Review: Onstream Media Webcasting Service
One other feature available on some competitive systems, but not Onstream, was the ability to track registrants by link source. For example, if you send a pitch letter to three lists, you can code each link separately and track which list each respondent came from. With Onstream, you don’t have this capability. While there are several workarounds available using the the Onstream system, the direct ability to track viewer by source would be a nice additional feature.
As previously mentioned, Onstream offers several levels of service. If you opt for the full service “white-glove” package, your event coordinator will walk you through a rehearsal the day before the event. On the day of, your event coordinator and project engineers will conference with you before the event, verifying audio/ video quality and other settings, and basically holding your hand to help ensure that the event goes smoothly. Overall, this level of service was very useful for the first webcast.
On the second webcast, when I took the hands-off approach, I found myself worrying about 20 minutes before the event that my signal looked awful or that my audio was poor. That’s because on the standard Produce Webcast screen, shown in Figure 3, you can’t see the video or hear the audio; it’s primarily available to push the slides and manage the Q&A.
Figure 3. The Produce Webcast module that you use to control the webcast.
Fortunately, my event coordinator had provided me a telephone number for Onstream engineering, so I called and got a status report. The engineer actually thought my video was running a bit hot, so I closed the aperture one stop and avoided overexposure. Lighting is always a problem with selfie-webcasts, and I was glad to have the assistance. Speaking of that, I should say that both the coordinator and engineers that I spoke with were absolutely top-notch, responsive, knowledgeable, and a great feature of the overall service. Nice work, people.
After the event, I asked my Onstream contact whether I could have gotten a link to watch the live feed before the event to perform this type of debugging on my own. The answer was yes, but you have to ask for it in advance. If you take the drive-your-own-webcast approach with Onstream, I recommend that you do that.
Finalizing the prep stage, Onstream makes it easy to upload your slides and your handouts, which I did about an hour before the event. Other services seem to insist on much longer lead times, but Onstream uploads and processes your content in a matter of moments.
Going live could be a touch more polished, particularly for those producing selfies or with limited staff. Specifically, once you start streaming (and the player goes live 15 minutes before the event), viewers can see the video and all your last-minute preparations unless you take steps to avoid this. During the first webinar, I used Wirecast software from Telestream and displayed a graphic before the event went live. To go live, I cut to the live feed in Wirecast.
For diversity’s sake, I used the Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder for the second webinar, which doesn’t offer the same feature. To shut out the audience, I taped a piece of cardboard in front of my camera lens until the webinar began, so early birds couldn’t see my pre-event fidgets. Again, lots of simple workarounds; use Wirecast or a TriCaster, or, if you have helpers, focus the camera on a wall or computer screen with the appropriate message. In contrast, however, other systems let you cut to the live video with a simple button, which would be a nice option.
During the event, the speaker’s sole task is to click Next to send the next slide to the viewers (Figure 3). Note that you can also click the slides in the slide panel on the left to load a slide, so it’s easy to go back and forth if you need to.
To take questions at the end of the webinar, you click the Q&A tab on the upper right. Attendees seemed to like the function; I got 20 questions in the first presentation and 14 in the second.
Watching the Event
Viewers watch in the typical webcast player, with video on one side and PowerPoint on the other (Figure 4). Note that this is the archived version of the player; during the webinar itself, there’s a tab for asking questions. Another function of the archived player is the automatic indexing function that you see on the lower left; this lets viewers click directly to the desired slide, providing very useful interactivity for those who want to jump to specific content in the webinar. In 20:20 hindsight, I’d probably make the video window smaller and the PowerPoint slides larger, which is certainly an option in the player designer.
Figure 4. The player for an archived webcast.
I played back the archived webcast on an iPad, and the experience was virtually identical to a computer. It had good audio and video quality, as well as full interactivity with the indexed content. With an iPhone, you can choose between just the video, or the slides and audio, again with full interactivity with the indexed content.
Every party has a pooper, and, often with streaming, it’s Android playback. I tested archived playback on a Toshiba Thrive tablet running Android version 4.04; although the video played back fine, the Indexing tab did not appear on the player. I checked, and indexing isn’t a feature supported by Onstream on the Android platform. Note that you can check mobile and desktop playback on my archived video streams.
During both events, I peaked at just under 60 simultaneous viewers and was distributing a 500 Kbps audio/video stream plus the PowerPoint slides. Onstream distributes its streams via Akamai’s CDN, which all seemed to go very smoothly, with no customer complaints of any kind. As part of its standard package, Onstream hosts the webinar on its website for a year after the event, so you continue to collect eyeballs once the live event is over.
Onstream provides a nice range of analytics, including how long each viewer watched the webinar, as well as which stream they watched and other technical details. You can export a comma separated values (CSV) file with additional data such as whether viewers downloaded the handout and how they responded to polls and surveys.
You can see the other reports in tabs on the top of the Figure 5, which includes a bar chart of live viewers (Live Users), a page to download registration-related data (Registration), the afore-mentioned viewer details (Webcast Users), statistics about those viewing the archived and live streams (Statistics, shown in Figure 5), a list of all questions and answers, a combined list of live and archived viewers, and a no-show list of registrants who didn’t view either. If you click the Summary button on the upper left, you get the Summary screen shown on the right in Figure 5.
Figure 5. Onstream’s analytics were functional and useful.
Overall, Onstream’s platform provided all the key features I needed for my webcasts, with hand-holding when I needed it for the first webinar, and it provided excellent responsiveness to my harried requests for the second. I had no system-related complaints from my viewers, which is always a good thing, allowing me to recommend the system whole-heartedly to anyone considering one or more rich media broadcasts.
This article appears in the October/November 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Review: Onstream Media Webcasting Service."
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