Zoom Zoom!

Zoom logo

 
A couple of days ago, we carried out a live link up between a hotel meeting room in Basingstoke, UK and a conference room in Washington DC, USA.

This wasn’t a webcast as such, because there was no requirement for viewers to join via the web. It was in fact a co-presented session at the National Speakers Association Conference “Influence 2015” in Washington DC on “Creating a new income stream with hybrid and virtual events”.

What was different was that the two speakers were more than 3000 miles apart; Media Coach Alan Stevens was on stage at the Marriott Wardman Park, while PlanetPlanit’s Paul Cook was (along withe the BeThere Global team) at the Hampshire Court Hotel, Basingstoke and projected on the screen in Washington.

For 90 minutes the pair entertained and informed the 100 or so physical delegates in the room in Washington – all professional speakers of course – on the very subject of “virtual speaking”.

From the flow of questions and the dialogue that ensued, clearly a topic of great interest to this audience. The session took the form of a masterclass in this particular form of hybrid event.

Topics covered included the future of events and how the landscape is changing and the different forms that hybrid events can take. But the lion’s share of the time, was devoted to practical hints and tips about how to dress, suitable backgrounds, how to address the camera, ensuring audience engagement and some of the technologies that enable it all to happen.  All of course presented from the perspective of a professional speaker.

In our role as creators of virtual and hybrid events, there was nothing particularly new or radical about this event, although for the audience in Washington it was quite a novelty. Where the interest lies for us, is in the fact that we were able to carry out a synchronous audio and video hook up without the expense of a cumbersome video conferencing unit at one extreme and without the vagaries and unpredictability of Skype at the other. Until recently these were really the only two practical options. One very expensive, the other just a bit scary and unpredictable!

What we used instead was a service called Zoom.us, which is essentially software video conferencing. Using this together with the hotels’ broadband connections (at both ends) and our regular BeThere Global hardware meant we lost none of our portability or speed of set up but were able to deliver something that would have been very complicated and costly not so long ago. What is exciting in terms of pushing the envelope for virtual events is that this same software allows the participation of up to 25 “callers” – or in our context “speakers”. With the right event design and careful management multi location virtual events are now an affordable reality for the mainstream conference market. This is fortunate, as we are increasingly being asked to provide exactly that!

 

How do you know if it’s working?

Having worked in the world of conferences and events my entire working life (to date) I have seen many fads and fashions come and go. Sometimes these have been technology and gimmicks used for the sake of it – clients and producers just wanting to have the latest bleeding edge product. Sometimes it has been a theme or approach inspired by some topical event, TV series or film.(Although I do lay claim to pitching a client an X-Factor theme a good decade before the TV series landed!). Something else that arrived around the mid 90’s but has proved itself much more than a fad (quite rightly), is ‘measurement’.

Previously clients were happy with a good ‘gut feeling’ or a reasonable number of (metaphorical) slaps on the back as the measure of success of a conference or event. But ever increasingly powerful procurement departments decided that just wasn’t good enough any more; it was necessary to prove that objectives were being met, that the return on investment justified the cost, that events work!

Along the way they took a lot of the fun out of the business. Conferences and events by and large grew more sterile, less creative… but at least they had statistics, graphs and balance sheets that proved their value! But there is the problem;  a lot of dry data is produced which is often difficult to digest and even harder to interpret. And who really believes statistics anyway?

Last month I learnt there is an organisation out there called Fr3dom Health, that has realised the problem with this approach and that numbers alone are not enough! Not only that, they have developed a platform to provide a sophisticated quantitative and qualitative measurement service for event owners that goes way beyond the spreadsheet. We were contracted by them to produce video content to support the measurement of the success of a large Department of Health event Innovation Expo 2013. As Toby Knightley-Day, MD of Fr3dom Health puts it

“Its about telling stories”.

That’s music to my ears.

Here is Toby talking about the event…

HTML5 Video – what does it look like?

BP US AthletesFollowing on from my post back in March, about some of the developments in transitioning to HTML5, this morning I read an exceptionally interesting post by THE streaming expert Jan Ozer on the highly informative  Streaming Media website, which alerted me to a very impressive “video-site” (to call it a web site doesn’t really do it justice) that demonstrates HTML5 video most effectively. Above is a screen grab from the home page.

I urge you to read that article as well as visiting the site, which is all about the US Olympic athletes. Use an up to date browser so that you can experience the HTML5 video to the full. Drill down through the site and view some of the athletes’ videos; it provides a great viewer experience.

In Jan Ozer’s interview with Michael Mangi, VP Interactive Technology at Ogilvy & Mather, who were responsible for creating the site for sponsors BP America Inc., Mangi states;

We wanted a fully immersive experience; video that fills the browser without cumbersome player controls or distractions

That is exactly what they achieved. Very exciting!

H.264, WebM, F4V, MP4, HTML5 and the f4vpp.exe

For a few years it was simple; Flash Video in the form of a .flv file was the preferred method of streaming to reach the widest possible audience. Then the H264 codec came along, HTML5 became a hot topic and Apple decided not to support Flash Video any more. Oh dear… it all got complicated and confusing again as the string of numbers and letters in the title of this blog confirms. Follow this link if you want to know more on the subject of The State of HTML5 Video.

So now, once again it’s a battle and we have two major competing formats; H264 and Google’s WebM (using the VP8 codec). Why oh why can’t they give these formats more user friendly names? This week WebM, took a major knockback when Mozilla (creators of the Firefox browser) announced support for H.264, which is now looking increasingly victorious in this latest format war.

Okay, so let’s assume that H.264 prevails and becomes the video compression technology of choice. Aside from concerns about H.264 being encumbered by patent royalty payments against the royalty-free WebM format, what does this really mean in practical terms for people like us who stream video both live and on demand?

Well, H.264 uses the MPEG-4 standard and can equal MPEG-2 quality at around half the data rate and across the entire bandwidth spectrum. So that means it’s great quality and efficient to stream to many different types of device using different speed connections. All good news so far, but there is a problem and it’s this; if you are using Flash Media Live Encoder 3.2 to create H.264 files as many webcasters currently do, then the F4V files created are designed to be streamed and will not play locally and cannot be edited!

Don’t despair; there is a sand wedge available to get us out of this particular bunker. Thanks to our CTO Mark Buckland for being a great Caddy and figuring out how to play this shot and making it as simple as possible! (Apologies for the abrupt jump into a golfing analogy, but it seemed to fit.)

First you have to ‘flatten’ the file using something called the f4v post processor. You can download this from the Adobe website as part of the Flash Media Server Tools. It doesn’t take long for a reasonable size file to process, but it is important to follow the following steps;

  1. Place the f4vpp.exe file in the same directory as the file you need to flatten.

  2. Open a command prompt window, by hitting Start and then type RUN in the search window.

  3. In the box that opens up type cmd.exe to open the Command prompt window.

  4. You now you need to Change Directory to the location where your f4v file (and of course the f4vpp.exe file) are located. If it happens to be a folder called ‘c:capture’, then the command you need to type is ‘cdcapture’.

  5. Next you need to enter the command to start the conversion. It must be typed accurately or the conversion will not work. Note that you cannot cut and paste either. The command is f4vpp.exe –i filename.f4v (where filename is the name of the file you wish to convert).

    Hit enter and the program will generate a new file with an ‘-f’ appended to the name, indicating that it has been flattened. This file can now be played locally.

  6. However, your troubles may not be over yet. These are not straightforward files to edit; if you don’t want it to re render itself completely that is. Often there are time pressures precluding this. The simplest and fastest technique we have found in this case is to first of all to change the file extension to mp4, simply by renaming it. The system will warn you that the file may not be usable afterwards but you can ignore this.

  7. Now you can use a program called Xilisoft Video Cutter 2 to mark the start and end points of the video. Note you can mark multiple video clips by hitting the + symbol and marking more clips. When you are ready hit CUT. The system will prompt for a file name and location for the new files and you can select to ‘keep the original format’ if that is what you want. When you are ready click ‘OK’.

    A new file will be created with ‘–cut’ added to the file name. These are true mp4 files and will play on most devices.

I wonder what challenge will be thrown at us next?

Shout about it!

You have to be there!

Making bigger gains, whatever that might be in your particular circumstances is often dependent on one’s ability to reach a larger audience. Of course this is the fundamental principle behind advertising; spend to reach a large audience and then let the customer come to you, pre qualified. The key point is that the customer has to know you exist before they can purchase anything from you.

The same principle applies in web broadcasting; the target audience needs to be built, nurtured and promoted-to. It is no good setting up any kind of web broadcast and not preparing and informing your audience in just the same way as you would in setting up a face to face event. In fact you probably need to do a lot more, as without travel involved it is very easy to just not ‘show up’!

Just like the advertising analogy, your audience need to know your event exists and know how to join in – otherwise they won’t buy it. The right people are very unlikely to just come across your web broadcast at the right time without influence. And depending on your relationship with your audience that ‘influencing’ might be a case of telling, persuading, cajoling, telling again… yes shouting about it!

It is imperative your web broadcast is marketed effectively to your audience and they need to be totally informed as to when, where and how it will take place. They must make an appointment with your web broadcast, put it their diary, their Outlook, their Google Calendar, their iCalendar… just as if they were attending a physical conference.

Embedding webcasts into Facebook

Live stream embedded in Facebook

As I write this, we are working with our friends at George P Johnson to live webcast the IBM Smarter Business 2011 conference taking place in Oslo. Their clients at IBM have embedded our stream into their Facebook page.

I must admit to thinking it was only possible to embed a live video stream in Facebook using the Livestream plug in. Very encouraging to see this is plainly not the case. I think we will be shamelessly borrowing this technique in the future! Good work IBM!

7 Questions Conference Organizers should ask themselves about their events

2 camera live webcast
  1. Are you frustrated at the amount of time and effort that goes into putting the presentations together, for them only to be seen and heard once by an audience limited to the number of seats you can squeeze in the room?
  2. Do you want to engage a remote audience who cannot or will not physically attend your event?
  3. Do you believe that there is inherent value in the knowledge and expertise contained in your presentation content that you should be recording?
  4. Do you want to reduce the cost of your event? Of course this needn’t be limited to hard cash; you may be looking to reduce the environmental price tag too.
  5. Do you want to enhance the experience of delegates by giving them access to recordings of the sessions?
  6. Are you trying to find new ways to retain and recruit members?
  7. Are you looking for new ways to generate revenue for your organization?

If you answered yes to any of these, then you should be talking to us about recording and webcasting your next conference, congress, seminar or presentation.

Why? Because we have a straightforward, proven and affordable solution to all of these problems.

Please get in touch, or simply fill in the form.

It’s a matter of space and time

4th Dimension

No I’m not going on about relativity or quantum physics, not even about Star Trek or Doctor Who. What I’m referring to is one of the first things a conference organiser must  consider when deliberating over webcasting their event is the question;

“Will it be ‘live’… or ‘on demand’… or both?”

The correct answer depends on the nature of the event and the objectives for considering webcasting in the first place.
So, it’s a matter of space and time? Well yes; first of all consider Space.

SPACE

Live web broadcasting a conference is a way to take your (or your clients) message and deliver it to an audience beyond the four walls of the conference venue. For the remote viewer the experience is the next best thing to ‘being there’ and clearly they get to see and hear the event at exactly the same time as the audience in the room.

TIME

Recording and making the conference available as an ‘on demand’ web broadcast is a way to maximise the value of the content by allowing a wider audience to access and benefit from the content over an extended period of time.

Below is a 5 minute diversion from the world of webcasting, to a Doctor Who take on the subject of space and time from this year’s Red Nose Day.

A little thing that makes a big difference

Forklift

It’s part of daily life for us to be uploading heavy files up to the web. Anything from a 200MB flash video recording of a speech to high definition corporate videos weighing in at a few gigabytes. Not so long ago files of this size would have necessitated physical delivery on a disk or remote drive. For over five years now we’ve been moving this type of file around effortlessly, and in the spirit of sharing a ‘good thing’ I thought the service we’ve been using worthy of a plug here.

That service is called YouSendIt. To date the facilities they provide have been faultless and highly efficient. A number of innovative applications make it readily usable from a number of common software packages and the ability to add branding (paid version) gives the interface a polished and professional look.

My favourite bit is the YouSendIt Express desktop application. Using this, if you lose your Internet connection or have to shut down for some reason, when you connect again the upload will resume from the point of interruption – a great usability bonus!

YouSendIt logo

We tried a few other services before settling on this one, but none of them we found matched up to the all round quality that YouSendIt provides.

Thank you YouSendIt!

[BeThere Global Limited has no commercial interest or connection with YouSendIt – save for paying our monthly subscription that is!]

Why weight – the perils of excess baggage

A word of advice for anyone planning to fly with excess baggage; be very careful which airline you choose!

In travelling around with our equipment, however portable it might be, there are often times when the question of excess baggage is raised; increasingly so as airlines tighten their belts.

We learnt through bitter experience a year or so back that the wrong choice of airline can make a difference of thousands of pounds to the cost of getting to and from the required destination.

We nearly succumbed to the same trap again this last week when booking flights for our technician to get out to Macau, China to record ISUOG’s (The International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology – rarely is an acronym so sorely needed!) 7th International Scientific Meeting which takes place at the end of this month.

Initially we booked with Cathay Pacific who seemed to be offering a good deal and the right flight times. Upon further inspection however it turned out that the excess baggage charges over and above the one checked bag allowed, would be $60 per kilo per leg; $120 for the round trip. Even for the modest single extra 20Kg bag we were planning this amounted to an eye-watering $2,400! More than four times the original ticket price!

Fortunately we saw the light in time (i.e. re read the small print on the Cathay Pacific website) and re booked on a Virgin flight for a similar ticket price but where an extra bag costs $48 each way; a saiving of $2304 on the round trip! (British Airways have a similar charging structure to Virgin.)

Why can’t all airlines be as sensible as Virgin and BA… at least as regards excess bagage?