Planes are finally starting to fly over Europe again, but the backlog of travel woes will take days to unwind. As I write this, Scandinavia and the UK still have flight restrictions in place, thanks to Iceland’s volcanic temperament.
Publicare Marketing Communications in Germany issued a very short press release this week stating that web conferencing service providers reported an average increase of 58 percent in conferences compared to regular workdays.
I was interested in how they came up with that figure, so I contacted Publicare’s managing director and asked how they were able to get quantitative data so quickly. Robert Harnischmacher helped fill in some of the background for me. He pointed out that the information was self-reported by a variety of web conferencing providers which are named in the press release. There was quite a bit of variance in the reported increases, ranging anywhere from 7% to 130%. He had contacted Cisco as well, but their information came in too late for inclusion in his average. And he also wanted to acknowledge that the figures are not weighted in any way to account for the base number of web conferences for each vendor used as a starting point.
The 58% figure isn’t really as important as the indication that web collaboration has been seen as not only a standard business practice to help supplement in-person meetings, but as a viable emergency measure to replace business travel when it becomes impossible.
I did a little checking myself with some of the European-based web conferencing vendors I know, asking if they had anecdotal evidence of increased business attributable to volcano effects. All my contacts reported extra work caused by the travel embargo. I was particularly interested in larger webinars and webcasts as opposed to small ad-hoc web conference meetings. The larger web events are traditionally planned and scheduled far in advance, so scrambles on this front might not be as numerous, but would be significant.
Rob Holmes at Podia, based in the UK, told me they had scrambled to provision three impromptu webinars for clients who had already arranged large meetings and couldn’t get their people to them.
Joe Garde at Online Meeting Rooms in Ireland showed me some clips where meeting speakers had webcast their presentations to groups in physical halls because they couldn’t travel to the event (including a professor who webcast his violin playing to an audience in the National Concert Hall). Joe summed it up as: “Put it this way… I’m exhausted!”
Roland Steinmetz at Meeting.ie in Ireland agreed that he was seeing more inquiries and signups since the travel ban went into effect. He pointed out that audio conferencing also got a big boost from companies or smaller groups that couldn’t arrange or afford video production services.
And even though America is not in the path of the ash cloud, we have felt the effects as well. I spoke with Nick Balletta, the CEO of TalkPoint – a webcasting technology and services provider here in the States that handles large events. He gave me two examples of webcasting filling in for stranded travelers. Goldman Sachs had an international emerging markets conference in New York. The European contingent of attendees was unable to attend, so TalkPoint changed their support from what had been planned as just recording some sessions for archiving purposes into a last minute full-fledged live webcast of all sessions at the conference.
Another TalkPoint example was McDonald’s worldwide convention in Orlando, Florida. They had planned to include some limited webcasting of a talent competition, but were suddenly forced to provide live webcasting of the entire conference for all the attendees unable to get international flights to Florida. Nick told me that the call for support came in on Saturday and they went live with the international webcast on Monday.
Therein lies the greatest benefit of webcasting as an emergency backup. Instead of needing to book physical spaces, arrange seating and stage setups, food service, and signage, you add your extra arrangements once, at the delivery point. Everyone else just logs in from wherever they happen to be stuck in the world.
Web conferencing, webcasting, webinars… Call them what you like, but remember that they just might save your bacon the next time travel becomes an issue.