20 Years of Creating Experiences With Impact
Posted on May 19, 2021 12:07:15 PM
For twenty years, Tim Ogletree and Ken McKibben have combined a professional passion for technology and outside-the-box thinking with a unique vision for creating unforgettable experiences under the banner of MediaMerge. Today they are a team made up of AV specialists, system designers, installers, content developers, and a wide range of technicians across the U.S.
Before they were founders of a cutting-edge AVL company, the two met during their early professional years working for IMAX. They became fast friends, bonding over shared dreams of engineering powerful audio-visual experiences. Less than a year after starting at IMAX, Ken pitched the idea of launching their own design and installation business to Tim and, after months of planning, MediaMerge was born.
From their humble beginnings they have gone on to work with well-known museums and attractions including Boston Symphony, HGTV, Chicago Museum of Science & Industry, Franklin Institute, St. Louis Science Center, Science Museum of Virginia, McWane Science Center, Ripley's: Believe It or Not...
Starting Up in the Basement
The company began in the classic tech startup cradle: Tim’s basement. The two would spend their days building racks and testing speakers, popping upstairs to eat sandwiches with Tim’s kids. Ken was 23 at the time and jokes that Tim, 10 years his senior, must have been crazy for teaming up with an idealistic kid with way too much confidence. But twenty years and hundreds of ecstatic clients later, it would seem that Tim knew exactly what he was doing.
Their journey, with all the trials and triumphs inherent to entrepreneurship, has carried them through updating, renovating, and completely engineering spaces all across the United States, Canada, Peru, and Australia including:
- outdoor concert venues
- theme park attractions
- state-of-the-art museum experiences
The Boston Symphony
BSO music director Andris Nelsons (far left) and his holographic image. STU ROSNER
In 2015, the Boston Symphony came to MediaMerge to create a spectacular greeting for Andris Nelsons, their new Director of Music. MediaMerge responded with a multimedia display featuring a life-size hologram of Nelsons, that included an accompaniment of Wagner's "Tannhauser" and musical notes floating around his image. The project, featured in the Boston Globe, was a smashing success. Ken shared “[The BSO] was looking for a really interesting way to introduce this fresh, young director." MediaMerge's inventive approach to commemorate the inaugural season of the youngest BSO conductor in more than a century generated an interactive attraction that visitors love and have now come to expect in exhibits around the globe.
Boston Tea Party Museum
MediaMerge was initially brought onto the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum project to help solve a problem with video projection in the museum’s theater, but as Chris Belland, CEO of Historic Tours of America, realized the depth of their expertise and their passion for history, MediaMerge’s involvement quickly expanded to include all of the facility’s sound, video, and lighting technology.
Before even thinking about the technology involved, the MediaMerge team worked with Belland to understand the underlying messages and emotions woven into the stories that were central to the planned exhibits. The end-result included 3D holographic projections, talking portraits, and an immersive theater experience, complete with shaking floors and simulated gunfire, that all work in concert to transport guests into the heart of history. This process of making the story personal and relatable is the hallmark of Belland’s approach to presenting history in a memorable way, and he knew the right technology would be key to making the whole thing work.
“In 2012 when we started on the project, most institutions kind of frowned on anything that made the museum experience feel unserious or fun,” Ken recalls, “but the attraction quickly rocketed to become the number one paid-attraction of its kind in Boston. Within five years, you saw other museums begin introducing interactive exhibits looking for the same kind of magical experience that made the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum so successful.”
While the Boston Tea Party installation may once have seemed unorthodox, these types of exhibits have gone far beyond mere acceptance by museum culture — they are now expected by museum-goers. This type of foresight can be attributed to the fact that MediaMerge’s team keeps their fingers on the pulse of the AVL industry.
“We view our role in this business as collectors of good ideas,” Ken tells us. “We have the rare opportunity to see so many great designs, along with some not-so-great ones, and we’re in a unique position to share our knowledge and experience with every new group we work with.”
To Ken and Tim, this good fortune is not simply a business strategy. It’s their mission.
Creating Powerful Church Experiences
Their passion is identifying the vision and finding the solution that meets the goal within the unique character of each church. This means that when they are hired onto a project, their aim never starts with how much technology they can put into a facility. The goal is to guide their clients to explore options that most efficiently create the experience they envision, even if it ends up a bit different than the church initially expected.
“Pastors may get to see two or three other churches in a given year, while our team has the benefit of looking at literally hundreds of churches in the same timeframe,” Ken says, “We’re often able to show clients a wide range of possibilities that they haven’t even considered. At the end of the day, our job is not to just sell them something. It’s to help people get where they’re going.”
However, there are plenty of opportunities for MediaMerge to flex their technical and creative expertise.
“One of our very early projects involved a client that wanted screens but didn’t want to see them when not in use,” Tim tells us. “It was a very traditional and ornate platform, so we developed a solution involving lifts that would raise the screens from pockets in the wall behind the choir. It worked really well and was very quiet. The first Sunday in use when everyone bowed their heads for prayer, the tech director hit the button to raise the screens. When the ‘amen’ came and everyone raised their heads, it was like the screens had magically appeared out of nowhere. You could hear the whole congregation quietly utter in a unified, low tone, ‘Whoa!’”
The advent of digital technology has brought sophisticated systems to levels affordable to any size of church. LED’s have transformed lighting and video. HD and 4k have raised video to standards that were unimaginable 20 years ago.
Expectations may have grown immensely with the evolution of worship presentation, but Tim and Ken don’t get caught up with pushing technology for the sake of it. Today, just as in their early days starting out in the basement, MediaMerge is passionate about helping every client realize and express their own unique character with the tools available.
Looking back on two decades of innovation and technical achievement, Tim finds it’s not the technology that drives him. He says, “It’s really the process of creativity and the impact of the experiences that keeps us going.”
Live Stream Therapy
In 2021, this passion for helping churches enhance their services led to the development of an unusual program dubbed Live-Stream Therapy, a completely free service MediaMerge offers to help churches improve the quality of their broadcasts. After seeing so many churches forced to quickly move their services online, Tim and Ken felt compelled to share their wealth of experience by offering visits to churches to show them simple, no-cost ways they can rapidly increase the quality of their audio and video, dramatically enhancing the remote experience for their congregation.
“We’re called to do all things ‘as if unto the Lord’, and broadcast experience is the weakest link for many churches. We realized that we could really help move the ball by just sitting down with their techs and helping them improve their presentations without the need for new equipment. It’s become our personal mission to help raise the bar for churches everywhere, whether or not it makes a lot of business sense,” Ken says of the endeavor.
Crafting custom sensory experiences that inform and inspire people to engage for more than twenty years, MediaMerge is honored to have helped hundreds of churches, museums and other organizations realize their potential through a passionate pursuit of excellence in vision and implementation.
The world needs AVL companies that want to do more than just the job — they
need partners that want to elevate quality and use the power of light and sound to create experiences that connect with audiences.
How will MediaMerge help clients to SEE BEYOND THEIR IMAGINATION in the next 20 years? We can't wait to find out.