Webcasting Versus Video Conferencing

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A California State Government Agency recently asked us to compare video conferencing with webcasting and to demonstrate certain capabilities that differentiate the two. We thought that we would share some of this with you.

What are the latest features in Webcasting Technology? What Kind of Interaction and Screen displays are possible?

Webcasting, unlike video conferencing is more like watching television than conducting interactive events with scores of participants. However interactive webcasting (as apart from video conferencing) is available and has been implemented in various ways for many state agencies.

There are three ways to make a webcast interactive with remote viewers, but before we describe these three ways we should point out the major difference between webcasting and video conferencing. Video conferencing is interactive up to about eight remotely and diversely  located video presenters. If you get beyond that number, video quality for video conferencing deteriorates rapidly, cost go up rapidly and control of the audience audio begins to become inordinately complex. Webcasting on the other hand provides much greater control of larger audiences and for interaction.

The greatest impediment to real-time interaction with remote viewers on a video webcast is the 20-40 second delay between what is happening in the room that the broadcast originates from and the remote viewer. You cannot support a live call-in type of interaction with webcasting if the caller needs to rely upon interaction with what is on their remote computer screen. However, many state agencies look at this as an advantage. Here are the three ways to engage remote viewers and the benefits that accrue to the folks originating the webcast.

  1. Off-camera telephone call.
  2. Off-camera emails sent to a “throwaway” email address.
  3. Scrolling messages on the bottom of the webcast screen to provide the phone number to call or the email address to send questions (also included in meeting notices).

Think about radio call in shows…what do they all have in common? Call screeners. For interactive webcasts all calls and all emails during, before or after a broadcast come to a dedicated off camera person who screens the calls, orders them, eliminates duplicates and presents those questions to an on-air panel for their consideration and response during the broadcast. The call screener has great latitude to determine what is appropriate and should be presented to the panel for comment. For those questions that are not answered during the broadcast for whatever reason (time, appropriateness, etc.) the panel, at the end of the broadcast tells the viewing audience that if their particular question was not answered during the live broadcast, then it will be answered when time permits after the broadcast. This type of control for open audience interaction is huge for the presenters and is generally not achievable for video conferences because the video conference is more like a party line where anyone can say anything at any time. That is not best practices and certainly complicates control of the proceedings.

Screen displays for webcasting can be significantly larger than the proprietary screen sizes or video resolutions that come with canned video conferencing solutions. There are, to be sure, fixed base video conferencing systems that support full HD, but they are not portable and still come with all of the bandwidth limitations of video conferencing. Webcasting requires much lower bandwidth at the source than video conferencing at the source since in video conferencing you must be able to see and be seen at all points connected to the broadcast, whereas like television as we mentioned before, is one way delivery of video and multimedia content. One other major difference between video conferencing and webcasting is that webcasting has no practical limits on participants, whereas videoconferencing is licensed by the seat by various providers. One State agency we know of has run up against the participant limits (seat licenses) of their video conferencing license and denied participants (in several cases State Execs) from joining an online event. I would not want to be the meeting facilitator for that one. Videoconferencing has this problem. Webcasting does not have this problem. For video conferencing the only way to solve this is intractable problem is to purchase the largest license (seats) affordable even if it will only be used rarely. Again, webcasting does not have this problem or limitation.

Are there other technologies available to provide interactive information sessions to the public? What are the main features?

We pretty well covered live webcasting interaction and how we do it in the above #1 response. What we did not cover was the archive of a live webcasting event. In many cases these live events are (California Specific) Brown Act or Bagley Keene public meetings that must provide an archive of the publicly noticed meeting. Our firm provides interactive archives of the live video as well as all of the interactive content and agendas for all meetings that we webcast. We do all the work and host the archives. Some webcasting providers send you an appliance and tell you to do the work. We do not. In addition we segment the video archives based upon the public meeting agenda. For instance, if there is a meeting with 12 agenda items, the indexed archived and hosted video will be broken up by agenda item by our staff after the broadcast so that people wishing to watch a specific segment (agenda item X) of a public meeting can go to the video of the event by clicking on the agenda item (X) in the archive. A simple example of a webcast video landing page with client branding and the indexed archive (link in lower right corner) can be found here: http://slc.videossc.com/

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About the Author:

George Hall Founder/President of VideoSSC. He has over 30 years’ experience as a high technology engineering executive. With significant experience in high performance computing, Military electronics, IP networks and Video Broadcasting. Board member Public Television. An author and frequent guest on technology programs and panels. He holds a BA in mathematics from Hillsdale College.
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