Webcasting: The Future is Now

As we face these unprecedented times, high-quality digital communications have become an essential lifeline for businesses across the globe. While services such as Zoom, Skype and Facetime have thankfully provided us with sophisticated platforms for video staff meetings, family e-unions, virtual happy hours, and online jam sessions, few companies have truly mastered the art and science of using video streaming technologies to their full advantage. 

With in-person conferences possibly on hold for the foreseeable future, webcasting, in particular, has become a critical service to harness, as it enables companies to deliver seamless messages to stakeholders in real time. This impressive service has been on the rise for over a decade, but now, given these unprecedented times, it appears that the value of webcasting is now revealing its full potential. 

In illustrating the unique advantages of webcasting, it is important to distinguish between the sister services of  “web conferencing” and “webcasting.” Web conferencing is web-based video conferencing which allows for “many to many” live participant interactions – such as when groups of people gather online for a Zoom staff meeting. (There are certainly numerous ways to optimize online staff meetings, but this is a conversation for another day.)  Webcasting, on the other hand, is a presentation of “one (or several) to many” – much like a television broadcast, but streamed over the internet live or on demand. A webcast can be open to the public to watch or it can be a completely restricted invite-only event. Think of a TED talk or presentation that a person or company delivers to an audience with limited interaction. This enables the presenting company to control the content and nature of the exchange so that the message is delivered with clarity and purpose and without interruption.

As the founder and CEO of a digital production company, I have been surveying best-of-breed technologies and communication trends for over twenty years. I see it as our responsibility to predict which services will become essential well before they reach widespread popularity across the marketplace. This saves our clients time, resources, and substantial frustration. We introduce the “next thing” to our clients and seek to clue them in to what they will need, well before they realize they need it. For us, this is a fun yet expensive hobby. Our in-house tinkerers experimented with 4K cameras, drones, paid media on Instagram, GoPros, podcasting technologies, SEO code, H.265 encoders, remote video capture platforms, SSL certificates and streaming players as each toy or tool emerged into the marketplace. Thankfully, this has also included webcast technology. 

Our production company began tinkering with an array of webcasting services on behalf of our corporate clients back in 2008. Needless to say, the technology has evolved dramatically over the past 12 years. In the beginning, we bounced between five different webcasting platforms, each miraculous in its own way while simultaneously burdened by odd quirks. One platform, for example, forced users to log in through their vanity url (bobswebcasting.com/tesla-investor-day for example) and we had no way of disguising it. This made for a confusing distraction. Another involved the use of a proprietary media player that could not be re-skinned or re-branded, while another had a “groundbreaking” two screen solution that made it impossible to follow without a desktop computer. Many of the proprietary tools failed to scale to the screen size or bandwidth of the end user, causing most users’ players to buffer all too frequently. When presented with each of these options, our clients would resign themselves to selecting critical features while surrendering to some of these quirks that challenged them. For all of our success in producing beautiful one-of-a-kind events, the webcast experiences challenged us due to the constraints we faced. 

We knew there had to be a better webcasting solution for our clients, but we hadn’t found it yet. Then, in 2010, I attended a party where the hosts had tuned in to a live webcast of a Dave Matthews concert. This evening forever changed our business. I don’t remember a single song – not because I didn’t appreciate the music, but because I was transfixed – the production was incredible. HD-quality, multi-camera, no streaming buffering, no extraneous branding and straight from a specialty DMB url! It was as good as any live television broadcast, but without the commercials. It was happening NOW over the web and you couldn’t tell the difference. There were no technical glitches that detracted from the experiences. Rather, we could truly appreciate the magic of the music and visual spectacle. I scoured the credits, identified the name of the company responsible for the webcasting, and promptly called them the next day. 

Thus, our event production company became one of the earliest adopters of the service and we quickly became masters at producing webcasts for our corporate clients. These were seamless HD experiences, branded from start to finish that users could even watch seamlessly on their smartphone. Using this platform, we’ve been able to produce flawless executive statements, all-encompassing roadshows, last-minute press announcements and game-changing investor relations meetings. I would estimate that our production teams have produced over 100 of these webcasts for a variety of sectors. Our clients provide the message, we provide the medium, and we guarantee that those messages reach and resonate with their desired audience.

The whole beauty of webcasting rests in the ability to capture a moment – to transport people across the globe into something happening “right now” but a world away. This ability to “touch” people, regardless of location, is especially critical given our collective circumstances. As a PR friend of mine recently said, “Your communications matter now more than ever. When this crisis ends – and it will – [nobody] will complain that they were provided too much information, hosted too many town halls or shared updates too frequently. So … communicate, communicate, communicate.”

To connect with stakeholders with technical sophistication, unhindered by glitches and snafus, is key to making critical messages stick. We all wish to connect, to be inspired and moved. Technology – when done well – can facilitate a remarkable moment.  When done poorly – this moment may be lost. Thankfully, we have the capacity now to enable the medium to retreat from the foreground so that the message can ring loud and clear.

Yes, delivering a message in real time may have been a fascinating and entertaining tool over the past few years. Yet few companies predicted how essential it would become. Now with our global population restricted from gathering in person and simultaneously longing for engagement and inspiration, it is clear: the future of webcasting … is now.

Townsend Belisle
Founder and CEO at Haystack Needle

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