When it comes to choosing a webcast platform, you have several options. But the first thing on your list should be to know what a webcasting platform is or if you even need one. A webcast platform is so much more than just a stream on some social media page such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitch and Zoom. You can up your game and improve your show in ways you could never imagine. I personally like to think that I can offer the future of broadcasting and private television by using a truly customised, branded platform that will allow me to condense a whole LIVE production into a single webcast page. But I will write about that idea a bit further down the line. No spoilers, please!
If you don't think you need to go the webcast platform route, you can skip the rest and have a look at this blog post for FREE streaming platforms.
When you are on the lookout for a webcast platform you are already sure about its functionalities and what extras can it bring to the table and offer a cutting edge to you and your end clients.
Choose the best for you
There are many players out there offering the best and the latest, and everyone has their idea on what a good platform should offer. Different platforms use different protocols and offer different features. That is why we are always on the lookout for that one platform that brings it all together and will cover all our needs in one single go.
When I started looking for my perfect solution, I would register my interest in those “contact us” forms you see at the bottom of the page. And immediately a savvy salesperson would get in touch with me to arrange a call to offer their solution. Bear in mind I was extremely specific on what I was looking for and what I wanted for the platform to do for me. And even when their solution was not even close, they would still insist on their latest new addition or their new tool to their streaming arsenal of functionalities. They would get even more excited about my lead when I mentioned the other big players out there. In the webcasting world, there is a ferocious competition to eat the market and win clients from the other provider.
In the end, I settled for an American company that was offering a truly customised option that allowed me to brand each webcast to a particular client. All the other options from other suppliers were made to use within a company itself, such as internal comms. They would offer a cookie cutter solution where the poor inexperienced IT guys would have to handle it whether they liked it or not… here is this shiny new toy to stream all of our videos, go at it boys!
We all know that our business doesn’t work that way. And the client will always feel safer if there is someone that knows how to run a proper webcast without having the IT team running up and down because they got the streaming protocol wrong.
Beware of the technical details
But what you are really looking for? Many of the webcast platforms offer all the same features in some way or another. You might have all these clever ways to show the incoming questions. Or interesting ways of adding registration fields to the preview page and then all the endless unstandardised and very confusing webcast layouts. Some of them even ask you to go and learn CSS and HTML so you can “play” around with the layout options. We are producers at heart… not coders.
To know more about different streaming protocols, check out this blog post.
So, if everyone offers almost the same what do you choose? A tailored solution can be quite expensive. Especially if you decided to think “outside the box”... or outside the continent. Yes, many people see the Indian web developer as the best solution because it is cheap, and those guys can really sell their services by agreeing on whatever you want and finding out later that it is not that easy after all. Believe me, I have seen those botched solutions where you need several laptops to send different assets because the platform just doesn’t work that way. Or that they can’t make the chapters work along with the slides. And when they finally deliver the project…. BAM! The industry is no longer using an RTMP protocol and everybody is using HLS. And I can assure your guys, they were not considering on HLS streams being 30 seconds delayed. slides not syncing? Now you know why…
There are many more features you want to look out for in your webcast platform and we have mentioned a few. But like each webcast is different in its nature. Each webcast producer is different on their offering, so you should look out for those options that suit you the best. Just make sure the language barrier is not an issue. If you source this overseas. And, make sure your supplier is up to speed with the latest technology.
Our own experience
As I mentioned, we went for a less known and newer solution from the US, that had everything we needed within the platform itself. It still has a long way to go, and we have been talking with the developers, but what it really impressed us is what others couldn’t do. One example is the LIVE replay…. Yes, I was impressed as well when I saw it in action. I had been looking for a solution like this for ages, and I had finally found it. This is one of my biggest selling points to my clients and they love it. Going back on a live presentation over the internet was not done by any webcast supplier. Only sports networks have been doing this for years. Most recently this has only been done by big broadcast channels like Sky News and the BBC on their live news offer. We were also impressed by how easy it was to change the branding around the webcast. Most platforms need to be hardcoded and changes take hours if not days, if they are too busy. But with this one, we found that the producer could change anything on the go. And that was a major improvement.
This is how our solution ended up looking... not to shabby eh?!
Back to the Social platforms
So back again to the question , why do I need a webcast platform if YouTube and Facebook are free? Well, that is a whole other article about what they offer and what they don’t but a few key elements are that these social streaming services are mostly unsupported so if you have any problems with your stream, your recording or your file, that is pretty much the end of the line for you. Not only that, they do not offer all the other webcast facilities like separate and synchronised slides, managed questions and comments, speaker bios and branding. You can ,of course, embed the iframe on your website and put the branding there, but that is using two separate solutions when it should only be one.
In summary... a webcast platform will give you and support all the features you might need for your production and will help you manage all your content in a single place. Choosing a supplier is up to you and you should do your due diligence and make sure they offer exactly what you are looking for. Always ask for a demo and test before you buy. They should be able to give you a couple of weeks for you to play with the platform so you can familiarise yourself with it and make sure you know how to use it. If you go for the social media road, make sure you handle your client’s expectations. If your stream fails and you want to replace a file, this will have to be done on a separate link. Not the one they sent to all their viewers. And if you need support with your content because things didn’t go well during the live event. Know that there is not much you can do about it as you are pretty much on your own.
We are not mentioning platforms or our preference for a particular one because the ones we use are specific to our needs. I also think that some due diligence is needed for you to understand your exact needs. There are tons of information about platforms but this is a good starting point.
The road to our own future
It's is a work in progress but a promising one... want to bet on a live match? This is a very good example of how it will look like. This is why we insist we are the future of private television.