ON24 announced a new product offering this week. It's called Bannercast Live, and the concept in a nutshell gives users the ability to paste a live webcast directly into a website banner advertisement.
This is an evolutionary progression in interactivity and "media richness" of web advertising. First we just had static text and graphics with a hyperlink to another page. Then we added the ability to scroll through several images in the ad. This was followed by animated graphics, flash interactivity (the famous "hit the monkey" type games), and video clips embedded in the banner area. ON24 upped the ante a while ago with Bannercast On-Demand, which not only plays a recorded webcast, but allows user interaction through registration, navigation tools (jump to a slide), Q&A (through a type-in panel that emails the question to the company), and hyperlinked resources (such as web pages and files for download). You can see an example at the bottom of the Bannercast page I hyperlinked in the second sentence above.
The new Bannercast Live offering uses the same interface and delivery mechanism, but is able to show a webcast taking place in real time. ON24 says they developed this version in response to a request from their client, Cisco Systems. Cisco is trying out the new product to see how it works for them.
There are two key benefits in offering your webcast live. The first is that the presenter can see and respond in real-time to audience questions. The second is the subtle but real psychological difference in attention that you get when your audience knows you are really there, and that they aren't just watching a recording. People stay tuned in longer and accept little flubs that they expect to see edited out in a recording.
I asked Kim Ryden and Cece Salomon-Lee (responsible for ON24 marketing and PR) about the potential downside of Bannercast Live. Since people aren't planning on attending the webcast, but instead just happen to see it pop up as an ad on a web page where they were planning to do something else, isn't it harder to capture an audience? And since many people will join somewhere in the middle of the presentation, it is hard to make sure that all viewers get the full content you want to deliver, set up in the proper context. They acknowledged this, but said that the idea is more useful as a way to gain attention and awareness. Cece saw the typical uses as being applied to major corporate announcements, product launches, and things where the key message can be summarized quickly. A webcast is more compelling and engaging than a typical graphic ad.
They also pointed out that the audience doesn't have to take a proactive step of clicking through to another website and losing their place. Everything is presented right on the page they were already visiting. Web page providers like it because it keeps visitors on their site for longer periods of time and doesn't hijack them to another location. ON24 tells me that the webcast bandwidth goes through their Content Delivery Network so it doesn't add congestion and overhead to the web page provider's server.
If you look at this sample graphic of a Bannercast on a mock-up web page (supplied by ON24), you'll see that the real estate needed for the viewer makes it more appropriate for square banners placed next to text or lower on the page, rather than thin strips at the top of a page. That's a fairly common approach nowadays.
I asked about the typical lifespan of a Bannercast. Cece said that you would probably work with ON24 to develop the creative content and the media placement for the ad. ON24 has experience in doing ad buys for these kinds of things and can advise or take over that aspect if desired. They will produce the HTML for the ad that is supplied to the web page provider. Before your event, the ad would look like a typical banner ad, with a click-through to register for the standard webcast. On the day of the event, you can switch the ad to show a countdown clock announcing that a live event will begin soon and hopefully keep people there and watching. After the event, ON24 can convert the recording to a Bannercast On-Demand format and display that in the ad space. All these changes can be made behind the scenes, without having to swap in new code to the web page provider.
I'm still a little skeptical about the practical aspects of getting a clear message out in a webcast when you have no idea at what point audience members may be catching your content. I am much clearer on the benefits of Bannercast On-Demand, where you know that people are seeing your message from the beginning. But it's a brave new world of interactivity out there, and this may turn out to be a useful (and certainly innovative) option for specific business cases. I'll be interested to see how Cisco does with their experiments and what kind of adoption ON24 sees for the new product.
I'll say this for ON24... They have found a fascinating way to extend what can be done with webcasts/webinars and they are offering their customers an alternative to the conventional scheduled event format we have all come to expect. I like the way they are thinking outside of the box (cliche alert) to bring more choices to the market. And heck, you can still use them for a standard webcast if you want!