Live webcasting is what many people first think of when streaming media is mentioned— because they have heard about live rock concerts being broadcast on the internet, or phone in shows where some celebrity or politician takes a few live calls while broadcasting an interview over the web.
Webcasting has a significant appeal, because it promises to give almost anyone the ability to broadcast their concert, annual meeting, conference keynote speaker, or golf tournament award ceremony to virtually the entire world.
From a technical point of view setting up a webcast is more complicated and somewhat more risky than creating a library of archived files.
Because it is a live event, it involves all the usual risks associated with live events. Things may not always go quite as planned; equipment could break down; cables forgotten back at the office; lights burning out, people saying silly things or starting to drool and so on…
The other complication has more to do with the specific technology used in webcasting. Since you have to “encode” a media stream before sending it out over the net, the encoder has to work more or less in real time. The cameras and audio equipment feed the signal into the encoding device. Then the encoding device compresses and formats the data so it can be sent along to a media server at a different location, from where it is then streamed at a suitable bitrate and ultimately played by the end-viewer through a media player in their Internet browser.
At first glance, this process may seem to be too fraught with variables to actually be reliable. In reality though, if the production company (the guys running the cameras and creating the final mix) can keep the signal running, it is then a fairly reliable method of broadcasting – what has come to be known as webcasting or videocasting.
The weakest link in the production chain is the connection between the encoder onsite at the live location and the server somewhere out there in cyberspace. But in most cases a simple ADSL or Cable connection is perfectly satisfactory, especially since the encoded signal being transferred is usually no more than 300-400 kbps (kilo-bytes-per-second).
Complications could arise when deciding what format and what bitrate to use for your live webcast. Archived streaming media is often encoded in different formats and at different bitrates, but this is often not possible with live videocasts. In many instances the webcaster picks the format he considers most likely to be used by the largest number of viewers, and goes with it – these days it is typically around 350 kbps
In real life situations restricting available formats like this is not as difficult as it may sound. Many webcasts are done for corporate clients and broadcast over restricted corporate networks. The specified format is just part of company policy, based on what the network administrators know is running on corporate desktops.
Other webcasts are subscription-based – like online training or “distance-learning” services, or even online concerts and recitals. Using a specified format and bitrate just becomes part of the requirements to take advantage of the service.
Who can take advantage of live webcasting?
Users of webcasting tend to fall into two or three groups based on content and audience. At the “lower” end of the scale are experimental services that have essentially no audience. These are individuals and companies experimenting with the technology hoping to find an idea that will have some audience appeal. At the “high” end of the scale are larger organizations, rebroadcasting their traditional radio or TV signal to very large audiences. Big name concert promoters and movie streamers tend to fall into this second category.
Between these two extremes are events with a more focused and narrowly defined audience. Most of them are corporate in nature – conferences, keynote addresses, the CEO’s annual message to the troops, AGMs, reporting of quarterly corporate results, etc. Some of these events are almost like videoconferencing where, for example, a live training session is webcast to a select group of customers or employees, or a lecture is webcast to a specific group of students.
Examples of Live Event Webcasting include:
– Music Concerts
– Church Services
– Sporting Events
– Press Conferences
– Red Carpet Premieres
– TV/Radio Shows
Business and Industry Events
– Workshops & Seminars
– Committee Meetings
– Sales Presentations
– Annual General Meetings
– Product Launches
– Sermons and Oratory
– Memorial Services
– Church Events
– Family Occasions
Education and Instruction
– Online Instruction