Webcasting vs. Web conferencing: There is a difference!

3 August, 2010 - 14:59
The folks at MediaPlatform, Inc shed light on two increasingly popular internal communication tools. See which channel is best suited for your organisation.

As 2010’s volcanic disruption of European air traffic made clear, it’s useful for an organisation to have a virtual alternative to physical meetings when people can’t travel. Of course, there’s more than one way to meet virtually. Aside from simple conference calling, most companies face a choice between Web conferencing and Webcasting. These two technologies seem fundamentally similar, but they actually serve quite different needs.

For example, Web conferencing uses software that enables groups of people to meet online in a collaborative setting, whereas Webcasting is meant for rich media presentation to an online audience. Essentially, Web conferencing is for meetings While webcasting tools are for events. The marketplace and the general audience, however, have a hard time differentiating between these two forms of communication. This article will examine the inherent differences between Web conferencing and Webcasting in the context of corporate communications needs.

Comparing the tools

Although Web conferencing and Webcasting may possess superficial similarities, there are obvious differences between the two, with neither of them being inherently superior to the other. Web conferencing products are ideal for smaller group meetings (i.e. fewer than 50 attendees) where there is a need for interaction and collaboration among all the attendees. Webcasting, on the other hand, is better suited for presentations that involve a small number of presenters and a large number of viewers. With webcast presentations, the experience can be fully customized and branded while the audience's participation is limited to surveys or Q&A’s.

Based on the information presented in the Figure, it’s evident that if you’re trying to facilitate collaboration among a group of distributed people, then a Web conferencing tool is your best choice. However, if you want to have your CEO on a live video presentation streamed to thousands of global employees, then you’re going to need a powerful webcasting platform. Using a Web conference solution for that kind of large-scale virtual meeting will not satisfy your business objectives.  

There are also a host of subtle, internal differences between the two technologies. Web conferencing and Webcasting products differ in regards to:

•    Audience experience
•    Presenter features
•    Event management
•    Invitation and registration
•    Audience access
•    Archiving
•    Enterprise connectivity
•    Media management

Audience experience

Notable differences between Webcasting and Web conferencing involve the look and feel of the player, video quality, streaming and synchronization. Web conferencing solutions typically offer limited customization of the player and the Web event experience, while Webcasting software can provide quite extensive branding and manipulation of the player template. Web conferencing generally has fewer video quality options, and is usually restricted to Webcam input. In contrast, webcasting software usually provides variable streaming rates and formats, as well as control over the content distribution network (CDN) used to get the signal to the end viewer.

Web meetings rarely involve video and if they do it tends to be through a webcam at a relatively small resolution and low frame rate. Web meeting users generally have few options as to how they consume the video. Webcasts, on the other hand, are produced as presentations and tend to involve higher grade video cameras. These cameras are capable of much higher image quality and resolution. End viewers would not only see a nicer video but they would have the option to watch the presentation at a larger size or, perhaps, view it full screen.  

However, higher video quality is not necessarily better. The significance of video quality depends on the purpose of the event. In a presentation delivered via webcast where audience impact is critical, the quality of viewers’ video experience is integral to the overall success of the event.  In a more collaborative scenario, such as a group coming together to review a document through a Web conference, the video exists to augment the experience, not define it. Lower quality video will not diminish the collaborative effect of the meeting during a Web conference. For a smaller scale collaborative corporate meeting, a Webcasting solution would not only be feature incomplete but also overkill in terms of video streaming quality.

Event production

Webcasting solutions are designed with sophisticated functionality for presenters and event managers. To give the audience the best viewing experience, Webcasting solutions enable event managers to coordinate the preparation, rehearsal, production and archiving of the presentation.  Some solutions, such as MediaPlatform’s WebCaster, provide the ability to split production tasks between different team members. One person might be assigned the role of managing video inputs, while another manages question and answer, and so forth. 

Web conferencing solutions generally do not offer this level of production control functionality, and indeed, they were never designed for this type of use in the first place. Web conferencing tools are valued for their ability to get a group of people online in a shared meeting space quickly and easily. The feature rich production management interfaces of a Webcasting system would be a hindrance for this type of corporate function. 

Event archiving

Event archiving is another point of differentiation between Web conferencing and Webcasting solutions. Webcasting tools allow the producer the ability to create an archived version of the presentation in a form that matches the exact specifications of the presenter, after the event. The on-demand version of a Webcast event can be different from the initial live presentation. By archiving, the producer can substitute slides, change their order, delete audio or video clips, and so on, to create a perfect final product. In contrast, most Web conferencing tools do not offer this degree of control over archiving and on-demand version control. 

Enterprise connectivity

Enterprise connectivity also separates the world of Webcasting from that of Web conferencing.  Webcasting solutions, such as WebCaster, can be adapted to become part of a bigger enterprise stack while Web conferencing solutions are typically standalone tools. WebCaster offers Web services Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and a software development kit (SDK) to enable integration with enterprise application. For example, an enterprise may wish to integrate the webcasting solution with HR applications, learning management systems, content management systems, and more. The webcasting system is just one piece of the broader enterprise solution set. 

Which one is right for your needs?

It depends on what the business is trying to achieve. As they say in the racing business, “There’s horses for courses.” What’s right for your company may not necessarily be right for another business. If your goal is to enable small groups of people to collaborate in a virtual work setting, then a Web conferencing solution will do the job well, and a Webcasting solution will be both ineffective and excessive. If you are trying to connect with larger audiences with a reliable, interactive, rich media experience, then you are going to be better off with a webcasting solution.

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About the Authors

Hugh Taylor, Ysette Witteveen, and Mitchell Harper are executives at MediaPlatform, Inc.

About MediaPlatform, Inc.

MediaPlatform, Inc. (formerly IVT) delivers best-in-class webcasting and media management technology to global enterprises and digital media producers. MediaPlatform’s webcasting software enables high-impact presentations for lead generation, corporate communications and training.  The company offers organizations the ability to take advantage of scalable cloud-based computing, as well as on-premises. With media management tools built on its platform, the company helps clients derive long term archive value from their investment in media content.

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