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Webcasting Versus Web Conferencing: How to Choose

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What’s the difference between webcasting and web conferencing? Under what circumstances should each term be applied? This has been one of the most confusing topics in the online events business for the past decade. Unfortunately, some vendors are only adding to the confusion. I recently Googled the keyword "webcast," and most of the highest-ranked companies in the paid search category were, by definition, web conferencing vendors.

The purpose of this article is to define the benefits of each medium, dispel the misinformation, and help you decide which is right for your organization. But first, let’s agree on the proper definitions of these technologies.

A web conference is an online meeting typically conducted by combining your phone with the web. You can present slides and share desktops online using your PC. Audio is captured and transmitted through your phone line or by VoIP. In some circumstances, video can be captured using a desktop video camera. Web conferencing is ideal for small, collaborative meetings where most—if not all—participants communicate with one another.

On the other hand, a webcast is a live or on-demand presentation streamed over the web in audio or audio and video. Ideal for targeting large audiences, webcasting is essentially broadcasting over the internet. A webcast is typically a sophisticated, professionally produced program of broadcast quality, streamed live with almost any combination of interactive features, from Q&A tools to surveys and polls.

The business goal for either medium is typically the same: to communicate with a geographically dispersed group of people via the internet. However, the tool you choose will have a staggering impact on the success of your online event. When assessing which to use, three business factors should be considered: audience, presentation quality, and budget.

The two primary audience considerations are location and size.

Location. Is your audience concentrated in large enterprises, small businesses, or home offices? Are they in one country or dispersed around the globe? These crucial distinctions may impact whether you select a webcast or a web conference for your next online presentation.

When using or viewing the application (desktop) sharing feature, most web conferencing tools require the use of Java-based PC software. This software can be a stand-alone application or a browser plug-in that presenters and audience members must download. There’s a downside—in larger enterprise organizations, most IT managers prohibit employees from downloading software that has not been approved by the corporation for security reasons. Therefore, application sharing may not be accessible for all enterprise users.

Most webcasting suppliers rely only on the software that is already bundled into typical PC operating systems. The intent is to make it so simple to participate in an audio or video webcast that any user can do so on a new PC, just out of the box.

Is your audience located in one country or multiple countries? A webcast provides one common link to the same event, no matter where the audience is located geographically. A web conference, on the other hand, usually uses a conferencing bridge as the capture and transmission medium. This means that a web conference may require multiple toll-free access numbers to provide local dial-in for each jurisdiction. This adds to the potential for confusion and audience frustration.

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