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Blurred Lines: How to Manage and Integrate On-site and Off-site Audience and Presenter Interactions in Live Webcasts

Recording a presentation that is delivered to a live audience for later on-demand viewing is nothing new. Neither is webcasting live presentations. But more and more the lines of what is considered the norm for presentations is getting blurred as online participants interaction is being incorporated with the live audience and presenters are delivering their talks remotely to both a live and an online audience. This article discusses the challenges producers face when managing both live and online audiences and presenters concurrently.

Operating the video switcher post-delay was a bit surreal. If I focused, I could see or hear into the video switcher’s future, by listening to the live audio feed through the phone bridge or seeing the live presenters either in-person or on the monitor of the 3Play 425 pre-delay.

Or course, this also meant that I could see any mistakes that the upstream real-time video switcher operator just made. Painfully, I had no ability to correct the bad switch; downstream I did not have a fall back delayed video signal to switch to. In our workflow, the second delayed signal through the instant replay machine was dedicated to a quad-view display that the client requested. We used the Matrox MicroQuad for this post-delay for the Canadian video feeds, and with built-in webcast delay on the incoming German webcast feed.

Needless to say, this was an extremely complicated setup, and one that was made even more complicated by the introduction of an incoming high-latency webcast video feed and our desire to hide the fact that a remote presenter was not in the same studio as the other presenters. Nowadays, when we get asked to connect remote presenters with live presenters, we stick strictly to low-latency video connections so the audio and video can travel both ways in real time (Figure 4, below), and we embrace and do not try to hide the fact that some of the presenters and a portion of the audience are joining the live presentation online.

Figure 4. Adobe Connect webinars broadcast audio and video with a low latency so two-way communication is possible. Click the image to see it at full size.

Integrating the On-site and Online Webcast Audience Experiences

As live webcasts and webinars become more and more successful, it’s not uncommon for us to be broadcasting content from a conference room with “only” a few hundred in-person attendees but with a total reach, including the online audience, that is 2–3 times the size of the in-person audience. This is especially true with professional and regulatory agencies that need to connect their members who are located in every corner of our province and for whom it is not feasible to travel to the larger urban centers for regular education updates that we often take for granted. We encourage our clients to ensure that they consider the viewer experience when they plan their events. Simple gestures like welcoming the online audience at the outset, making sure housekeeping announcements are kept offline, and pausing if there is a technological interruption in the live video feed so that the online audience doesn’t feel like they are missing-out.

With recent technology advancements, we prefer incoming remote presenter feeds to come in via a Skype or Google Hangout types of webcam chat. Since we produced the previously discussed Canada-German webcast, both of these platforms have improved their video quality to HD quality. Skype’s documentation lists their HD video calling requirement as between 1.2–1.5 Mbps and Google lists 2.6Mbps as ideal in their Hangouts video requirements. Neither specifies if by HD they support both 720 and 1080 resolutions, but 1.5Mbps–2.6Mbps is a decent video bandwidth, especially considering I still default to 720p30 webcasting at 2.5Mbps for most of my outgoing webcast productions.

The improvement of video chat technology and the widespread availability of the base video chat requirements of a webcam in a >2GHz dual-core processor laptop, and a high-speed Internet connection, has made it easier to bring in remote presenters who otherwise are not physically able to present at a conference, be it for cost, travel, or time restrictions. In my video business we have experienced an increase in demand to have remote presenters join live presenters via video chat.

I have even used this technology in my own professional life. Last month I asked my brother to present remotely from Japan, where he now lives, to my local professional video association, the BCPVA. He talked about his successes as a YouTube producer and in only ten months he has over 100,000 subscribers, 7 million views, and his most viewed video went viral with 3 million views.