Reaching For Global Audiences

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Conference Technologies Opens Advanced Webcasting Services

While many rental companies have expanded their inventories to include the latest in video and audio production, Conference Technologies, Inc. (CTI) has chosen to pursue webcasting as a newer service in recent years. “We’ve been in the webcasting business for more than four years now, but we’ve never had so much webcasting work,” says Jimmy LoMonaco, national rental director for Conference Technologies. “With the uncertain economy, people are seeing the value of a technology that helps them reach out to large numbers of potential customers or staff at a minimal cost.”

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Conference Technologies has chosen to pursue webcasting as a newer service in recent years, which has been very lucrative for it.

LoMonaco says the work typically takes two forms. “For many of our customers, the cost of adding webcasting to an event they are already staging is minimal, but it can extend their reach to potential audience members when travel is restricted by cost or company policy. Others are switching certain meetings completely over to webcasts.”

Using webcasting as an add-on is what brought CTI Rental into the technology in the first place, “We have a client in St. Louis who holds a monthly employee recognition event. We set up the meeting so that its largest three offices could participate in a fully interactive videoconference while 100 additional participants watch live via an internal webcast.” The connections differ in that the webcast is mainly one-way, allowing participants to see and hear the presenter, while the presenter cannot see them. Participants in the webcast can, however, ask questions via an email link embedded into the webcast.

More Than a Standard Webcast

One reason why CTI’s webcasting service has been taking off is that the company offers quite a bit more than familiar online services such as WebEx or Microsoft’s LiveMeeting. “The majority of our customers have used these services,” LoMonaco notes, “but they switch to us because they’re looking for something better and more robust.”

In brief, the online services offer someone the ability to share a PowerPoint presentation live, adding the presenter’s voice as he or she explains each image. The user also has the option to capture the presentation on a server and offer it on-demand after the event is over. CTI takes the webcast to another level entirely. First, LoMonaco says his department can match the online services’ features, but while WebEx or LiveMeeting are limited to PowerPoint presentations, CTI can bring in any computer-generated feed and any video feed, live, recorded, or a combination of the two.

“It’s very difficult for participants to remain engaged if they’re just watching static slides and listening to a disembodied voice,” he explains. “We have the ability to include a second window in the webcast with a video image of the presenter. That can help our clients be a lot more effective.”

LoMonaco says he has staged webcasts where the entire presentation is recorded and edited in advance, and others that combine live and recorded material. “With LiveMeeting, if a presenter makes a mistake, you just have to live with it, but we can go back and polish the presentation,” he explains.

“For one client we taped a 45-minute presentation using a talk show format about two weeks prior to the webcast. We took that video, edited it, and embedded it into an HTML web page. We started the event by streaming the recorded program out to the audience, and when it was over, we switched live to the same presenters on the same set to answer questions submitted during the program.”

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Conference Technologies has staged webcasts where the entire presentation is recorded and edited in advance, and others that combine live and recorded material. (Inset) CTI built its webcasting solution using off-the-shelf hardware and software, but added to them with some customized components plus video, audio, and HTML production services. Advanced Webcast Technology

LoMonaco says CTI built its webcasting solution using off-the-shelf hardware and software, but added to them with some customized components plus video, audio, and HTML production services.

“We start with the Accordent Capture Station, which gives us all of the main pieces of the puzzle, from templates that help us determine how the webcast will look to capture to video streaming. And then, of course, we do the production services as well. For this type of meeting that’s more than just camera operators, sound, and lighting. You have to have HTML programmers able to build a web interface that matches the client’s own site.

“But what’s really valuable,” he explains “is that we’re able to offer the extra services that our larger clients are used to with LiveMeeting and WebEx. We contracted with a company to build a registration package that includes an ecommerce component -- for those times when a client wants to charge for a webcast -- and it can also compile lists of those signed up and facilitates e-mail reminders to those registered.

“We can do virtually anything that you would expect from a website or video production,” LoMonaco adds. “We can even embed testing for clients offering a class for certification. Many professional organizations, for example, are required to attend continuing education classes. We can set up a webcasting site so that members watch a class, take a test, and then the instructor and attendee get an email notification of the results.”

Prior to staging any event, LoMonaco says CTI will set up a test webcast to make sure everything will go smoothly. “Some corporations have webcasting blocked, so it’s very important to test the internal network. If we do find a problem, we can work with their IT department to open it up or, as an alternative, and we can provide a link to download the event at a later date if need be. Running a test webcast also allows them to make sure projectors and sound systems are working properly and that they have the correct version of Windows Media Player installed.”

CTI customers are often surprised by how powerful the medium can be. “We handle a monthly webcast for a company with clients all over the world. They are able to reach out to 1200–1500 clients and potential clients to share crucial information in a very practical way. You can bet that they have not only impressed their customers but also cemented the relationship. They’re able to offer timely information in a way that no one else has attempted.”

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