Webcast Freak Out

When the Advertising Director passed you in the                                                                             hall he gushingly asked,webcast TV copy “How cool is it to webcast the new product roll out?”  Then the Director of Training sent you a memo.  Is it was possible to set up web-based training.  And Sunday your Pastor pulled you aside to ask for your expertise to stream the Sunday service.  Bless you.  And you did what you do best, make up a lame excuse, “the church can’t afford it,”  or “the company lacks the bandwidth.”

Then Monday morning the Special Assistant to the CEO called.  Seems a golf buddy of the Big Boss just after he birdied bragged how he uses webcasts to “chat” with his employees.  That put a bug in the CEO’s ear.  Now he wants to do a 21st Century version of a “Fireside Chat.”   And just before she hangs up she blurts out, “and he wants to do itnext Tuesday.  OK?”  click.

It’s OK to freak out.  It’s OK to perspire.  It’s OK to turn white.  Attempting a webcast is not for the faint of heart.   After all, you don’t perform dentistry on yourself and webcasting can be just as painful.  Limping home you ask your wife, “How in hell am I going to pull this off?”  Since wives are usually right she says, “Farm it out.”  Good advice.

Tuesday morning you start networking; contacting your Media Manager buddies for help.  Most of the managers have no idea how to webcast.  But they have “a 25 year old on staff that’s a wiz at that stuff.”   The 25 year old gives you a few names.  “Good luck.”  Click

So with your scribbled notes you pick up the phone.  Oppps!  They’re 20-somethings so you text them.  But what do you ask?  If you’ve a strong video background you know all about multi-camera production.  Opps.  Acqusition.  As an AV dweeb you have the acquisition part covered. The company made the investment in a HD multi-camera system.  Your crew knows how to capture great audio and video and how to light a set. The cameras can be gen-locked, have CCU’s and remote zoom/focus/ monitor.  The crew knows how to integrate a live presentation with video production.  You have a good character generator and server for live roll-ins.  The switcher is more than capable to handle multiple sources. The workflow is totally HD and you can deliver a HD-SDI signal.   

So what questions do you ask to be assured the webcast company knows what it’s doing?   Like any vendor you ask to see samples of work and references.  Then you ask questions as if you are an old hand at this sort of thing.

1 – Can you accept HD-SDI?  If they can’t, they are not serious players.                                             2 – Can you encode to Flash Video, h.264 and Windows Media simultaneously?                               3 – Is your encoder computer based or streaming appliance?  Us old school guys raised in broadcast like the reliability of a dedicated streaming appliance over a laptop computer encoder.  4 – Can you encode multiple bit rates?                                                                                                 5 – What analytics can you provide?  It is very helpful to know who is watching.  Marketing wants names and addresses of viewers.  Training wants to ensure a good ROI.  The CEO wants to be confident every employee watched his entire boring speech.                                                             6 – Can you stream for all platforms?  Not everybody watches at their desk.                                    7- Can you webcast a “coming up next” message with music or other announcements prior to start of webcast?                                                                                                                                           8 – Do you provide any interactive capability such as live Q&A.  Let’s not make this a one-way street.                                                                                                                                                    9 – Can you provide live and Video-on-demand (VOD) capability?  Not everybody can watch at same time so make it easy to watch.                                                                                                   10 – Does the VOD presentation provide viewers flexible navigation and playback options in an intuitive interface?   i.e. ability to pause, fast forward, etc.                                                              11 – Do you support viewers using the leading browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.                                                                                                                                                    12 – Can you provide security with password access?  Marketing may want anyone to watch but training doesn’t                                                                                                                                    13 – How are technical support questions handled from the online audience.  If difficult to access you lose the audience                                                                                                                          14 – What redundancy so you offer?  This is my broadcast training talking as there is no take 2 when live.  So is there a backup encoder?                                                                                           15 – Can they arrange and manage the Content Delivery Network (CDN)

So if you asked all the right questions and received all the right answers you may have found a webcast vendor.  Just as you would with any new vendor, check references and ask to review the company’s portfolio.  Meet with them in person.  Are they professional in appearance and verbal skills?

Ok… But that is one step in the process.  What about location, the venue?  Has it done a live webcast?  Can they provide the bandwidth? There are plenty of other considerations that should be best addressed with help from your IT Department.

In fact, get the IT people involved early in the process.  Remember that video and IT often speak two separate languages.  It can be like deciphering Russian.  And IT is a language you should learn.

Essentially a webcast is not much different from any other live video you ever produced.   The only difference is that rather than plug into the satellite truck, your Video Engineer hands the cable to the IT guy.      

Posted in Webcast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Insights From the Rental Houses

Henry Ford once quipped, “You can have any color Model-T, as long as it’s black.”  And before digital,  that’s how it was with professional video.  You could have any format, as long as it was Sony Betacam.  The choice was easy. 

The price was not so easy.  The industry workhorse, a Betacam SP BVW-400 camera sold for about $40,000.  (Damn, I loved that camera.  When the digital BVW-600 was released… I loved that model even more).   Add another $15 – 20,000 for the lens.  Add tripod, lights, matte box, audio, gels, CP-47s, van and etc. etc. and most freelance networks stringers had to mortgage their house. For those unable to dip into home equity there was an option.  Rent it.  A Betacam BVW-400 rented for $400/day.  Add another $400 for lights and grip and $500 for audio recordist with gear.

When it came to post-production a BVW-75 Betacam edit recorder set you back about $40,000.  And you needed at least three.  A full-blown edit suite with all the bells, whistles and DVE would set you back about a cool half million bucks.   Not many editors had an edit suite in the spare bedroom.   

Experienced and talented video pros could afford that because clients, whether broadcasters or corporations were willing to pay for it. 

Every major North American city had a camera rental company and a number of edit facilities.   If you had the capital, opening a rental company wouldn’t get you rich but provided you and your employees a good living.  For much of my career I was one of those employees; first at a post house, then a company that rented grip, lights and cameras and then an audiovisual rental/staging company.     

Then the Federal Communication Commission grabbed the video production world, turned it upside down and shook it when it mandated all broadcast TV go digital.   This happened just as non-linear computer-based editing was taking off.  Sony, Grass Valley, Chyron and other pro video manufacturers failed to see the digital tsunami.  The wave washed over them.   Today, companies that understand zeros and ones are the innovators; Blackmagic, AVID, Apple and others, Prices of production equipment plunged.  Once video gear became a commodity, it opened doors previous closed too many aspiring video and film makers.   

So what happened to those rental companies supporting the video/film business?  It is basic Darwinian Theory…. Evolve or die.  Some are extinct.  Many evolved.  Though they had to take a few steps back in order to move forward.

The Creative Cow Newsletter just released a very revealing series on how rental houses have adapted to the digital convergence.  

If this has no relevance to you, think again.  Though you may shoot with a Canon 5D or Sony PVW-EX3, if you want to produce extraordinary video images you will need specialty gear such as cranes, dollies, HMI lights and grip trucks.  Or maybe the script calls for a large space with a cyc-wall.  Things you rent.  

To read how rental houses can help you, click here:  http://newsletters.creativecow.net/newsletters/2013/07-22/index.html

Posted in Cameras, Post-Produciton, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Hijacked Technology

Say it out loud.  Technology.  What is first thought in your head?  Probably computers.   And that makes sense as computers are such an integral part of our lives.  Yet technology encompasses a much broader perspective.

tech·nol·o·gy *

1 : the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area :engineering  2 <medical technology>

2 : a capability given by the practical application of knowledge <a car’s fuel-saving technology>

3: a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge <new technologies for information storage>

         4: the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor <educational technology>

* from Merriam-Webster Dictionary

No doubt that every modern technology relies on micro processors; transportation, aerospace, medical, communication and even entertainment.   Yet in modern vernacular the term technology has evolved to refer to computers.   

And not simply the word technology has been hijacked.  When thinking of the word “media” does your brain automatically place the word “social” in front of it.   Do you think of Facebook and Twitter or radio and newspapers?  

So here lies the crux of this blog.  There is more to technology than computers and more to media than… well, un…. social.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Digital Signage Trends

Last week three Washington State colleges issued requests for proposals to install digital signage systems.  This really hit home.  It illustrates the need is there and finally, the funding is there.  For a long time I have been an advocate for digital signage (DS) as a great way to communicate.  Ya sure, DS offers advertisers another method to get their message embedded to your consciousness.  But DS has so many more applications that companies, colleges and even churches are starting to understand this.  Trendsetters no longer talk about where or how DS will be used but rather how to improve it.

Digital Signage continues to be the fastest growth area for Media Technology Integrators.  A report by IMS Research indicates that growth in the worldwide digital signage market will exceed 20 percent in 2013, totaling $7 billion. Based on data from the 2012 Digital Signage Business Conference, DS receive up to 10 times more eye contact than traditional static signage. And research shows that over 68 percent of the population of the United States is confronted with digital signage every day.  (Thanks to ALMO for this information)

Like all technologies DS is becoming better, easier and cheaper.   This will further drive implementation.

1 – Content management.  Content was once a major obstacle in implementing DS.  Now standard templates are available that make it easy to develop and change content.  One of the colleges mentioned above requires the DS system be able to accept content from various departments within the school.  Security wants ability to issue warnings.  Student Services wants to present content to students, admissions wants to target potential students.

2 – Small business.  As DS gets easier and cheaper, more small businesses are adopting it.  You may not see it at your local dry cleaner, but regional retail companies, colleges and churches are starting to adopt DS.

3 – High tech, high touch.  Yesterday I pulled into a Starbucks drive-thru.  Waiting to place my order for a tall skinny blond I watched images of pastries float by on a monitor.  Then the smiling face of the Barista popped up.  She saw me.  I saw her.  No more unintelligible distant voice offering you fries with thatt.        

  4 – User friendly interface.  This is a big one.  People are not content with one way communication.  They want to interact.  Touch screen technology allows this.  Ever since VHS retailers have had video monitors with looped video of a product.  Home Depot has lots of “how to videos” on its website.  Why not in the store with touch screen technology at the point of sale?

5. Ultra-HD.  The debut of ultra-HD 4K and 8K digital screens is generating a lot of excitement.   If employing a huge video-wall, it better be the best looking picture if you want to grab attention and sell that product.            


 6. Automated Retailing/Smart Vending: As vending machines become smarter, the self-service “little box” is taking on more of the work of the traditional “big box” in the retail segment. The new generation of high tech vending systems eatures such innovations as digital signage, interactive touchscreens, cashless payment systems, mobile interaction, telemetry for remote data collection, etc. Check out this video of an interactive Pepsi machine.

7. Digital Signage Kinects.   Seems as if Microsoft has already made touch-screen DS obsolete. The Kinect’s popularity transcended the video game industry, and gesture-tracking found a home in many other applications, including digital signage.  It makes sense, for a variety of reasons.  In hospitals, where sanitation and infectious diseases are always a huge concern, there is no need to actually touch the screen in order to interact with it.  For outdoor installations — those at risk to the elements and vandalism — the digital sign can be enclosed, to protect it from harm and damage.