Many people mistakenly use the terms webcasting and webconferencing interchangeably, making it difficult for those who aren’t familiar with either term to understand how each of them should be used. Over time, these two terms have become so confused with each other, even providers often use the terms incorrectly. To avoid adding to the confusion, it is important for those who use live webcasting and web conferencing to learn the differences between the two and when each one should be used.
The Basic Differences
When you are talking about web conferencing, you are talking about the use of video and audio to conduct a meeting of sorts. With this method, you will be able to share slides and desktop views, conduct polls and more. Everything is broadcast through the Internet, and the audio is typically transmitted online or through the telephone lines. A web conference works best for businesses that want to hold meetings or other events where everyone is encouraged to participate.
Webcasting is actually much different. First, webcasts are sometimes prerecorded, though there is live webcasting available as well. While webcasting offers audio and video as well; the audio is typically only from the presenter and the audience doesn’t verbally participate. However, there are interactive features, such as polls and Q&A sessions that can be used with a webcast, allowing you to keep your audience interested. For these reasons, this method of web communication is best for larger audiences.
While both web conferencing and webcasting have similar purposes – to portray information to a specific audience – understanding the differences can help you choose the right one. With that said, there are three key factors you need to consider: your audience, the quality of the presentation and your budget.
When you are dealing with the audience, you need to consider the size of your audience and where they are located.
The Location – The first thing you need to consider is where your audience is located. Are they at home, in a large corporation or a small business? Where are they located around the globe? Answering these questions can have a major impact on whether you choose live webcasting or web conferencing.
Another thing to consider relating to location is what type of software the method you choose uses. When you choose web conferencing, you likely will use Java-based software that requires a download, especially if you are using application sharing. People who are attending via computers located within larger businesses may not have the ability to download the needed software to their computer, making conferencing a poor choice. Those who work in smaller businesses or in their own homes have more flexibility to download. You can still use conferencing with large corporations, but it is important to realize many users won’t have access to application sharing.
Webcasting, on the other hand, typically uses the software that is already found on most computers. This allows more flexibility in who you can reach with your webcast. No one needs to download anything; they simply need to log in and start watching.
The geographic location of your audience also plays a role. When you choose webcasting, you will provide one link for everyone to use, no matter where they are. However, with web conferencing, a bridge is typically used, depending on the size of your audience. This can mean providing different numbers for each geographical region so everyone can attend.
Size – The number of people you are expecting can have a major impact on which of these tools you choose. Consider whether you are holding a smaller meeting or if you expect a large number of people to attend. If you are only hosting a small session for around five to 10 people, web conferencing can be the right choice, especially if you would like to interact with the attendees. Webcasting is more suitable for larger audiences, though interactive features can still be used.
The ease of use for your audience is also important when considering the size of your audience. Because a web conference often requires the download of a plug-in or software, it is better suited for smaller audiences, rather than bogging down the server with large numbers of people downloading at once. No one wants to wait long periods of time for the event to begin.
Web conferencing is simply designed to accommodate fewer people. This is partially due to the document sharing capabilities. However, when you choose webcasting, you will have greater scalability, allowing you to fully customize your event for just about any number of participants.
Every business wants their presentation to be as successful as possible. However, you don’t always need the highest level of streaming in your presentation. For instance, if it is a small meeting between employees within your own company, you can settle for lower bit-rate than if you will be presenting to potential investors or your customers. There are three major factors that play a role in your presentation quality: audio alone vs. video, branding and reliability of your broadcast.
Video – Webcasting and web conferencing both use video in their presentations. However, webcasts often have much higher quality than web conferences. This is because a web conference typically uses a web cam, while a webcast often uses a higher grade camera for better results.
In general, many web cams that are currently available are able to provide high-quality images. Because these web cams are operated by amateurs, though, the quality is often lower than it could be. Webcasts are often produced, requiring a professional operator for the camera and editing abilities to create the best possible presentation quality. A professionally-produced piece is typically preferred by larger businesses.
The final difference between these two methods relating to video is webcasts are designed to work with video, while web conferences simply use video as an add-on to the audio.
Branding – Branding is an important aspect to any business. When you are holding an internal meeting, though, branding isn’t important. Larger events, especially those geared toward your clients, require you to implement your branding into the presentation. Completing this task is often much easier with webcasting than it is for web conferencing. In fact, you can customize your webcast to fit the style of your company, using your logo and colors throughout the presentation. With a web conference, your branding will be severely limited.
Reliability – Web conferencing is typically created from the presenter’s computer, which poses the risk for crashing, particularly because this computer is used for a large number of tasks on a daily basis. The Internet connection of this user can also have an impact on the success of the conference, which can lead to failure or a slow-down, especially if a firewall is involved.
In contrast, webcasting is often created with cameras and computers that are specifically designed for this task, increasing the reliability. In fact, webcasts often include a backup to ensure the success of the event. In addition, webcasts are run from networks that are designated for this purpose alone, allowing for smoother flow and more reliable streaming.
The final consideration in making your choice between live webcasting and web conferencing is your budget.
Web conferences are often billed based on the amount of time you use, as well as the number of participants. This means larger conferences will require a much larger budget. You are paying for the use of the bridge required, as well as the software used to run the conference. Because of the way web conferencing is billed, it can often be difficult to have an exact budget in mind before you hold the meeting. This is why some businesses prefer to use webcasting, which often charges a fixed rate, no matter how many people attend.
Costs can vary so dramatically between the two, it is important to closely evaluate your options to find the most cost-effective solution. For instance, you could be hosting a one hour event for 200 people. If you are using a web conferencing solution, the cost could be 35 cents per minute, allowing you to only reach an American audience. This would cost you over $4,000. If you need to reach an audience outside the United States, your cost could rise even more. Archiving adds even greater costs.
If you choose to turn that same event into a webcasting event, though, you could cut your costs in half. You could even increase the size of your audience and change where they are located without seeing a change in the price.
Before you make your final decision on whether to use live webcasting or web conferencing, take the time to evaluate these three factors. When you do, you will be able to make the right choice for your conferencing needs.