When the Advertising Director passed you in the hall he gushingly asked, “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.