Webcasting for the Masses
Operationally, you transmit to these service providers a live video stream from your event and they supply a front-end website and a configurable player, as well as broadcast the video using their own networks or via third-party content delivery networks. Some, such as Multicast Media, can incorporate PowerPoint slides and other rich media into the presentation, while several can add chat, polls, Q&As, and other interactivity. After the event, many of these live streaming service providers can convert the video to an on-demand presentation and then host that along with previously archived events.
Here is an example of building a player for a live event in Multicast Media Suite.
The benefits of these services are very clear: less infrastructure investment, less development expense, cheaper distribution costs through aggregated pricing, and better service to your viewers than you likely could produce if you delivered from your own servers or infrastructure. If you go this route, however, these services make most technology decisions, such as player format and distribution protocol, for you and offer a limited set of features. In particular, most LSSPs support only Flash output.
OK, that’s the prologue. Organizationally, I’ll review factors to consider when choosing an LSSP first, then I’ll look at the rich media communications market.
Choosing a Live Streaming Service Provider
In Table 1, I’ve split LSSPs into two classifications: live platforms that offer advertising-supported and "white label" services, and online video platforms (OVPs) that also offer live streaming capabilities. It’s not a distinct line, and you should expect lots of crossover in functionality between the two categories, with the OVP side offering a more comprehensive mix of live and on-demand functionality.
Extremely cost-conscious wannabe live streamers should consider advertising-supported services from organizations such as Livestream, Ustream.tv, and Justin.tv. If you already have a webcam, you can start streaming for free to as many viewers as you can muster, though you can’t be sure what advertisements will run next to your video.
Or, you can lose the ads by using a white label offering from any of these three services, which can be quite affordable. For example, with Watershed, Ustream.tv’s white label service, you pay $1 per viewer hour with no additional commitment, so a 1-hour webcast to 10 viewers would cost $10. No CAPEX, no continuing commitment. Anybody else getting excited here?
This burst of enthusiasm aside, pricing is just one factor. There are some additional items that you should consider.