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Webcasting 101

Posted by Brad Spinsby on December 20, 2013

The webcast is a quick and effective way to extend those live presentations and programs outside your business’s brick and mortar to a global audience waiting for video. Webcasts or multicasts are easy to produce if you know how, but tricky for novices. The workflow of a webcast follows a simple route but contains many caveats along the way. Detailed below is each stage of stage of the webcast and the factors to consider.

1st Signal Stage: Your Video Production Team:

First, decide whether you want to broadcast in high definition or standard definition. From the native camera file you will need to scale the footage down during encoding. If you choose higher definition you have more options, but higher resolution also places more work on your encoder. Second, you need to decide the size of your production team. The nature of the production will dictate the size of the crew. For your CEO’s yearly address to employees a camera operator and audio technician is probably sufficient. For large events consider a multi-camera crew with additional operators, switcher and technical director, and additional audio requirements before you tackle the webcast. The key to a successful webcast is a quality video production crew.

2nd Signal Stage: The Encoder:

To create files that are webcast ready, the raw camera files from the camera must be fed to the encoder and made into compressed digital files. Before encoding can begin make sure the output for your camera and input to your encoder are compatible. The encoder takes the raw camera files and converts them to stream-ready files like Quicktime H.264, Flash, or Windows Media. There are many encoders on the market. There are software encoders that can work directly from your laptop with Telestream Wirecast, standalone hardware encoders, like Harmonic encoders, or cloud encoders like Adobe Connect. There are hundreds of solutions on the market, so deciding which encoder will depend on many factors; hardware on your computer, portability, amount of streams needed, etc.

The Final Stage:

The Stream: The encoded footage now needs to be sent to a web location. Before you send the stream out you should have an approximation of how many people you think will view your video. This will provide whoever is streaming your video an accurate estimate of bandwidth needed. For the do-it-yourselfer with a smaller audience you can use a couple options. You can stream to a server, but the file type must be compatible with the server, or you can use a third party website that will host your streamed video like Ustream, Livestream, or Youtube and many other. The third party website is most accessible and popular option especially if you don’t have an internet resource for hosting you stream. The third party streaming website requires you to stream from their website or some offer the option to embed the stream on your own site. When you choose a streaming service also check the venue for its internet bandwidth to ensure proper speed for your webcast. You can also encode multiple streams, i.e. one in low quality or high quality, Quicktime of Flash, PC and a Smart Device. Although this requires additional bandwidth and faster hardware on your encoder it allows for better access for you audience.

Webcasting Company Solutions:

Webcasting Pic 2(1)The above steps are great for a do-it-yourself team, but if you have a large high-profile project and are new to webcasting a webcasting company might be a solution. There are companies that will provide you encoding and streaming in one package. If you provide them with a video signal they can turn it into the webcast that you need. Some of these popular companies are Intercall, ON24, Livestream, and Media Platform. They have great customer service and can walk you through the steps of your webcast.

“The devil in the details,” best describes a webcast.

Make sure you know the outputs of your camera and inputs of your encoder, understand you audience needs and when they are watching the webcast, and do a test prior to the shoot. A webcast always starts as video production and becomes an IT solution, and the balance between the two is essential for success.

There are thousands of solutions out there for that perfect webcast, and I have only mentioned a few. Please share with us any solution that you have used before in the past that you thought made your webcast brilliant.

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