Online conferences: streaming vs webinar

    Every year there are more and more online schools, and almost all of them hold web conferences, the technologies of which, in turn, are improving. My colleagues and I also have to hold online meetings, and I want to share my experiences here, on the one hand, and, on the other, maybe learn something new in the comments, especially since I got involved as an online volunteer conference on educational business Ed2People , and one of the central tasks was to choose the right platform for broadcasting.


    Just want to note that this article is not a guide to web conferencing technologies, not a comparison of the capabilities and tariffs of services, but simply a statement of the principles and sequence of steps for preparing online events from the point of view of a simple user. The article does not have hidden advertising, and the choice of specific services as examples is due only to the fact that I worked with them before. Perhaps, it will seem trivial to someone, however, I myself and my colleagues spent a considerable amount of time studying and testing the solutions described. This is like a “picture of the world” that has formed in me - the world of online conferences. In some places it may be incomplete or even incorrect. It will be great if you correct me in the comments and give me the opportunity to learn something new.


    Webinars


    So, if an online event outgrows the format of online communication of several people and / or begins to require minimal administration, for example, recording to an event through a form, access distribution, etc., then the Skype team usually uses the (usually used in such simple cases) goes to webinar services. In Russia, these are the traditional VirtualRoom from Mirapolis, Webinar.ru and the more recent services that have appeared recently, for example, DreamStudy. Of the foreign services I would call Webex, Zoom, ClickMeeting, GoToMeeting (once again: everything I listed is not the best, even in my opinion a regular user, just at different times I dealt with them).


    Web services are characterized by ease of use, a similar interface (usually a list of users, a demonstration of the board, presentation or screen of the presenter, its video image or avatar close-up or in miniature, text chat, etc.). Often, neither the speaker nor the viewer need to install anything on the computer — a browser is enough (sometimes for the speaker’s specific tasks — screen sharing, video recording to a file — you need to install a browser extension or application, but this is done once).



    Typical services usually provide a convenient webinar registration system. For example, the prospective participant will fill out a registration form in advance, which the webinar administrator can then approve or reject. Registered participants are included in the auto-link, receiving e-mail reminders for a certain time before the webinar, which can be accessed via the link in the letter.



    Some webinar services allow you to integrate webinars with the LMS (learning management system), in particular, to combine user bases, automatically publish webinar entries in the video content library, and even incorporate online events into the online course program.



    There is a cloud service for 50-100 participants, usually from zero (many people have free tariffs magnets) to $ 100, i.e. about $ 1 per person. This is very little, and therefore, if the needs of the organizers are within these limits, then the choice of a webinar service as a basic tool for an online event is obvious.


    The solution of the issue ceases to be unambiguous if an event is planned for several hundred participants. By analogy with other goods and services, it may seem that the price of additional participants will fall, i.e. will be not $ 1, but less, with a discount "for wholesale". But it is not.


    • large packages of participants are multiply more expensive (and sometimes progressively increase in price)
    • some services fail to cope with the increase in the number of webinar participants, and with its increase the probability of technical failures increases
    • (By the way, by the same technical problems, some services on a small number of participants sin, if the webinar lasts a long time - the broadcast begins to “float”, interference and disconnections occur.)

    Accordingly, the question arises: what to do, what is the solution to the problem? And recently the answer has appeared.


    Streaming


    Top videobloggers broadcast simultaneously to thousands and millions of audiences. This opportunity to them (actually to us, because, say, on Facebook or YouTube, live broadcasts are available to almost everyone) gave streaming. For example, I have only 2 thousand subscribers on the YouTube channel, and I have been using the live streaming option for several years now. The option is absolutely free, and learning to work with it is quite easy, because management is carried out from the "Creative Studio" YouTube.



    True, streaming today has several limitations. Namely:


    • Broadcasting usually comes with a 1-2 minute delay, i.e. to establish a full-fledged interactive, instantly responding to questions from the audience in the chat, as in webinar solutions, will not work.
    • The organization of the broadcast is more complicated - you need additional broadcasting software, which is installed on the organizer's computer and which, in fact, creates a video stream transmitted to the Internet.
    • Accordingly, the requirements for the power of the computer and the Internet channel of the organizer of the streaming (as well as, note in brackets, its technical skills) are quite stringent. If at least one of these three components - computer, internet, skills - fails, the result will inevitably be deplorable.

    What is broadcast software? This is a rather complicated software that allows you to customize the "picture" and the sound of the broadcast. The most popular with my colleagues is the free version of OBS Studio, which works well with most streaming services.



    Similarly arranged tools on other services, for example, Vimeo. Streaming in Vimeo is no longer free, but this service is more suitable for video monetization. Here you can also use either OBS Studio, or the software of Vimeo itself - the program LiveStreamStudio, which has both a simplified (with a minimum of settings) and a complex version of the interface.



    In any case, the connection between the broadcaster program (OBS Studio, LiveStreamStudio, etc.) and the streaming service (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc.) is carried out via the URL address and password that the streaming service issues.



    The URL / password is enough to copy into the appropriate input fields of the broadcaster program, so that the connection between it and the streaming service will be adjusted automatically.
    In addition to free broadcasting software, there are also commercial options that allow you to organize streams that differ little in quality from TV (again, in brackets: provided that the quality of the computer and video camera is appropriate). In particular, you can use "green studios" to change the background and combine the streams from different video cameras, media files, screen capture, screensavers, titles, etc.


    So, one of the strongest aspects of streaming is the ability to create the illusion of a lively presence, quickly turning on a new member, receiving donations, news feeds, etc. For example, appreciate the video of the streaming of an informal association of distance education professionals, drawing attention to the fact that the participants, in general, are sitting at home and are most likely contacted by the organizer via regular Skype.



    How to organize such a streaming, which is a leading interview with one or several guests live?


    1. The organizer configures the streaming service and broadcasting software and displays the host air. At the same time, he prepares a screen template in advance, having in the right places a picture frame with a video camera looking at him, background, captions, video blanks from remote participants.
    2. At the right moment the presenter contacts (say, via Skype) with guests who are waiting for the broadcast. From the point of view of the guest, this is the usual Skype call, no additional funds are necessary for him.
    3. The organizer / host switches plans in broadcasting software, selecting the desired pre-prepared templates, and all this is automatically broadcast to the air (with a minute delay), and not necessarily one service, but, say, simultaneously on YouTube, Facebook, VK.

    Accordingly, the more professional the organizer (he can be at the same time leading, although it is not easy), the better his studio is equipped (computers, video cameras, software, Internet channel, green background for substitution), the better the result will be. Of course, a lot depends on the computer / camera / Internet channel of the participants, but for their part this is not so critical.


    At first glance, the availability of free tools makes the streaming economy very attractive. However, this is not quite true. Indeed, it is possible to organize a stream “on the knee”, at no cost, but the result will most likely be so-so. It should be emphasized especially the complexity of the streaming. This is a very special kind of professional activity, close to the TV and film industry, which today are owned by a few. The cost of organizing high-quality streams can reach tens and hundreds of thousands of rubles of one-time costs, require additional personnel and allocated rooms, studio equipment, etc.


    Webinar + streaming


    To summarize: there are two types of solutions: webinar (Zoom, Webex, Mirapolis, etc.) and "streaming" (YouTube, Vimeo). Webinals are bundled solutions. We choose the number of rooms / users, pay - we get access, nothing extra is needed (all in the browser).


    With streaming (YouTube, Vimeo) - more difficult. You need additional software, exciting video (for example, OBS) + means of communication with speakers (for example, Skype or the same Zoom).
    Webinars for 1000+ users are expensive (roughly 1000 = 10 * price per 100 and further the price grows progressively), and streaming - cheap ($ 100 for everything, regardless of the number of viewers), but streaming is technically difficult to do, and the organizer's computer requirements are hard .


    Meanwhile, you can do a little trick: to combine webinar and streaming platform. Many webinar services (for example, Zoom and DreamStudy) now offer integration with live broadcasts of video hosters. At the same time, the video stream can be formed both on the organizer's computer and on the webinar service side, which immediately reduces the requirements for the organizer's equipment.



    In other words, the sequence of actions becomes such.


    1. The organizer / presenter, as usual, starts and leads the webinar, having previously configured a streaming service and having registered the path and password to it in the webinar service.
    2. The webinar service itself pumps the video stream to the streaming service (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, VKontakte).
    3. The presenter communicates with the participants in the webinar room in real time, and the streaming broadcasts the webinar with a minute delay.

    As a result, the entire audience is divided into two parts:


    • webinar participants (up to 100)
    • viewers (unlimited number)

    Accordingly, you can set up different monetization schemes, for example, by offering participants admission for tickets for money, and for viewers - for free (YouTube) or for less. It is also worth noting that some services provide a bunch of participants in the webinar - viewers who are just watching the broadcast, without being able to go on the air, as members of the webinar can do.


    In conclusion, I want to say once again that I am now participating in the preparation of the online conference on educational business Ed2People , before the start of which less than a week remains (it will be held July 20-22) and choose a convenient platform for broadcasting (both primary and backup). Therefore, any advice or exchange of experience will accept with gratitude.


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