comms channel.

Pre-planned graphics were automated to be easily activated. Each award had a dedicated web page, which could be triggered to incorporate both the winner and accompanying graphics in-frame. These were built in Adobe Photoshop, and supplied by the WLF team.

“It’s just amazing,” remarks Richters. “I used to produce events like the Champions League Final with these massive OB trucks, but here, Liam did everything himself. What used to take 12 people, Liam did as a one-man band from home.“It will be interesting to see how we can build on this next year; we might have a hybrid event with people in the room. But livestreamed, remote production is going to continue – people realise they can engage with a wider network.”

“Working with NewTek was incredibly easy,” says Burkie. “And we were fortunate to have Vizrt Group’s support: being so engaged with the charity made a huge difference. They want it to be great because they know the end product is helping to fund and raise awareness for literacy causes.”

This article first featured in the Winter 2021/22 issue of FEED magazine.

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