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How to Produce an All-Day Webcast

This article will discuss an all-day webcast that Morningstar does every year for its Individual Investor Conference, going through the decisions made in pre-production, the vendors selected, and the workflow, and share some tips that readers take into your webcast productions.

Choosing a Vendor

When it comes to vendor selection, you’re definitely going to need to work with somebody in order to get this done. You can definitely do it on your own; you just have to decide if that's streaming is something that you want to take on or if you want to outsource it.

There are a lot of questions to think about. There are certainly a lot of vendors out there, but it's important to ask yourself these vendors a few key questions before choosing your streaming partner (Figure 2, below).

Figure 2. Key questions to ask when selecting a vendor. Click the image to see it at full size.

You can begin by looking at the free options. There are certainly a lot of free options for live streaming, such as YouTube Live. Is that the experience that you want for your users? Is that the experience that you want for yourself when you’re producing?

What about support? If you’re using YouTube and something doesn’t work, who are you going to call? Google is not going to answer the phone, so it’s important to consider which vendor is going to give you the most reliable and prompt support when you’re live and you run into problems.

You also have to ask what are you getting for the money in partnering with a vendor compared to what you could do on your own. It’s not that difficult to go straight to a CDN, negotiate cheap bandwidth, set up an ingest point, stream to it, embed a player on a page, and call it a day. What are the features and enhancements are you getting from the vendor that you can't build yourself? Certainly, you could build things all day long on your own, but is that something that you really want to spend your time doing, or do you want to outsource that part and just worry about the production?

One vendor we used is an Ohio-based company called Venstream (formerly known as the Webcast Group). Essentially, they created a self-serve webcast platform that works really well for us (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3. Venstream’s webinar/streaming platform. Click the image to see it at full size.

Venstream is relatively inexpensive and it has the features that we need. We could probably build them ourselves, but with Venstream they're already there, they're already tested and working well, and they have support. That's something that I didn't necessarily want to have to take on myself if I built it, so now I have somebody to call if something breaks.

The other vendor we worked with is ScribbleLive (Figure 4, below). We use them for live chat on our page. There are a lot of live chat apps out there; if you want to do it on-the-cheap, you could even embed a Twitter widget or something like that, but in our case we wanted to have moderation control, we wanted to be able to pin certain items at the top of the chat, and provide more interactivity, which ScribbleLive provided.

Figure 4. ScribbleLive, our live-chat platform of choice. Click the image to see it at full size.

User Experience

Another key issue for us, and with any webcast (particularly a lengthy one), is delivering a satisfying user experience both before the event and during. We built a small mini-site to promote the conference (Figure 5, below). You’d find something like this for almost any conference you attended; if you were coming to Streaming Media Producer Live, for example, you most likely went to the mini-site where you’d find the agenda, info on the speakers, that sort of thing. Just as you do for an in-person event, we did that for our online event as well. The site includes a trailer, information on the speakers, the full agenda, full bios on the speakers, as well as a place where you can sign up right there and register for the event.

Figure 5. The Individual Investor Conference 2014 mini-site. Click the image to see it at full size.

We built this entire experience in-house. You can certainly do that as well or you can leverage your vendor if you’re using one for that. Then we just link off to the vendor's registration page (Figure 6, below). The nice part about this approach is if we decide to change vendors, we just change the link. We still have our micro-site that we can reuse every year and just update the content.

Figure 6. The registration page. Click the image to see it at full size.

Figure 7 (below) shows the day-of-webcast page. You can see the video player, the module for asking a question, sponsorship banners, and the Scribble Live widget where we do live chat and interact with viewers. It looks pretty similar on the iPad, which is nice that all that interactivity is available on a tablet as well. If you're using a smartphone, you get just the video, minus the interactive elements.

Figure 7. The Day-of-webcast page. Click the image to see it at full size.

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