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All About Webcasts

Friday, February 9th, 2007 by | Filed Under: Using The Internet

All About Webcasts

What is a Webcast?

The word Webcast is derived from “Web” and “broadcast.” Its use has varied since the early to mid- 1990s, as the nature of the medium came into public use. Online conferences or Web seminars (also known as Webcasts) use the Internet to broadcast a live or delayed audio and/or video transmission to a targeted group of users who log in for the event. The online meetings are interactive and collaborative. They’re in real time, so there’s a two-way communication via an instant messaging application or another software program between a participant and the conference leader. This can also go across a team or a group, depending on how the meeting is customized. You can instantly share content and visuals, watch and listen to presentations or ask questions and make comments, often simultaneously.

There are multiple definitions that describe its features as well. Here are some of them:

  • It’s the delivery of live or delayed sound or video broadcasts using Web technologies. The sound or video is captured by conventional video or audio systems. It is then digitized and streamed on a Web server.
  • The term “Webcasting” is used to describe the ability to use the Web to deliver live or delayed versions of sound or video broadcasts. NetTalk Live! is an example of the former. They use an Internet site to deliver a RealAudio sound version of a live radio and television program at 11 p.m. (CST) each Sunday night. They call this a Triplecast.
  • A broadcast of a piece of work via the Internet, either as a streaming media presentation or a downloadable file. Webcasting requires the site owner to obtain at least a pair of licenses from the copyright holder and relevant PRS, no matter where the work is sourced from or delivered to.
  • Internet broadcasting is the process of capturing, encoding, hosting and delivering multimedia events, such as training, infomercials, concerts, meetings or conferences. This is usually done from a remote location, for Internet broadcast on a one-time or limited basis. Live events usually require establishing an Internet connection and/or links for streaming over the Internet. Events can also be archived for viewing on demand.
  • A Webcast is similar in intent to a broadcast television program, but designed for Internet transmission. Webcast clients allow a user to connect to a server, which distributes the Webcast and displays the televisual content to the user.

When relying on a Webcast hosting service to run the show, such as Microsoft Office Live Meeting, participants need only a phone, a computer and an online connection, whether it’s dial-up or broadband. Most providers also allow for recording or archiving the presentation, so it’s available on-demand after the event. Typically, promotional Webcasts are invitation only and free.

Origin of Webcasts

Webcasting was first publicly described and presented by Brian Raila of GTE Laboratories at InterTainment in 1989 and was held in New York City. Raila recognized that a viewer/listener need not download the entirety of a program to view/listen to a portion thereof, so long as the receiving device (“client computer”) could, over time, receive and present data more rapidly than the user could digest it. Raila used the term “buffered media” to describe this concept.

Raila was joined by James Paschetto of GTE Laboratories to further demonstrate the concept. Paschetto was singularly responsible for the first workable prototype of streaming media, which Raila presented and demonstrated at the Voice Mail Association of Europe Fall Meeting in October 1995 in Montreux, Switzerland.

The term Webcasting was coined when Webcast/streaming pioneers Mark Cuban (Audionet), Howard Gordon (Xing Technologies), William Mutual ( and Peggy Miles (InterVox Communications) got together with a community of Webcasters to pick a term to describe the technology of sending audio and video on the Internet.

Requirements to View Webcasts

Currently, a Windows Media Player is required, which is equipped to view videos. Most computers come with the software already included.

Benefits of Webcasts

They are versatile and efficient. Webcasts can train staffers or customers, introduce products or brands, educate media or serve as press conferences, inform analysts or investors, research markets, generate leads, reward loyal customers and a whole lot more. But, Webcasts can’t replace in-person meetings. Instead, you need to play to the strengths of this unique medium. Webcasts can:

  • Effortlessly reach an amazingly broad and diverse audience, from 20 to 2,000 participants.
  • Avoid the expense of travel and accommodations. You pay a fraction of the cost of in-person meetings or seminars.
  • Provide immediate feedback. During the Webcast, you can ask for comments or mount an instant poll.
  • Drive action, such as sending participants to your Web site.

Webcasts are also useful to reach clients or influential buyers who may be unwilling or unable to meet face to face. Rather than suffer cold calls, you can mount surprisingly creative marketing. For example, Colleen Knapp, Marketing Manager for Microsoft Office Live Meeting, tells of one liquor distributor who hosted a virtual wine tasting via a Webcast. Several days before the event, the distributor shipped samples of the wines to all the participants. Then, at the appointed hour, everyone logged into the conference and sipped in unison while learning about the wines they tasted.

Preparing Webcasts

You have to identify your target and market the event to attract participants, such as research direct marketing or association lists. Start early so there’s time to recruit and confirm an in-demand speaker or to research the topic that will draw your target audience. Also, allow time to announce the event, whether with e-mail notices, mailed postcards or both.

Costs for a B2B Webcast

Costs vary depending on the presentation, number of “seats” (participants), the duration and the number of Webcasts. A small company can purchase a subscription or pay on a per minute/per participant basis. For example, Live Meeting’s services can be purchased on a pay-per-use basis or on a plan that covers a specified number of seats per month.

Calculating “seats” is a tough decision, because you must commit to filling a certain number when you purchase services. “For B2B, unless you have a big name draw speaker, keep it conservative,” says Kathleen Glass, director of marketing at ProfitLine, a telecom administrative services provider in San Diego.

The ability to Webcast using cheap/accessible technology has allowed independent media to flourish. There are many notable independent shows that broadcast regularly online. Often produced by average citizens in their homes, they cover many interests and topics from the mundane to the bizarre. Webcasts relating to computers, technology and news are particularly popular and many new shows are added regularly.

Some Examples of Webcasts

Virtually all the major broadcasters have a Webcast of their output. From the BBC to CNN to Al Jazeera to the UNTV Webcast in television to Radio China, Vatican Radio, United Nations Radio and the World Service in radio, it’s all there.

A notable Webcast took place in September 1999 to launch NetAid, a project to promote Internet use in the world’s poorest countries. Three high profile concerts were broadcast simultaneously on the BBC, MTV and over the Internet; a London concert at Wembley Stadium featuring the likes of Robbie Williams, George Michael, a New York concert featuring Bono of U2 and Wyclef Jean and a Geneva concert.

More recently, Live8 (AOL) claimed around 170,000 concurrent viewers (up to 400 Kbit/s) and the BBC received about the same (10 Gbit/s) on the day of the July 7, 2005 bombings in London. The growth of Webcast traffic has roughly doubled, year on year, since 1995 and is directly linked to broadband penetration.

In the corporate world, companies like Interactive Video Technologies, ON24, Accordent, Stream UK, GoodMood and Sonic Foundry sell software and/or services to run live and on-demand Webcasts with synchronized information, such as PowerPoint slides, polls, question and answer sessions, etc. The popularity of this type of interactive presentation has exploded and almost every mid to large size corporation is using Webcasting for training, corporate communications, marketing and so on.

Pretty cool, huh?!

~ Natarajan Kumaraswami

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