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TalkPoint Convey Review: Making Webinars Simple
Running a webinar doesn't take IT expertise anymore. TalkPoint Convey is simple enough for beginners and offers a rich set of features -- although pricing is steep.
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Until about three years ago, webinars were a prohibitively expensive undertaking for many firms, primarily because they were high-touch events produced and delivered through a mix of old and new technology. That is, since streaming still wasn’t mature enough for some “failure is not an option” events, webinars involved telephone bridges and operator assistance. In addition, interface design hadn’t gotten to the point where you’d trust some guy in marketing to build a registration page and player, so those things required not only custom design, but hand-holding during the event.

Then, low-cost competitors entered the market with self-service products so simple and inexpensive that almost anyone had the money and technical savvy to produce their own events. This forced many established players, such as TalkPoint, to offer a user-configurable and user-operable products as well. TalkPoint’s offering is called Convey, and I’ve tested it extensively, including three live (if small) webinars.

My impression? TalkPoint did an exceptional job making its top-flight technology accessible to novice users, with enough hidden but unlockable features to satisfy advanced designers and video production types. Convey offers an extensive feature set, very robust operation, high quality output, and scalability up to 10,000 viewers or more.

TalkPoint will never be the least expensive option. Pricing packages start at $1,399/month for audio-only programs up to 100 viewers and increases to video packages for up to 3,000 viewers for $15,999/month. But if you’re looking for a polished user experience, exceptionally flexible audio/video input support, CDN delivery, and ease of use backed by service if you need it, TalkPoint needs to be on the top of your short list.

Overview

To place Convey in the marketplace, it’s a true webinar product. At a high level, this means video in a window, uploaded PowerPoint slides, and no screen sharing a la conferencing products such as GoToWebinar. You can upload videos and display them during the event, replicating screen sharing with a little planning, which is how I used the system.

One of the high points is very flexible input support. In addition to a simple webcam interface, you can input from a video conferencing unit, the telephone, or any RTMP-compatible encoder, so if you want exceptionally high-quality video, the system can handle it. Though this goes far beyond my tests, the system can also deliver multicast within a corporate firewall, or Windows Media if necessary, or even via a telephone bridge. Another strength is the flexibility of program types, which can include live, on-demand, and simulated live, so you can run an event multiple times with live Q&A, which is very convenient for those serving a global audience.

The only major negative is the lack of adaptive streaming, which is available as a managed service but not in self-service Convey. The product folks I spoke with said adaptive streaming will become a priority for self-service sometime in late 2014 or early 2015. Now that you’ve got the big picture, let’s get into the workflow.

Getting Started

Figure 1 shows the Event Summary page, where you’ll configure and produce your event and perform all analytics. When you click Create New Event on the upper left, you start in a wizard that takes you through all the steps in the Event Setup Checklist. If you’re really well prepared, you could finish the checklist and be ready for the event. For us procrastinators, the first priority is to create the event and registration page so you can start marketing the event.

The Event Page where you configure and control your webinar 

Note that you don’t absolutely need a registration page; you can direct viewers to the event page and forgo the information collection. Most webinar producers want the contact info, and Convey facilitates collection with a range of canned questions plus the ability to create your own questions. In Figure 2, the question “are you currently using HEVC” was custom, the other requested contact information canned.

The registration page

You create the text in a blog-like editor with decent text and image controls, but not the page layout capabilities offered in some other systems, such as Onstream’s Webinar system. If you’re a pro, however, you can unlock access to CSS input and customize much further, which I didn’t do. From a design standpoint, the registration page shown in Figure 2 took about 10 minutes, though whipping up that irresistible pitch text obviously took a lot longer.

Note the social media links on the bottom of the registration page. When creating the registration page, you can type in a sub-140 word description that your fans can use to easily tweet about your event. You can also generate an embed code to insert the social media buttons into other pages and forms.

The only rough edge in this process was the inability to easily preview the finished registration page. To check my work, I had to log into the system twice, once to configure the page, the second to view the updated page. Other creation functions offer a simple preview button which I expect will be added to registration and player creation sooner than later. On the plus side, screencam help videos are available for most configuration options, which proved valuable in many instances.

Customizing the Player

Next up is customizing the Player. The first big decision is the size of the video window, which ranges from 320x180 to 640x480 in 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. A simple player mockup illustrates the appearance with each selected video window size to assist your decision making.

Then you choose the content displayed in the player. For example, if you disable PowerPoint, you convert the player to a video window sitting above the Q&A window, which again you can preview in a player mockup. You can choose whether to allow questions during the live and on-demand event, and point the questions to an email address for moderation, and also set an exit URL where viewers go when they close the webinar window. For branding, you can set a main banner image (the Streaming Learning Center in Figure 3), choose sponsor logos for the top and bottom right, and adjust various colors in the player and registration page.

The finished player 

Uploading Content

Once you finish the player, it’s time to upload content, starting with your PowerPoint slides. With Convey, you upload these into the system and, if you want, Convey can create a PDF version your viewers can download and post it on the player. You can also upload additional PDF resources that your viewers can download. As mentioned, Convey doesn’t offer screen sharing, but it can push an uploaded video (called Overlay Videos) out to viewers, which I used to demonstrate several functions during the webinars I produced with the system.

You can create tabs on the top and beneath the viewer window for additional pockets of HTML content as shown in Figure 3. These optional tabs are the Reference Materials and Downloads on the top right and boxes for About the Speaker and About the Streaming Learning Center beneath the video window.

You can also create three types of surveys: in-event surveys with up to 10 questions that you can use for informational or certification purposes; an attendance survey that displays for just a few moments and allows you to check if the viewer is still watching; and a post-event survey, which can contain up to 50 questions.

Convey offers two security options of note. First is referral checking, which ensures that anyone registering for the event accessed the registration page from a specified URL. If that’s an intranet page, it effectively locks out potential viewers who can’t access that internal page. As an additional precaution, you can also require a password for registration or viewing. I didn’t use either option during my events.

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