Web conferencing and video streaming. Two terms that seem to represent the same kind of thing. However, whilst both deliver real-time online experiences, web conferencing and video streaming solve different challenges and provide different benefits and solutions to business users. Let’s take a look at the characteristics and advantages of using each.

What is web conferencing?

Web conferencing is effectively a collaborative online meeting designed for small group sessions.

Web conference applications, like WebEx, GoToMeeting and Skype are a great way of holding online meetings with a limited number of people from different locations. Through desktop sharing, it’s easy to have conversations aided with pictures or webcam video, generally with up to 250 others – all in real-time.

Generally you access these web conferencing platforms through web apps or installed software, which means your audience needs to download and install the application in advance and this can also mean that you are sometimes restricted in what devices you can participate from.

Another reason web conferencing is like an online meeting is that by default you can see the details of all the other participants in the session, with the chance to interrupt or question the presenter with limited or no ability to moderate offline.

Commercially, web conferencing is usually licensed based on the maximum number of concurrent live viewers. So, if you want 50 people to join your online meeting, you pay for 50 seats. This can be somewhat of a barrier to large-scale use for internal meetings or presentations, as it can be cost-prohibitive to upgrade the licences to account for an all staff town hall for example.

Web conferencing is also extremely bandwidth intensive, and using it as a platform to broadcast a presentation to large numbers of staff could easily overwhelm the corporate network.

PROS: Real-time desktop sharing and collaboration, ease of use, ability to share presenter mode with different attendees.

CONS: Pay per viewer model can be expensive, bandwidth impact on corporate network, user experience / value of recorded session is limited

What is live streaming?

Webcasting or live streaming is effectively an online broadcast designed for one-to-many communication.

Video streaming takes the concept of web conferences one step further. By giving essentially unlimited numbers of people access to the same video at once, users have the ability to communicate with a much larger, global audience on almost any device without the need to download anything in advance.

Since the presentation is accessible from any browser or device with internet capability, engagement can happen inside or outside the corporate network. Because of its flexible nature, video streaming also allows both live and on-demand access of messages. This means that regardless of location, time zone or working hours, people can view the same content.

One of the benefits of webcasting or live streaming an event as opposed to just filming it for later distribution is the ability to have online viewers contribute questions, answer polls and surveys or pose comments to the presenter. Unlike web conferencing, this can be moderated so that only relevant questions are put forward to the presenter or shared with the online audience, facilitating community engagement while keeping the dialogue on topic.

Just as TV viewing has been transformed by technology like Foxtel iQ and Netflix, the ability to turn a live CEO announcement into a searchable, on-demand video has had a similar impact on internal communications. Now it’s a no-brainer to make internal presentations available to staff on whatever device they want, when it’s convenient for them to view it.

In terms of bandwidth, adaptive streaming automatically detects viewer device and available bandwidth to play the optimum format, but like all good tech it’s invisible so all the viewer has to do is press play. Video streaming is now commonly based on HTTP protocol (HLS) which means that both live and recorded presentations can be cached on corporate networks, significantly reducing bandwidth consumption and effectively making 100 viewers look like 1 in terms of impact of viewing content on the network.

PROS: Scale to support large (e.g. all-staff) presentations or briefings, ease of re-purposing content for on-demand convenience, no downloads, management of viewer interactivity

CONS: Greater effort involved in setting up, not cost-effective for small group presentations

Which one is best for me?

Web conferencing and webcasting really aren’t directly competing solutions so their relative suitability depends on your requirements.

If you have a meeting or presentation you need to share online with a small audience then web conferencing is a great option. Similarly, if you simply require small groups to collaborate on projects and don’t need or want the session to be accessible on-demand, web conferencing might be better suited. We use this type of solution ourselves when conducting product training with remote customers and it’s a simple, effective way of sharing desktop and audio with them.

For large-scale communication (e.g. If your workforce is spread across the globe but needs to get the same message at the same time), then video streaming would be a better option. It will give your online audience a high-quality, interactive experience that will complement that of the in-room guests and give everyone the sense they’ve been able to participate and contribute, while managing Q&A to help make your presentation a success.

How can we help?

At Viostream, we help organisations reach and engage their audiences using online video – from live streaming to searchable, on-demand video galleries. For more information on what we offer or to talk about any questions you have, feel free to reach out to us today.