I had a nice talk with the folks at ON24 towards the end of last week. I was trying to figure out if their new eMedia Center offering would help solve an infrequently encountered but terribly thorny problem I have run into while working with clients.
The difficulty arises when doing a web event that uses telephone audio and includes a video file (not streaming video of the presenter's head, but a pre-authored clip that you want to show as part of your event). Maybe it's a recorded statement from the CEO. Maybe it's the new TV advertisement that you want to show off. Maybe it's a medical procedure or product assembly demonstration that you want to disseminate. Whatever the nature of the event, the problem is the same... Your audience members receive and buffer the data for the video at different rates because of differences in their network access. You have no way of knowing what they are seeing at any moment, so you can't narrate or comment over the video clip. You don't know when they have finished watching the clip and it's safe to start talking again. If you wait for the "worst case" users to finish (which you couldn't tell anyway), the faster users have been sitting staring at a blank and silent screen. In other words, they have disconnected in disgust!
The easy solution of course is to require audio over computer speakers for these kinds of events. But that takes away the opportunity for true interactive questioning and is often not an option (for instance in investor calls where financial analysts have to be able to talk to the executives). So what do you do?
ON24 admitted that the situation was a difficult one and they were working behind the scenes on some new distribution technology that could help. The eMedia Center introduction unfortunately was not the answer... it is a product/service offering that helps companies add Flash-based recorded video and animations to presentations. Very slick and an interesting thing to check out if you are going for a glossy presentation style that is more visually arresting than the standard PowerPoint slide show. But not designed to help coordinate phone audio and web video in a live show.
So far the only solution I have found is a nasty one. WebEx allows a video to be embedded in a proprietary format (UCF is their designation) in an uploaded presentation. If you can get your audience to log in to your event early enough, you can flip to the slide containing the video clip player frame (without playing it) and force it to start downloading and caching on the participants' machines. WebEx includes presenter tools that show whether people have completed the download/cache process. Then when you start up the show, everyone's video tends to start and stop at the same times and you can safely coordinate it with your telephone audio.
Of course we all know that it is impossible to get people to log in significantly before an event, no matter how strongly you word the instructions. And I ran into some problems with viewers on Macintosh machines. And because the video and all slides are cached, the preload process can take a long time for people with anything slower than the broadestband access. So this doesn't work very well with a general public marketing type event. But for an internal audience willing to accept the setup requirements, it does handle the scenario.
Any of you other vendors want to chime in? Do you have a way to coordinate a video clip and phone audio? You'll get a place of honor in my playlist if so!