Internet video streaming and video conferencing services: The basics
Many organizations are deploying live and on-demand video to communicate with employees, customers, suppliers, and other partners. While there is a rich offering of free and for-fee live and on-demand video services to facilitate these efforts, identifying the right category of service and providers within that category can be confusing.
The major categories of live and on-demand services are outlined below with suggestions to consider when choosing a category or service provider. Let's start with live services.
There are four major product categories to consider for live communications. These include:
- Video chat for one-to-one chats or with a few participants
- Video conferencing for facilitating meetings among multiple participants all communicating via video
- Webinar services for presenting rich media (i.e., PowerPoint, screencam, live and on-demand video) to groups with outbound video only. These services include a rich set of engagement and presentation tools like polls and quizzes, as well as back-end integration with marketing automation systems
- Live streaming for streaming high-quality video to viewers inside and outside the firewall
Let's examine each category in turn.
Video chat is for video calls between two or just a few participants. Though there are multiple free and paid alternatives for these calls, Skype is generally the leading contender because so many people use it and are familiar with the software, and because it's available on so many platforms. Skype can support as many as 50 callers at once and record all calls. Callers can also share their screens, chat, share files, and blur their backgrounds, which is great if you didn't make your bed that morning or tidy up the kitchen.
Though most Skype calls are made directly from within the application, a new option called Skype Meet Now lets you create a link you can email or text to as many as 50 participants, who just click the link to join the call. Skype is free for computer-to-computer calls, with paid options for calls to local or international phone numbers.
Skype's fair usage policy limits individual video calls to four hours, combined daily calls to 10 hours, and monthly calls to 100 hours. If your planned usage will bump up against these limits, you'll need to find an alternative.
Video conferencing services attempt to foster the environment and productivity of an in-person meeting but for dozens if not hundreds of remote participants. This segment has multiple service providers, including BlueJeans Meetings, Cisco Webex, Google Hangouts and Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams.
How to choose among these providers? Small organizations targeting a limited number of participants should focus on feature set and price. For example, does the service support whiteboard capabilities for brainstorming and breakout sessions for intrameeting collaborations? Does it offer a free option, and what do you get for it?
Large organizations planning events with large numbers of participants should assess how the candidate service integrates with existing hardware capabilities like video conferencing systems and the cost and availability of dial-in connections for external audio-only connections. Also, check details like the maximum number of simultaneous video participants and options for organizing and displaying participant videos on screen. A grid view for displaying all video participants is helpful, as are dedicated views for presenters or the person speaking at that time.
All organizations should consider how the conferencing system will integrate into other applications commonly used by employees—whether it's Microsoft 365, Google G Suite, Slack, Salesforce, or other portals—and if single sign-on capabilities are supported. Also, check which operating systems, browsers, and devices the conferencing system supports and whether the system can run from a browser as opposed to an application, so users don't have to download and install the app.
All organizations should also be concerned with security and privacy. Most of the lower-level plumbing of these systems is very secure, with encryption and similar technologies protecting the content. However, Zoom, in particular, has experienced some very public security failures since the lockdown raised its profile, including a recent lawsuit related to disclosure of personal information. Zoom has addressed some of these security concerns.
Of course, no security schema is foolproof, and all systems and data are secure until they are not. Be sure to research the security and privacy policies and record of all candidate services before making your selection. Also check that support options are affordable and available during your planned conferences.
Where video chat and video conferencing services produce and deliver many-to-many low-latency video streams, webinar programs are fundamentally one-to-many services, whether used for training, communications, sales, or marketing. Familiar names in this space are GoToWebinar, GlobalMeet, WorkCast, Cisco Webex, Onstream Webinars, Intrado, and On24 Webcast Elite. Let's examine the key features of these services within the context of a typical webinar production workflow.
Many webinars are produced to capture contact information for prospecting, and most services let you create branded registration pages and send the usual confirmation emails and reminders. If you'll be prospecting in the European Union, make sure the system is GDPR compliant. Also, if you're looking to charge for the webinar, make sure the service provides or can integrate with a paywall.
During the event, your service should support inputs like video, audio, slides, and screenshare, along with quizzes, polling, chat, Q&A, and downloads. Whiteboards are not universally supported but useful for informal discussions and brainstorming. You should be able to incorporate your branding into the webinar interface and check whether plug-ins or apps are required for watching and participating in the webinar from computers and mobile devices.
If you're presenting the typical PowerPoint with a small speaker video, video resolution isn't a major concern. If you're presenting full-screen video, 720p resolution or higher is a must. All services should handle webcam input or video cameras via RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol) capture devices, but integration with video conferencing equipment is not universal. Most systems can handle multiple speakers from different locations, but the degree of difficulty and cost varies; if your programs will have multiple speakers, make sure this feature is user-friendly.
The system should support live, prerecorded, and "simulive" presentations, where you run a previously recorded webinar with live responses to Q&A and chat. It should also record the webinar for on-demand viewing. During the event, make sure you have access to engagement data like the number of participants who chat, download handouts, ask questions, and answer polls. After the event, this data should flow into your marketing automation program, along with a lead score if the service provides it. Finally, look for a service with a simple flat-rate pricing structure to eliminate any unwelcome surprises and one with affordable and responsive support options.
Live streaming is another one-to-many, video-only medium for distributing video with minimal viewer interaction. There are multiple free (YouTube Live and Facebook Live) and for-fee options (BoxCast, Brightcove, Dacast, Vimeo, StreamShark, and Wowza). All services deliver 1080p video using adaptive bitrate technologies to ensure that viewers on all devices have the highest possible quality streams to consume.
All services provide a complete turnkey package; you connect the live stream to the service, and it transcodes, delivers, and supplies a player for viewing. It also converts your live streams to on-demand files that you can download and deploy elsewhere.
Though the price is certainly right, most organizations eschew Facebook Live and YouTube Live as their primary streaming platform because there are no support options. No worries; if these platforms are important to your brand, most of the other services can deliver a stream for viewing on these platforms as well as a stream you can deliver from your own site.
When choosing between the other services, there are two primary considerations. First, if you're delivering video both inside and outside the firewall, check for CDN (enterprise content delivery or distribution network) features that will allow you to deliver inside the firewall without swamping your network. Second, if you plan on creating a YouTube-like environment for all of your enterprise videos, including live videos converted to on-demand, you'll want to consider the on-demand features discussed in the next section.
Once you produce a few live events, whether webinars, streaming videos, or conferences, you'll want a centralized location to store them for on-demand viewing. Most organizations are also building a library of videos produced for training, communications, onboarding, sales, and marketing, which also need a home.
Many organizations host marketing and other outfacing videos on YouTube, but obviously, that doesn't work for premium content you may want to monetize or videos you don't want to share with the public. Organizations that distribute content to generate advertising or subscription revenue often use online video platforms (OVPs) like Brightcove and Kaltura that provide functionality similar to YouTube's, including content management, encoding, delivery, player development and maintenance, and analytics. Most OVPs supply both live and video on demand (VOD) functionality, so if you plan to offer both live and on-demand content, you should consider both in your analysis.
Companies concerned with distributing video internally typically deploy via enterprise video platforms (also known as enterprise YouTubes), provided by companies like Microsoft, VIDIZMO, MediaPlatform, Panopto, Intrado, and others. Most products support content or department-specific channels and customizable portals accessible via single sign-on with your existing authentication service. Typically, there are also definable roles that enable some users to upload content and others to moderate and approve it.
Some systems allow organizations to assign videos to specific employees and confirm completion, which is useful for onboarding or regulatory compliance. Typically, VOD consumption isn't as disruptive as live events because it's more spread out. Still, if you anticipate significant video consumption inside the firewall, you should prioritize systems with network-friendly distribution features.
Video has a proven ability to assist sales, marketing, training, communications, and most other enterprise functions. Hopefully, you now have a better feel for the type of system or systems you should consider deploying and features to look for in the candidate systems.
Internet video basics: Lessons for leaders
- Clearly identify the organization's needs for selecting a vendor.
- Make certain support will be adequate and available during live events.
- Check if your in-house conferencing hardware is supported by the vendor.
- How to produce multiple assets from a company video
- The tech behind streaming media
- Public video surveillance: Smile! You're on municipal camera!
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