I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about tips and best practices for putting together a good webcast and what pitfalls to look out for. While live webcasts about sports and entertainment events seem to get all the exposure, more live webcasts take place each day in the enterprise market than in any other sector. But no matter the vertical, or use case, the same skill set applies. The way I see it, there are two different sets of skills involved—the soft skills and the hard skills. That’s not to say that the soft skills are easy, but you really need both of them to be successful and as an industry, we will always be evolving the medium. There is always something new to learn, tweak, or implement to get the most out of the webcast.
So with that in mind, I wanted to outline some of the little things that make the difference between a good webcast and a great webcast. Thanks to Kaltura for sharing with me the questions they get most often from customers.
The Devil is in the (Non-technical) Details
- Test your delivery outside the office. You’re already testing your equipment, right? Make sure your tests include mobile. These days, it’s a good bet that at least some of your audience is going to tune in while on the go; make sure they have a quality experience, too.
- Promote internal webcasts as much as external ones. Yes, your employees will dutifully log in because they have to. But if you put the same effort into engaging employees as you do into engaging customers, they’ll be a lot more receptive to your message. Attractive invites, a great title (not just “Q4 Forecast”), short and punchy slides, and a strong call to action will have just as much of a positive effect on your internal audience as an external audience.
- Think about the experience. There are a lot of cool tools on the market these days that can make webcasts a little more interactive. Find a platform that will keep your viewers engaged.
- Remember your asynchronous audience. DVR and catch-up isn’t just for TV. Be realistic. People will be late, people will get distracted, people will need to watch this again later. Make it easy for them. Ideally, make sure the recording is easily searched for and navigated. You’ve spent this much time creating this content—increase the ROI by extending the shelf life.
- Get feedback. You’re going to do this again; specifically reach out for feedback so you can improve.
Getting into the Nitty-Gritty
What about the actual technical requirements? It turns out (unsurprisingly) that there is no one-size-fits-all set of specs; a lot of best practices vary depending on what kind of event you want to produce. I talked to some experts, who offered a list of points to consider.
- Physical venue. Where are you going to put everything? Make sure you have a physical schematic and plot it all out. It’s not enough to just plot your lighting design. Make sure you know exactly how much cabling you’ll need to connect the cameras to the mixer, for example. (And make sure it’s the right kind of cable for the distance you’re trying to cover; HDMI has length limitations, whereas 3G SDI can be run for 250 feet or more without issue. A truly massive venue might call for fiber.) While you’re at it, check on your power requirements—all those lights can add up in a hurry. If you’re not shooting in your own facility, you have additional issues to consider. Check on load in and load out restrictions as well as elevator access. And don’t forget to see if the venue has insurance or union labor requirements.
- Network. You’re going to want to consider your uplink speed first. Are you doing a simple feed? Or are you going to do multi-bitrate feeds from your encoder to both a primary and backup publishing point? You’ll want to reserve an uplink capable of 30-40% higher output speed than what you actually intend to send. Make sure to test the uplink speeds in the venue itself, and check latency while you’re at it. You’ll also want to ask for a static IP—you don’t want to hook up your encoder and then get kicked off the network. This is particularly critical when using a hardware encoder that doesn’t have a monitor attached, since if you access your encoder over a browser, you can’t afford to lose contact. If you’re not on your home network, make sure you can get open access without authentication. Again, a hardware encoder isn’t going to be able to interact with a login screen.
- AV equipment and team. Here, you have a lot of decisions to make. How many cameras are you planning on? How many speakers onstage at any given time? Will you use fixed or wireless microphones? If wireless, are you planning to just pin lav mics to someone’s tie, or are you going to be taping equipment onto people’s skin? Where are you placing your lights—from the back or up against the stage? Are you going to project from the front or the back, and with a dual projector or a single? Each decision will have its own ramifications and precautions. For example, if you’re using wireless microphones, make sure that no one else in the building is using the same frequency.
- Output. Are you planning to use interlaced or progressive output to your mixer? For broadcast, the standard has been to take interlaced output. But for the web, viewers may be watching on relatively high-resolution screens, which means they may be able to see that interlacing. In that case, you may want to consider progressive output over an SDI port.
- Encoder. The most common question is which encoder is the best. It depends on circumstances—how mission-critical the webcast is, the budget, how many bitrates you want, and what inputs you need. Software-based encoders are relatively inexpensive, and generally fine. They can handle multi-bitrate output, but SDI requires a third-party capture card, which can add complications. The big problem is reliability and redundancy. If your OS crashes, you’re out of luck. The lower level of hardware encoder is prosumer, like Teradek. These offer single bitrates, with no power supply redundancy and relatively few input options. These are particularly good if you need a mobile unit with a roaming camera. The top of the line encoders, like those from Elemental and Harmonic, are incredibly reliable, with redundant power supplies and multi-bitrate content in whatever output you might want. They’re also expensive, rack-mounted and can require cooling. Your needs will determine which encoder is best for you.
If you’re looking for significantly more details, Kaltura recently held an interesting webinar on the topic where they gave out a lot of really good tips and best-practices, which you can access for free. You can find the recording here. If you have specific webcasting questions, put them in the comments section below and I’m sure others will help answer them.