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What is the difference between live webcasts and video conferences?

Blog post   •   Apr 17, 2020 09:00 +08

Here is an example of a webcast we produced for The Economist, using multiple cameras in our studio. It simply wouldn't look this good in a video conference.

As many of our clients are switching their communications focus online, one of the questions I frequently get is, can you use Zoom or Microsoft Teams to do a webcast?

And what is the difference between live webcasts and video conferences, anyway?

The short answer is that video conferences are more like phone calls, while live webcasts are more like television broadcasts.

This translates into:

1. HIGHER PRODUCTION INPUTS

Video conferences usually show speakers sitting in front of their laptop cameras, with either a clear view into their homes, or blurred (Microsoft Teams) or animated (Zoom) backgrounds. Speakers can usually set these up themselves easily.

Live webcasts allow for multiple camera inputs, broadcast graphics and special effects. Speakers can stand far back from the camera and still be heard clearly because we use proper microphones for audio, not the inbuilt microphone in the camera. As a result of the higher production inputs, they usually require at least one additional person to help out, sometimes going to a crew of up to six people.

2. LARGER AUDIENCES

Depending on which system you use, conferencing platforms can accommodate limited viewers.

Zoom Conference says it can accommodate up to 10,000 one-way viewers, but I haven't been able to find the price plan for this on the relevant web page. The pricing plans talk about a maximum of 1,000 participants.

Also, Zoom has gone to great lengths to talk about how they are dealing with recent privacy concerns, after a phenomenon called Zoombombing (=gate crashing a Zoom meeting with pornography) started. But often our clients are still keen to confirm that we are not using Zoom for their webcasts.

CISCO WebEx says it can handle up to 3,000 viewers, depending on your plan and equipment.

Microsoft Teams saves recordings of the meeting in Microsoft Stream, but unfortunately this can't be offered to viewers outside your organisation.

By contrast, live webcasts can accommodate tens of thousands of viewers. The feed is secured and constantly monitored. Passwords are single-login only.

3. HIGHER PERCEIVED VALUE

Your audience perceives live webcasts to be like television programs, rather than phone calls. Your customers and other external stakeholders consider them to be more valuable. The medium is the message.

Finally, beware! One thing video conferences and live webcasts have in common is the need to foster engagement. Video conferences are sometimes perceived to be more interactive, but frankly live webcasts should be, too. Avoid treating live webcasts as one-way viewing. They should be just as interactive as video conferences.

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