Terminal terminology

I have seen two articles appear on the web in the past few days, both in ‘live events’ trade publications, that show there is still much confusion around all the different techniques and terminology that can be applied to creating an “on line life” for live event content. Whether that be streaming a seminar, conference or congress that already exists for a physical audience (often termed a ‘hybrid event’), or one that is created purely for a remote web audience (a ‘virtual event’.)

The first article I saw was by Alison Ledger, Editor of Haymarkets newly launched associationeventplanner.com which succinctly goes straight to the heart of the commercial sense of taking a conference on line. The second was on the website of ACE (The Association for Conferences and Events) which gives a much broader appraisal of different methods of creating an online experience from an audio conference call upwards. The title of this second article…

“Webcast, videoconference, telepresence, teleconference or virtual event???”

…and the fact it ends in three question marks, is for me symptomatic of the confusion that still exists around on line events even in the inside world of event planning and production.

When it comes to giving a conference an on line life, the clearest way to think of it, is replicating the experience (as close as possible) of being in the room. The remote delegate should be able to see and hear what the physical delegate sees and hears and (in an ideal world) actively participaties in questioning and commenting. Once that concept is agreed, we can get the terminology out of the way and the rest is simple.

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?

What it is to be a Global Small Business

It’s great fun this global business malarkey!
Last week we were in Amsterdam and responsible for live webcasting the keynote speech at Blackberry DevCon Europe (and also recording many of the breakout sessions) working with our friends at Shelton Fleming and Blitz Communications. This week we were in Las Vegas with M-Is webcasting the HP press event announcing Proliant Gen8 servers. And now today and tomorrow we are recording a training course for ISUOG in Paris.
And all the time I’ve not set foot a plane!
Mostly London events for a while now so I won’t feel so left out of the air miles race.

Why web broadcasting is important

You have to be there!

Web broadcasting has changed the way we communicate with the world.

Now, pretty much anyone can reach an audience comparable in size to that achieved by the ‘old-school’ mainstream media. And the great thing is that there is hardly any sector of industry, field of expertise or area of interest that would not benefit from the highly effective and efficient communication that web broadcasting enables.
Not only that, now that it is affordable to associations or businesses of all sizes, web broadcasting is very democratic. Even individuals can join in!
Using web broadcasting, associations, businesses and individuals can compete equally for attention on this global stage.

By promoting web broadcasts via social media, significant audiences can be attracted at very low cost, with the side benefit of an enhanced online reputation and a higher profile and level of engagement. This can result in increased brand awareness and lead generation for companies and improved membership retention and recruitment for associations.
Of course, seminars, conferences and congresses provide ideal content for web broadcasting. But as well as this, training, induction and other internal and external communications projects may be broadcast to a ‘web only’ audience – often referred to as virtual events.

At this very moment, people could be watching your organization’s web broadcasts from virtually any place on earth. Take into account the affordable nature of the medium and the low cost of using social media to propagate your audience, and you can web broadcast your event to the world at a fraction of the cost of more traditional marketing techniques like print advertsing.
Broadcasting your knowledge or expertise over the web is one of the most powerful tools that any organization has at its disposal. If you don’t want to be left behind, your organization should be taking advantage of web broadcasting; many already are.

At a different level, the momentum created by the wild popularity of digital media with groups and individuals of every race, colour, creed and persuasion participating, means that web broadcasting is becoming truly universal in reach. By helping to disseminate knowledge and foster mutual understanding and empathy among disparate groups of people around the globe, web broadcasting has the potential to be a significant force for good.

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.

7 reasons to web broadcast your conference

BeThere Global live webcast

For those involved in organizing workshops, seminars, conferences and congresses… in fact pretty much any kind of face to face event, here are seven compelling reasons why you might want to web broadcast your event.

  1. You are 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. You want to engage a remote audience who cannot or will not physically attend your event.
  3. You believe that there is inherent value in the knowledge and expertise contained in your presentation content that would benefit a wider audience.
  4. You need to reduce the cost of your event; financial and/or environmental.
  5. You want to enhance the experience for delegates by giving them access to recordings of the sessions to view afterwards and share with colleagues.
  6. You would like to generate additional revenue for your organization through selling access to your web broadcasts or through sponsorship.
  7. You see an opportunity to build a library of assets to benefit your staff / customers/ members.

Which of these apply to your organization?

Challenge or opportunity?

Face to face versus virtual

There’s an almost palpable tension in the conference and events industry between face to face events and the ‘virtual’ or ‘online’ experience.

There seems to be a certain reticence from some traditional conference production companies, experiential agencies, PCOs and event owners with an established and vested interest in face to face events.. a feeling of “hang on, if we put all this on the web, if we make it available online, if we go down the route of virtual events, people are not going to come to our events anymore. Isn’t it going to kill our industry doing that?”

But actually the reverse is true because the whole principle of virtual, or on line events, web casting or web broadcasting (choose your appropriate terminology), is that it actually enhances face to face events.

People will always come to face to face events because they want to meet people, they want to bump into old friends and make new ones in the bar afterwards. People who want to attend are always going to attend and the idea that putting the conference content online will cannibalise physical attendance is quite simply misguided.

The flip side is that a significant percentage of people will never go to a particular event; people who just don’t want to turn up for whatever reason.
Isn’t it great that you could actually open up and engage with these people by putting your conference content online?

Of course the arguments are different for different types of organisation;

  • For the corporate event organiser, as well as efficiency and speed of communication – particularly for those operating internationally –  it’s about reducing cost and environmental impact.
    Isn’t it great that actually you don’t need to get every person travelling every time,  to every event; you can pick and choose. Let individuals go to the events where it is vital for them to be there in person, but if its not crucial they attend you can save money, be more sustainable.
  • For the trade association, the sector-specific body or other membership based organisation a similar argument applies. Most of these organisations only attract a small percentage of their total membership to their events. Those that do attend are not just there for the conference sessions; the reasons they attend are multiple. Similarly to their corporate counterparts this audience craves human interaction and relishes those chance conversations that open doors. But there are other drivers such as kudos, self-esteem and sometimes it is as prosaic as getting those extra air miles or hotel group loyalty points. So you will not ‘put-off’ people who have strong personal reasons for attending; what you can do is open up new wide or targeted audiences who cannot or will not attend. You can also enhance the experience of those physically attending by giving them the added value of being able to access, revisit and share sessions after the event. If this is included as an extra benefit within their registration fee, it’s a sure fire method of increasing rather than depleting physical attendance at future events!

Companies and organisations that run conferences and congresses need to face up to this current challenge and see it for the opportunity it represents. They have to adapt to benefit from the new order of things enabled by web broadcasting.

It is my belief that adaptation is not an option if an organisation intends to be around for the long term. Michael Anderson, the President and CEO of the Canadian Society of Association Executives put the situation for associations very succinctly in a speech at Association Congress 2011, when he said,

Michael Anderson

“An Association has to remain relevant; if you aren’t adapting to your member needs, if you are not looking down the road in terms of what is going to impact them, and preparing them, the organisation is going to become irrelevant fairly quickly.”

Virtual and online events are already impacting companies and organisations in the conference world because people are starting to expect that the content will be published on the web. The organisations that embrace this development as a positive force are the ones that will remain relevant and prosper.

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.