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Broadcasting Live Events: What You Need To Know – Understanding The Basics

Broadcasting a live event on the Internet requires a host of various resources. Outsourcing all or part of the process can leave you with more questions than answers. This two-part tutorial will provide an outline and checklist of what you need to know to stay ahead of the game.
Part 1: Broadcasting Live Events – What You Need To Know

When it comes to deciding on how to broadcast (typically refereed to as “webcasting”) your live event on the Internet there are many variables that exist. Many times, outsourcing your event to a service provider that specializes in these services can make the process much easier. Whether you choose to do the production using your own in-house resources, outsource to a service provider or a combination of both, there are some basics you need to know. Understanding the components of a live event will help you make sure the event goes smoothly and will give you an idea of what you should pay for these services.


Utilizing streaming media technology is a great way to take advantage of a global means of communication at a fraction of the cost of traditional broadcast mediums. When making the decision to use the Internet to broadcast your message, there are many decisions you need to make. Unless your corporation has the resources in-house to make the broadcast happen, most companies need to outsource the live event to a service provider to handle the webcast and the components that go with it.


Understanding The Basics
Before contacting service providers to get help with your broadcast, there are some basics you need to be aware of. Understanding what is involved in a live event from a technical perspective is important, as the technical resources chosen will be the biggest factor in the event cost and complexity. Typically a live event is broken down into five main components consisting of the following:

  • Audio and/or video capture
  • Signal acquisition
  • Content encoding
  • Delivery or distribution
  • Website interface integration

Audio and/or Video Capture
The first piece of any live event is audio and video content. Some events consist of just an audio component, such as a quarterly investors relations call, while others consist of video as well as audio. The first step in any live event is being able to record and film the content, otherwise known as “capture”. Many times, this factor can be one of the highest costs depending on the complexity of the capture needs.


Signal Acquisition
Once the audio/video content is captured, the signal needs to be transmitted to the location where it will be encoded. This process is typically done a few different ways depending on the event. The signal can be sent to a satellite in the sky (typically refereed to as “uplinking”) where it is then pulled down (otherwise known as “dowlinking”) at the service provider’s offices for encoding. Another way to capture the signal can be via a phone bridge, say if the live event content consists of just a conference call. The signal can also be sent via connectivity at the event location if the content is being encoded on-site from the venue.

Content Encoding
After the signal has been acquired via satellite, phone bridge or another method it needs to be encoded for distribution over the Internet. Encoding the content consists of taking the audio/video signal and transforming it into a streaming media file format ready for distribution on the Internet. These formats are what are being referred to when you hear the terms Windows Media, Real Media and QuickTime. Encoding is done by using an “encoder”, a hardware based device with capture cards and software that allows the signal to be digitized into one of the above mentioned file formats.

Delivery or Distribution
Now that the content has been captured, acquired and encoded, it is ready for delivery, which also can be referred to as “distribution”. Once the signal is encoded, it is sent to servers sitting on a delivery network that transmit the content to viewers via the Internet. For most service providers, the distribution of your content on the Internet is the largest cost associated with a live event. Understanding the components that effect the costs for these services will allow you to make sure you do not pay for delivery bandwidth you don’t end up using.

Website Interface Integration
Another technical piece that can typically be involved in broadcasts is website integration or interactivity. Live broadcasts on the Internet have the ability to include interactive functions such as chat, polling and power point slides. Additionally, you can have the service provider build you a micro website to host the event from as well as additional options such as setting up a registration interface which allows you to collect user data. Many options are available when it comes to interactivity and the complexity and amount of options chosen will effect the final cost for technical services.


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Determining Your Business Needs
Now that you know what is involved in the broadcast, you need to decide on the technical needs of your webcast. Depending on your needs and the type of broadcast taking place, webcasting your live event can require very little resources or have a lot of complexity. The scope and scale of the five components will determine the cost and resources needed to pull off a successful webcast. But before you answer the technical questions, you should ask yourself some business questions to get the most out of your broadcast.

  • Does the event need to be live?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • How do you plan on measuring your return on investment?

Does Your Event Need To Be Live?
While broadcasting your content live has its advantages, it is also more expensive than simply recording it and archiving it for later use. Many times, the nature of the content warrants it to be live, such as breaking news, a corporate announcement or an investors relations call. However, if the content is not of a time sensitive nature you may want to reconsider allocating the resources and budget of broadcasting it live and seek other options from the service provider.

Who Is Your Target Audience?
Understanding who your target audience is, your end users, is crucial in having a successful webcast. You can have a flawlessly produced broadcast from a technical standpoint but it can fail if it does not delivered the message you wanted to convey and if there are no end users watching it. When preparing to webcast your content figure out whom your ideal end user is. Knowing the time, physical location and way they will be able to access the broadcast is essential. This will also be a huge question when we talk about factors that effect the cost of the webcast.


How Do You Plan On Measuring Your Return On Investment?
Whether you spend $1,000 on a webcast or $10,000, no investment is worth the money if you are not prepared to judge how successful it was. Having a defined set of parameters that will allow you to see your ROI is essential. A large portion of the ROI is usually based on the metrics delivered after the webcast by the service provider. These reports (also known as “reporting”) vary in detail based on the distribution service provider chosen but will typically tell you how many people watched your broadcast and the average length they viewed. You should also judge the metrics based on the quality of the message you delivered. Was it clear, concise and delivered in the format and way you wanted? Also, if you made your viewers pre-register before the event, by filling in their contact information, you have the ability to send them a follow-up questionnaire asking for feedback. This is another great way to measure the effectiveness of your webcast.

Understanding these variables is the first step in broadcasting a successful live webcast on the Internet. Next week, in part two, we will discuss the factors that will determine the technical scale of your webcast and the cost of outsourcing as well as estimates of what you should pay for these services. Additionally, we will review some vendors in the service provider space who can help manage the pieces for you.
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