Three of Lockheed Martin’s business units rely on Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite platform to capture its webcasts and distribute them over the web to more than 100,000 potential viewers worldwide. “With Mediasite integrated into our corporate WAN, Lockheed Martin across all [its] business units produce and deliver about 700 events annually,” Hards says. “The length of these webcasts [is] typically 1 hour. Some are live, while others are prerecorded and provided on demand.”
Microsoft Studios’ teams produce content using their own cameras and editing equipment, and they then move it in a number of ways. “Signal acquisition ranges from encoding directly from our studio to encoding on-site at a venue to acquiring the content via a satellite or fiber connection and encoding off-site,” says Petershagen. “Our content is predominantly delivered as Silverlight Smooth Streams exposed in a Silverlight player, though at times we deliver a Windows Media Stream as well.”
Wells Fargo uses Kontiki for P2P and Accordent for live event streaming. “Both went through rigorous security screening and testing,” says Perkins. “In fact, we are still in the pilot phase with Accordent. We’ve been using Kontiki since 2001.”
On the positive side, the four companies we interviewed gave online video high marks for its performance, timeliness, and cost-effectiveness.
A case in point: Dollard-Spooner is enthusiastic about E&Y’s experiences with online video. “The range of content we can offer allows us to give clients an individualized experience,” she explains. “They can go to our website (www.ey.com/webcasts) and select webcasts that speak directly to their needs and interests.”
Hards is similarly bullish about online video. “I started webcasting here at Lockheed Martin about 6 years ago, doing about three webcasts a year,” he says. “Now the entire corporation does about 700 annually, and the number just keeps growing. Our people see online video as a way they can save money by not traveling, and [they can] communicate better, while still getting the quality of information they need to do their jobs.”
Microsoft’s Petershagen echoes their approval. “Delivering content via streaming media extends the reach of your message to much larger audiences in real time,” he says. “It allows the content owners to reach far more people than you can include at a venue.”
“Equally important given today’s economic climate, it allows content owners to connect with audiences that may not be able to otherwise travel to attend in person,” Petershagen notes. “Furthermore, the quality of video delivery on the web continues to get better, and interactivity and social tools can now be easily integrated with the online experience. This results in an ability to deliver compelling online experiences that still provide a level of interactivity and inclusion that one used to only be able to get by attending in person.”
As for Wells Fargo? Perkins is unequivocal in her praise: “Our 5-minute daily program provides heartbeat communications to the company,” she says. “Team members say they feel more connected to our large company when they can see what other units are doing in the community or for our customers.”
In addition, “We are able to time and place shift meetings and share information across units that have international presence,” Perkins observes. “Managers benefit from consistent messaging and multiple channels to help them communicate to their teams.”
Room for Improvement
Online video’s high marks are offset by a number of “room for improvement” comments. None of these issues stand as failing grades, but they do spotlight shortcomings that need to be addressed.
Dollard-Spooner wants vendors to integrate online video with social media. “It’s not enough to ‘tweet’ or place our content on Facebook,” she says. “We want to make our webcasts even more engaging by integrating social media components. We need this capability to get more mileage from our online content and allow our participants to connect with their peers.”
She also wants vendors to stay very connected with their clients and provide more timely upgrades: “The streaming media business changes monthly,” Dollard-Spooner says. “It can be difficult for us to keep up. We need our vendors to do more to keep us current.”
“I would like to see one common infrastructure and streaming system for all of Lockheed Martin; I think this would allow for a more robust system at a reduced cost,” says Hards. “This would give us an enterprise-level system that could open content to all of Lockheed Martin’s 100,000-plus employees.”
Petershagen is concerned about quality of service for large, multisite webcasts. “It can still be tricky to provide a quality experience to users when the network architectures are more complex,” he says. “Delivering content at large scale on the open internet has become a fairly straightforward discipline. However, delivering media reliably in a secure fashion over networks with more complexity (i.e., audience members spread across private networks, public networks, VPN connections, various levels of network authentication, and proxy servers) can still be problematic.”
Finally, Perkins says online video vendors need to pay more attention to their clients’ needs and work harder to address them. “Wells Fargo’s vendors have been very responsive and depend on us to help them shape their road maps,” she notes. “[But] any vendor or developer should make that a priority. Don’t assume you know what people want your product to do—ask!”
The Final Grade
Based on the feedback provided here—and as verified by the four companies we interviewed—it would appear that online video has scored an overall B+ for this report card. In general, these users are quite happy with its performance, but they would like to see it do more for them—and they believe there is definitely room for improvement.
This last piece of advice doesn’t apply just to vendors but also to people making content, notes Dollard-Spooner: “Despite the success of webcasting and online video in the marketplace, we need to never lose sight of the fact that it is still about content and understanding what our audiences will and will not watch,” she concludes.
This article was originally published in the August/September issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title "An Online Video Report Card."