Webcasting (Part 2): Specifics, Issues & Recommendations

Like with most project management, one key component to planning and executing a successful event is the ability to foresee potential pitfalls along the way. What’s caused others to fail before? Where are those bumps in the road that wait to derail all the time, money, and reputation that have already been invested? It can be a daunting task after all – managing something as unfamiliar as a foreign language, let alone recommending it to superiors.

If you haven’t already, we recommend going back and reading our earlier installments on the topics – Hybrid Meetings   and Webcasting: Is It Right for You?  (Part 1) – for a general understanding of the concepts and applications of this technology. But if you’re ready to take the next steps, one of the best places to start when managing any new territory is learning what to watch out for.

The first, and possibly the easiest place to start is with assessing the internet and its viability at your venue. It’s important to note that this topic can be complex and technical, but for the purposes of highlighting common pitfalls, we’ll keep things simple.

First, you’re going to want a hardline connection to the internet at your venue, as opposed to relying on wifi. The reason is as simple as this: eliminate one more variable out of a long list, and provide a more stable connection. All this means to you is that there needs to be a hardline wall outlet for your internet connection available in or near the space you’re broadcasting from. It may seem obvious, but as wifi becomes more universally available, you need to be very clear that you require a hardline connection.

Second, you need to confirm the capacity of the internet provided at the venue – and that means bandwidth. In layman’s terms – you can think of bandwidth as a highway, and the audio and visuals that you’re webcasting out are just using this highway to get there. Just like a highway, bandwidth incorporates traffic flowing in two different directions: Upload, and Download. For the purposes of your webcast venue, you should be primarily concerned with upload speed. So, if that bandwidth highway isn’t wide enough, you end up with a traffic jam – but instead of honking horns, you’re getting angry phone calls from people who aren’t seeing or hearing anything on the other side. The bandwidth requirements can vary depending on the specifics of your webcast, but it’s usually a simple confirmation – either the venue has enough, or it doesn’t. Find out about your venue’s bandwidth in terms of upload and download speeds, and compare that against your webcast requirements.

If your venue doesn’t have ample bandwidth, you may be able to increase it. That, however, is a topic for another article. So that brings us to the third point: when your venue DOES have ample bandwidth, an easy place to get burned is when that bandwidth isn’t dedicated to just your webcast. Are your attendees connecting to the wifi during your event? If your hardline is not providing a separate, dedicated connection, you can think of every attendee that may be using the wifi as another car on that highway that adds to the congestion. Don’t let a rogue Facebook post or a hefty email turn your cruise control into stop-and-go traffic, and ask your venue if your hardline internet connection is dedicated.

Lastly, once your webcast successfully leaves the building, your bandwidth troubles aren’t over. Again, just like a highway, traffic moves in both directions at your venue, AND at the destination. You may have wore your fingers to the bone in confirmation emails with your venue, only to be foiled by bandwidth issues on the other side! This is where you need to be concerned about the download speed. Essentially, every computer that displays your webcast is downloading it, and you can only download so much at any one time. Oftentimes with corporate webcasts, the content is being sent to people at another facility. So if everyone at the facility is sitting in front of his or her own computer, you may end up a traffic jam of another sort. It’s important to have an idea of how many people will be tuning in as a general statement, but if you’re dealing with multiple viewers under one roof, be sure the bandwidth at that facility is prepared to handle the specific requirements of your webcast. You might consider grouping people together to watch it on a single display to ease that burden.

Another complex topic we’ll attempt to decode simply is the web browser. Do the names “Internet Explorer”, “Google Chrome”, “Safari”, or “Mozilla Firefox” mean anything to you? Just like there are many platforms for webcasting, there are also many platforms (called browsers) used to surf the web. These browsers (like those listed above) are just windows through which to view and interact with on internet, and some will be better than others depending on which platform you’re using to webcast. By and large, most of the corporate world uses Internet Explorer – but regardless, you should be sure to confirm which browser(s) your remote audiences will be using to view the webcast. You should also ask your webcasting partner if there are any browsers that are problematic, or that need special instructions. That way, when you send your webcast link out to those viewers, you can help them avoid any issues in advance.

One pitfall that may fly under the radar until it’s too late applies more for webcasts available to the public; however, it is important to know in any context. And that is the use of copyrighted materials. Just like the music you hear on the soundtrack to a movie, any intellectual property you’re using must be licensed in order to broadcast; after all, you’re using someone else’s work. So if you’ve asked your audiovisual partner to play some music through the sound system during cocktail hour or during a break between sessions, be sure to specify that the music must not be heard on the webcast. This also applies to visual content as well. It could be a snippet of an inspiring film to rally your employees, or even just the background music in a playful, employee-made holiday video – you must be mindful of what you’re sending out regardless. Of course, even with live events contained to one space, copyright issues can still technically come into play – but any time you’re webcasting, you have to be extra careful.

Test, Test, Test
All of these potential roadblocks are important to mitigate in advance. However, the nature of webcasting does require a certain amount of buffer time (no pun intended) in order to ensure everything is aligned correctly. Rest assured, many webcasting platforms offer support on the “back-end”, which in your perspective will come in the form of onsite phone calls between your webcasting engineer, and a representative of the webcasting platform. This is normal, and it allows for a greater level of control over the entire process; it just requires time to go through these motions. We recommend testing a full day in advance as a best-case scenario, and a three-hour window before going live should be your worst-case scenario. In any case, you should have someone viewing the test webcast in the same fashion as your remote attendees will be – that way you’ll have piece of mind that everything is functioning properly from A to Z, and you’ll have time to address any issues at any step of the way.