Webcasting has become an increasingly mission-critical tool for enterprises. No longer confined to the annual town hall, webcasting is increasingly being used for more frequent, high-stakes events, both internal and external—quarterly strategy sessions, sales kick-offs, board meetings, virtual conferences, and other live marketing events. So if a webcast fails, it can fail spectacularly—and very visibly. Then the producers find themselves facing some very angry executives. What can webcasting producers do to avoid a webcasting disaster?
Check Your Bandwidth
The first step, before you get anywhere near a broadcast, is to make sure that you have all the bandwidth you’re going to need. Say you’re planning an internal webcast. First, make sure you’ve got enough upload bandwidth that you can stream high quality video. Then, if you’re broadcasting to multiple physical locations, you’ll need to check the requirements of each site. How many locations will you be broadcasting to? How many viewers do you expect?
If you get this wrong, you’ll know fast. Viewers will get stuck in endless buffer cycles, video that does show up will be grainy and might even stutter, and if you’re really unlucky, some sites might not get anything at all.
A good rule of thumb is that for each specific site, the number of viewers you expect multiplied by 1 mbps needs to be less than the internet bandwidth to that site. You’ll want to test each site ahead of time.
What do you do if you don’t have enough bandwidth to all your sites? An Enterprise Content Delivery Network, or eCDN, can ease the burden. With an eCDN, each site pulls down a single copy of the stream from the cloud. Then the eCDN delivers copies to everyone from inside your corporate network. Now you have a flawless viewing experience without overloading the network. (Just make sure you test all the eCDN nodes for the remote sites ahead of time. You don’t want any surprises the day of the event.)
Check Your Setup
You want to do your dry run well ahead of the actual event, so you have plenty of time to deal with anything that comes up. Make sure you practice everything, including accessing the stream from remote locations, in as close to the actual conditions as you can manage.
This includes having all your equipment in the physical room you intend to broadcast from. The last thing you want to discover on the day of your event is that your cables are an inch too short to reach the only place the encoder fits.
Make a plan ahead of time of exactly who is responsible for what. Rehearse all your cues with the people who will actually be running the event. Everyone needs a full checklist of all of their individual responsibilities.
This should be obvious, but make sure you’re using physical connections wherever possible. Your encoder should not be on Wi-Fi. You need a LAN connection or you’re going to end up with an unstable network, with all the terrible audio and disconnects that implies.
Speaking of your encoder, you need two. Always run a second encoder in parallel. If one gets flaky on you and crashes, you’ll need the back-up. Redundancy is your friend. Actually, everything needs redundancy, but the majority of the systems involved should be taken care of for you by your webcasting platform. The encoders, however, are all on you.
Make sure you know how to read your webcasting dashboard, so if you do have a problem, you’ll recognize it. A good dashboard will not only be intuitive to read, it will give you suggestions on how to fix the problems you’re seeing.
Last Minute Issues
Of course, the worst issues always seem to crop up the day of the event, no matter how well you prepared.
To be safe, don’t just start the stream and the broadcast simultaneously. Start up your stream first. Preview the stream and make sure everything looks right. Check your audio—it’s incredibly easy to look at the monitor, see motion, and forget to make sure the audio is working, too. Only when everything looks perfect should you start the broadcast.
Sometimes the last-minute hiccups aren’t from anything the production team did, but come from the speaker. There’s not a lot we can suggest that will help convince your speaker to turn in their presentation on time. But you can prepare for the worst. Have a slide prepped as a placeholder. It can be simple—use the company presentation template and just include the name of the event, maybe the speaker name and date if you want to get fancy. But this way, if something goes wrong, you have a visual in place to start. You can add the rest of the deck on the fly, if you have to. Worst case, your speaker can give the entire talk with that one slide (although that would be a pretty boring visual!)
Make Your Next Event Flawless
Putting on a webcast where the entire company is watching can be a stressful experience. But there’s no reason you need to be the next cautionary tale. Avoiding technical disaster is just a matter of careful planning and practice, and a little bit of forethought. Now, it’s all up to the presenter.