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When VOD, Live, and Real-Time Collide: How to Navigate Video Convergence

Rebecca Rozakis
Updated November 5 2020
stack of screens showing vod, live, real-time
Rebecca Rozakis
Updated November 5 2020

Video usage at your organization is almost certainly soaring. But the different video tools and platforms used across the organization for all the different use cases may not have been chosen to strategically work together, and now the increased usage may be introducing new challenges. As video platforms have expanded to cover a greater number of uses, and many uses that were once separate have converged, many companies are now looking to reduce the total number of video solutions they use.

 

Let’s take a look at some of the ways video technology is converging.

 

Video convergence: When are they watching?

Until recently, in general, creating a searchable, sustainable library of VOD content, creating a large-scale live broadcast with a good user experience, and hosting a video conferencing session generally required at least three entirely different platforms.

VOD

Video on demand is usually managed through a video portal or platform. On the consumer side, examples of this would be YouTube or Vimeo. On the corporate level, many companies prefer to create their own video portal based on an enterprise video platform.

Real-Time Communications

On the other extreme is real-time communications. This is what we’re used to for video conferencing — where there’s very little delay (seconds, or even fractions of a second) between someone speaking and the viewers hearing. Unfortunately, real-time video has some drawbacks. It’s not scalable to large numbers of viewers, and viewers with low bandwidth (or who live in low bandwidth areas) will get a bad viewing experience.

Live Broadcast

That’s why webcasting is typically used for hosting live events that can be broadcast, whether internally or externally, to a widely spread audience. With live broadcast, the video stream is typically broadcast with a delay of about 20-30 seconds between the time of the presenter speaking and the time it is received by the viewer. The resulting stream has an adaptive bitrate, meaning that no matter the bandwidth, each viewer will have the best experience possible. When one or a few people are broadcasting to a large audience, the benefits of live broadcast outweigh those of real-time communications.

Simulive

A subset of live broadcast is simulive, which is when prerecorded content is streamed live, and is often used for high production value content to create the sense of a special event. This allows a perfectly edited, polished recording to still generate the excitement of a fully live event, such as when a company records a virtual conference panel in advance. The boundaries between various forms of live video are blurring.

 

However, live and real-time platforms have typically not had the level of control and management of a video platform, making it hard to navigate, discover, and manage permissions on the resulting recordings. Meanwhile, moving recordings to the video portal so VOD content can be managed in one place is often stymied by proprietary file formats.

Where are we heading?

Live and real-time video have abruptly become default tools for enterprise, suddenly overwhelming video recordings as a preferred mode. While many meetings and webcasts do not need to be kept for posterity, the increased use of flex time to cover caretaking responsibilities and replace commutes means than many employees would like to catch up on live events later. Meanwhile, event hosts are increasingly frustrated by needing to change platforms for different types and sizes of meeting. Expect event organizers to demand to be able to use the same platform for any meeting, regardless of size. At the same time, expect to see more of automatically converting the recordings of these events into VOD that can be found in the same portal as VOD-only content. As both VOD, live broadcast, and real-time communications become more routine, a full video platform — that offers not just a repository or a live video tool, but an entire video stack from video creation, live broadcast, and real-time communications through editing, management, and storage, into delivery — is becoming increasingly necessary.

 

Are they watching or participating?

 

participating in live and real time video

Using video for real time communications brings a personal touch that text or voice-only lacks. Before the pandemic, most people’s experience with video communications had been limited to an occasional chat on their phone with their friends and family. Now, YouTube is full of parody songs about the relative merits of wearing pants on the video call. When everyone has their own opinions on their favorite video app, IT has a harder job in declaring an official platform. However, enterprises have concerns beyond those of commercial users. A need to support many different kinds of meetings also requires some forethought because of the different needs. How big a group can be supported and how interactive the format is varies quite a bit. In general, smaller groups allow for more interactivity, while larger groups tend to be arranged in a one-to-many broadcast format, but there’s increasing overlap.

One-to-One and Few-to-Few

Early one-to-one video tools like Skype treated video calls more like phone calls. However, for most enterprises (and even in our personal lives), we’ve moved past that. At this point, most companies need and expect a few more options for small group videos, including the ability to invite people from outside the system, record the call, share screens, and more. Now that web conferencing is replacing many in-person activities, we expect them to be highly interactive and collaborative. Everyone in the call not only wants to hear and see each other, they expect to be able to share media, whiteboards, notes, and more. The point of a video meeting is interaction.

Webinars

The borders between a large meeting and a small webinar are porous. The definition is often less the number of people and more how much people can interact. There are usually only one or a few presenters, sharing a combination of audio, video, slides, and screenshares, and the majority of the attendees are in the audience. Most of the interaction tends to be through Q&A. But presenters might want everyone to take polls, draw on the whiteboard, and so on. They may also want the ability for people to raise their hands and be called upon to share their video, but not to be onstage all the time. To support this interaction, webinars are usually done in real time.

Webcasting

Webinars and webcasting also have definitions that vary a bit and can shade into each other. More often, webinars can be done as a lower-key production with a smaller team, such as monthly marketing events or customer office hours, while webcasts are more formal events involving higher production values and often larger audiences. Webcasts are usually a live broadcast, with a slight delay to allow for their greater scalability. In a webcast a video stream (or set of streams) goes out and viewer participation is instead limited to text-based Q&A and mass polls, usually without the ability to bring members of the audience “on-stage” or to allow them to draw on the screen. These can support viewership of thousands or even hundreds of thousands.

Where are we heading?

Here, too, people are increasingly looking for tools that will span a wider range instead of needing multiple platforms for different sized groups. Fortunately, it’s increasingly possible to cover all needs with a single live stack. Small meetings can have the same possibilities for easy recording, storage, analytics, and interactivity tools as webinars. Meanwhile, webcasting to hundreds of thousands is now possible from a home desktop, without professional equipment, with speakers using the same familiar interfaces they used for their small team meetings. While larger groups tend to be arranged in a one-to-many broadcast format, but there’s increasing overlap.

Video convergence: Who’s watching?

laughing man thinking about intranet

Internet vs. Intranet vs. Extranet

Right now, much of the duplication and overlap comes from video being used in different siloes. Different departments have wildly different audiences, and the tools created specifically for them often cannot be easily used for an alternate audience. For example, HR speaks entirely to an internal audience, while Marketing focuses on external.

 

Factors like authentication, registration, and different metrics often keep them from sharing tools. Video intended entirely for an internal audience can be delivered on the intranet through an internal video portal. With users already logged in, managing who can see what (using existing permissions sets) and tracking who actually watched what (through analytics tied to single-sign on) is easy.

 

Video intended for an external audience can require authentication or not, depending on how it’s being used. Videos can be posted for the world at large to see, such as on YouTube or the company homepage. On the other hand, using video for lead generation, such as for a webinar, usually requires registration so that viewer information can be gathered or tracked.

 

There’s a gray area between such as when organizations want to share video with partners or customers only. Here, an extranet becomes useful. An authenticated portal that is nonetheless outside the company allows information to be shared securely with non-employees.

Where are we heading?

Managing two or even three different video portals becomes challenging. Not only is there the overhead of supporting multiple platforms, sharing content between the platforms can be a headache. (For example, a new product launch video might be useful for internal kick-offs, reseller training, on the product’s main webpage, for sales emails, and during a webinar. That single video could have to be copied in up to five different repositories). Having a single video portal that can handle both internal and external use cases will significantly reduce complexity. It also makes it much easier to manage and track analytics in one place and at scale.

 

Conclusion

Across multiple axes, video technology is converging. It’s now possible to use a single suite of tools for a variety of uses. As employees come to rely on video even more heavily, it’s worth considering – how many video tools do you really need?