Webcasting is changing… and that’s changing the way we do business. It used to be (not that long ago), if a business wanted to communicate to a large group of people who were geographically dispersed all at once, the only choice was pre-ordered, expensive, operator-assisted audio conference call services. It didn’t matter whether those were employees, partners, customers, or analysts. It was complicated to set up and could quickly become cost-prohibitive.
The medium was inherently limiting as well; humans are primarily visual creatures, so limiting them to audio took away the punch. It was possible to send data or decks by a separate method, but only at the cost of security and synchronization. More subtly, the nonverbal cues that scientists estimate make up over 50% of communication, were lost. Many companies had found out the hard way with conference calls gone awry at an important product launch, corporate restructuring announcement, or quarterly analyst briefing.
Relying on audio only, operator assisted conference calls was a tolerable burden while the use of such tools was infrequent. But changes in the workplace, and workforce, coupled with globalization have been compounding, creating an ever growing demand for mass corporate communication as an essential tool to be used daily. A globally dispersed workforce, distribution network, and investor base has created audiences spread across countries and time zones who need to communicate. Even domestically, the rise in telecommuting made it more and more difficult to rally the troops by rounding up the office. Webcasting arose from this growing need. The ability to deliver not just audio but also slides, screencasts, and related documents revolutionized the way information is conveyed by the modern enterprise. A second revolution came from the capability to add HD video. The ability to read body language makes it possible to engage with corporate communications on a personal level, not seen before.
Webcasting Gets Serious
Perhaps one of the big turning points that proved the value of live video was Marissa Meyers’ 2013 investors briefing. Instead of the traditional mass conference Yahoo! chose to broadcast a live video stream of its earnings report. The report itself was unremarkable; the format was in the eyes of the press, ground-breaking. This show of power created enormous buzz in the community. Many have since opted to copy-cat Marissa, and not hide behind their desk phones. Only a few short years later, live video is increasingly seen as elemental and expected.
How the History of Webcasting is About to Change
But the webcasting revolution has only begun. A new generation of technology is opening up new opportunities across the board for businesses looking to make their communications more personal and more effective. It’s not just investor relations, of course. Internally, webcasting is being used for town halls and CEO chats, uniting far-flung teams. Externally, it can add power and personality to everything from product launches to press announcements.
One particularly interesting use case is the virtual conference. Instead of attending conferences in person — an expensive endeavor both in terms of travel costs and lost time to both organizers and participants — conference-goers are increasingly joining virtual conferences. Attendees can easily tune in for just the sessions they’re most interested in, from the convenience of their desks. If they missed a session, they can go back to the recording. Virtual events can provide a great experience for a fraction of the cost, and as research shows, can allow for more than 100% increase in the audience size. Recent examples include Blizzard’s gaming conference that was broadcast live, and Apple’s WWDC.
As businesses continue to expand globally, enterprises are opening up and learning how to share information with different stakeholders in different ways. In the future, we can expect to see more live, virtual communication and events. Webcasting won’t just be for CEOs making announcements to the company at large, but for division managers and general managers and further through the ranks. Eventually, the few-to-few communication of web conferencing (like WebEx or GoToMeeting) will converge with the one-to-many mode of webcasting that can engage an audience of hundreds of thousands of people. Corporate communications will increasingly be characterized by two way live interactions with global audiences.
What Comes Next for Webcasting
We’re not there yet. Right now, when managers want to talk to 500 people or even 100 people at once, video conferencing is unwieldy; meanwhile, the latency built into webcasting means that webcasting for smaller groups is not a great fit, because it does not provide video feedback from the audience to the speaker. Fortunately, a number of advances have recently been made. Until now, webcasting has been suitable for big, one-off events. A proper webcast required complicated production efforts, however, the latest webcasting technology streamlines production, allows use of mobile devices and webcams, allows integration of multiple streams, and focuses on self-service, making it far more user-friendly to the global IT teams. Real-time analytics make it easier to monitor engagement. For secure events, webcasting can be integrated with an existing platform and use pre-set permissions and access control. At the end of the presentation, the live streams automatically convert to become Video On Demand (VOD), published at the same URL as the live event. Meanwhile, better presenter tools make it easier for the speaker to ensure fluid delivery, for both in-person and virtual audiences simultaneously.
At the same time, this technology is making the viewer experience more appealing as well. Interactive tools have been clunky and difficult for participants to use. Webcast platforms should now stream to any device. Immediate Live-to-DVR functionality enables viewers to pause, rewind, and catch up with the presenter. Viewers should can also switch between video and slides for greater interactivity, and use slides and chapters to navigate the VOD as well as searching for keywords. The practice of standalone webcasting systems no longer makes sense; as enterprises formalize their video strategies, webcasting needs to be seamlessly integrated into the rest of the video platform, so webcasting is part of the everyday workflow. In sum, the latest generation of webcasting technology makes webcasting easier and more appealing, so it can become part of the corporate culture instead of the occasional one-off event.
The history of webcasting is a reflection of the changes in corporate culture. Now, as business is increasingly conducted in a global, individualized, highly mobile world, webcasting helps meet the needs for communication to be both personal and convenient. As the YouTube and Netflix generation enter the workforce and take the helm across industries, webcasting capabilities are no longer nice-to-have but a must-have. To fulfill this promise, modern webcasting needs to finally reflect consumer sensibilities and deliver a lightweight, flexible, and interactive experience. As more business is conducted by video, expect webcasting to play an even greater role in the future.
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