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Webcasting Versus Web Conferencing: How to Choose

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Size. Are you hosting a small, collaborative meeting or a mission-critical presentation to a large audience? Web conferencing is ideal for small, interactive working sessions with five to 10 people, especially if you require real-time collaboration or document sharing. The larger the audience, the more you should consider a webcast. Webcast participants can still enjoy the flexibility of real-time dialogue with presenters through Q&A and polling; it’s just managed in a more moderated, controlled environment.

Consider ahead of time how easy it is (or isn’t) for your audience to join the meeting. Remember, participants may need to download a plug-in to take part in a web conference. Now, imagine 300 participants trying to log in to a live event at a specific time, with some—or all—of them having to download an application to participate. For small meetings, the audience will usually wait, but for large events, the show must go on.

Finally, all web conference products have scalability limitations. Some platforms are limited by the number of audience members they can support at once. This issue becomes important when the application or document-sharing feature is used. Webcasting, on the other hand, is a broadcast format and scales to nearly any audience size.

Presentation Quality
What is your quality expectation? Of course, you want every presentation to go off without a hitch, but some presentations are simply more important than others. A collaborative meeting between two departments in the same company will allow for a greater margin of error than a public address by a CEO who is disclosing a controversial acquisition. Presentation quality can be impacted by three factors: the choice to present in audio or audio and video, the importance of promoting your brand, and the reliability of the medium delivering your content.

Video. Both webcasting and web conferencing offer video integration. With a webcast, the quality can be vastly superior. A web conference will typically rely on a local capture source such as a webcam, whereas a webcast can use a TV-quality broadcast source.

While webcams today can be of very high quality, the end result relies a great deal on production value and operator experience. A video webcast is usually a produced event, meaning it has a producer assigned to manage the shoot, as well as professional lighting, sound, and camera operation. Interestingly, in 2003 Streamlogics (a Toronto-based company specializing in webcast technology) launched a self-service desktop webcasting application that allowed users to capture content from any video source, including their webcams, or import high-quality video content. The vast majority of Streamlogics’ customers, who are predominantly larger organizations, opted for professionally captured video content versus webcam-captured content.

The way video is handled by webcast technology differs significantly from web conferencing technology. Webcast technology was developed specifically for video, while web conferencing uses an audio tool with video as an add-on.

Branding. Branding is seldom a concern for small internal meetings, but it can be critical for externally targeted presentations. Most clients hosting larger one or more events are very particular about promoting their brand. Webcasting always offers more options for branding and layout to match a specific style guide. The look and feel of a webcast end-user interface often matches the company’s website to the point where they are indistinguishable.

Most web conferencing applications offer limited branding capability. Of course, small collaborative meetings typically don’t require branding. If it’s an internal meeting between colleagues, branding is not an issue.

Platform reliability. Since web conferencing is usually captured on the presenter’s PC, there is one possible point of failure. The presenter’s PC is probably used for many other day-to-day applications, increasing the risk of a crash. In addition, the presenter is often on a network behind a firewall on a limited-bandwidth connection. If there is any interference on that connection, quality may suffer or the event may fail.

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