When Daily Maverick asked Flow Communications to create an online platform for its annual The Gathering conference, we jumped at the opportunity to work with one of South Africa’s most respected media titles and showcase our development and live events capabilities.
The Gathering is a well-attended one-day event that brings together leaders from across society to discuss solutions to South Africa’s most pressing issues – from energy and crime to politics. In 2022, its line-up of speakers included Eskom CEO André de Ruyter and Dr Imtiaz Sooliman of Gift of the Givers.
To broaden its potential audience, Daily Maverick opted for a hybrid event – physically at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and streamed live on a free digital platform for its thousands of subscribers.
The publication asked Flow to develop an easy-to-use online platform with specific features and functionalities, and to host the live stream and provide on-the-ground technical and content support during the event.
Making the conference available online would require a full nine hours of uninterrupted, hitch-free streaming on the day. Naturally, Flow’s team of developers, designers and technical events specialists were more than up to the task! Having devised several similar virtual event platforms in recent years, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, we were well versed in what works in the digital events space.
It was never going to be a walk in the park, though. Because the Daily Maverick website receives hundreds of thousands of unique visitors a day, we had to come up with a technical strategy that could cater for a potentially large online audience with minimal risk.
Preparing for all eventualities
Part of this pre-event preparation entailed scaling up a server to accept large traffic volumes and then setting up a secondary backup server at another data centre.
After that, we performed a high-usage load test to ensure the servers were able to accommodate the expected demand, and we also set up backup accounts on other video platforms to use if the YouTube feed were to fail, for whatever reason.
“The load testing tools we use are a vital part of our strategy,” says Richard Frank, CTO at Flow. “We were able to simulate over 10 000 visitors hitting the site at the same time – it gave us peace of mind that we could handle high load spikes.”
For the event platform itself, Flow designed a custom look and feel based on The Gathering’s branding. It included functionalities such as a public registration form and public chat tool with moderation – plus, we optimised the platform to cope with high traffic volumes.
When building the online event platform, we were cognisant of the client’s specific needs. One of Daily Maverick’s primary requests was that the platform should allow for seamless virtual audience interaction, including chatting, asking questions and taking part in polls. The platform also had to enable the publication’s journalists to provide expert running commentary on the event via a dedicated commentary wall.
“We implemented strong moderation tools, including a one-click banning function and abusive-language filtering, as we were concerned about spammers. Thankfully, on the day, the public chat was interesting and constructive and we did not need to use the functionality,” says Frank.
How we pulled it off
After developing, testing and troubleshooting the event platform, it was time to roll it out. Flow teamed up with the live event’s production team to arrange high-definition streaming via YouTube, using a dedicated internet line at the CTICC to ensure uninterrupted data provision. The stream was outputted to YouTube Studio and then embedded on the branded platform.
On the day of the conference, Flow’s team was on site to test the platform and ensure the streaming went off smoothly. As expected, there was a surge of more than 800 logins to the site as soon as the conference started – and the platform held its ground admirably.
While liaising with the on-site production team to ensure there was a continuous flow of content on the stream, we also supported the Daily Maverick journalists with a WhatsApp chat group and helped users with technical problems.
The targets set for The Gathering were met and exceeded, with thousands of people registering and watching the event live, chatting away and asking questions of the panellists. Significantly, the conference was pulled off hitch-free from a technical point of view, with nine hours of uninterrupted streaming.
Judging by the positive responses from audience members, participants and the client, the 2022 iteration of The Gathering was an “outstanding event” that had people “riveted” to their screens for the duration – no mean feat for an all-day virtual conference!