I saw a press release today from Lifesize, a video conferencing company. It announced availability of a new live streaming capability that could let users videocast a meeting out to audiences of up to 10000 people.
I thought it would be a good idea to compare and contrast the capabilities of Lifesize Live Stream with the collaborative webcasting products I normally work with and cover. I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Helmbrecht, the Chief Product and Operations Officer at Lifesize. We met online in a video meeting using their product.
The first thing I had to clarify was intended use and product positioning. I naturally think in terms of web conferencing, but Lifesize Live Stream is not trying to compete with products like ON24 or WebEx Event Center or Adobe Connect or similar "conference and collaboration" products. It does not let hosts create public registration pages, and collaborative features are much less extensive than I deal with on a day to day basis. For instance, you can't run interactive polls and you can't type private chat messages or question answers to individual attendees.
Instead, Lifesize concentrates on pushing a live video camera image of one or more presenters out to a room. Viewers sitting at their computers are analogous to traditional audience members sitting in an auditorium listening to a presenter on stage. They have the ability to type questions to the presentation team, but that's about it.
My knee-jerk reaction as a web conferencing guy is disappointment that I don't have more "toys to play with" inside the product. But the benefit is extreme ease of use and robust behavior. The runs in HTML5, which means that any browser and device certified for HTML5 works identically, with no additional downloads needed. Participants can join from Mac or Windows, desktop or laptop or mobile, iOS or Android. There are no institutional security conflicts with installing executables or running Flash Player. And the display and interface is simple and intuitive. Video inputs can come from standard computer webcams, mobile cameras, Lifesize's own dedicated conference room cameras, or other cameras encoding and outputting an H.264 video stream.
Currently, participants are directed to a dedicated web page if they enter from a browser link. Of course people sitting in video-enabled conference rooms with TV monitors and Lifesize conference cameras see things through their videoconference setup. Michael said that making the viewing window and console embeddable for inclusion on client web pages is on the development roadmap.
Operation for presenters is simplified as well. Multiple members of a presentation team can start a collaborative video conference meeting where they can talk and prep. Then when they are ready to go live to the audience, they initiate the live stream and cloud recording immediately starts to capture what the attendees see. Recordings are captured in standard MP4 video format, so they can be downloaded, edited, and redistributed on standard portal sites like YouTube and Vimeo if desired.
Licensing is also simplified. Customers buy a pool of "use minutes" and can have as many simultaneous meetings as they desire, hosted and presented by as many different users as desired. Use minutes are subtracted from the available pool based on actual usage. Michael assured me that they allow overruns… they never stop allowing attendees into a running meeting, or cut off a stream because the minute pool has been depleted. They just charge the customer to replenish the pool later, including the deficit amount that was run up.
Because usage is intended primarily for "known-audience" situations (executive addresses to employees, corporate training, etc), Lifesize does not attempt to provide front-line technical support for attendees. The company running the event should set up their own process for supporting their attendees. Because there is no private messaging capability out to individual viewers, this would need to be handled external to the video meeting… Through a phone help line or a live chat facility in another system.
I enjoyed seeing what Lifesize has come up with as they expand from the world of dedicated room video conference systems out to the wider web-connected universe of "consume anywhere" audience members. We are starting to see more and more overlap between the proprietary hardware/software videoconference providers and the general purpose webcast software vendors. I foresee a period of confusion and turf-wars as companies struggle to assert their superiority for different use cases, followed by inevitable shakeouts, retrenchments, and consolidations. Interesting times indeed!