ON24 has put together a report on statistics culled from webcasting usage among their customers in the B2B publishing industry. I had a chance to see an early copy of the report and I talked to Cece Lee, ON24's marketing communications manager, about the findings.
The data was based on information collected from around 2,200 webcasts given by 35 different publishing companies in the first six months of 2005 and the first six months of 2006. The companies were all customers of ON24 and the data was collected automatically from the registration and attendance data that is stored on ON24's servers when an event is produced. The customers did not have to collect, filter, or supply any of the data manually. The report concentrates on cumulative summary data... there are no breakdowns for individual webcasts or customers. I asked Cece about the makeup of the customer base that was used and she said it included big national portal sites that sponsor events for their clients as part of a revenue generating approach as well as company-specific events from smaller publishers. ON24's press release mentions Penton Media and CMP Technology, which are examples of the very large electronic publishers using ON24's webcasting technology.
ON24 elected to simply publish the results and not make any comments or predictions based on the findings. I'm not as reticent about forming opinions, so let's see what juicy tidbits we can find.
The report's first statistic is a nice one for ON24. There was a 33.3% increase in the number of webcasts included in the study between 1st half 2005 and 1st half 2006. Of course that doesn't say anything about the industry at large, but it means that at least this set of publishers got more use out of the technology. That's a trend I'd like to see reflected across all industry segments and all vendors!
The number of live webcasts (scheduled for a particular date and time) increased year to year, while the number of webcasts offered only on-demand (for viewing at the audience's convenience) decreased. There are a few things that come to mind when looking at this statistic. First is that these publishers may well be responding to a widespread belief... The impact of webcast content is much greater when the audience is watching a live event. Audience response is better when they know they are interacting with someone else on the other end of the broadcast line (even when that interaction is passive). If you get better results from live shows, you might as well do more of those.
But there are other potential causal factors. For one thing, I noticed that the numbers for 2006 didn't add up to 100% when looking at the categories for "Live Events" and "On Demand Events." I asked Cece what happened to an extra 2% of events and she said they were ones that couldn't be classified as strictly live or on-demand. Special cases that straddled the definition boundaries were apparently not statistically significant in the 2005 group. That might show better reuse of events by the producers to continue getting more benefit from them after the initial showing. This is something I always recommend for my clients. As a matter of fact, another statistic in the report showed that offering an on-demand archive of a live event results in a significant increase in the total number of audience views.
This statistic could also show a preference for use of the ON24 webcasting technology for live events. Different products are best at different things, and the publishers might be responding to a "fitness for use" issue where they felt more comfortable with the technology for live webcasts. Pure supposition on my part.
One of the sections of the report that really caused me to sit up and take notice was the numbers for event registration and attendance. The average for the study group was over 500 registrants per event with conversion rates (registrants who attended) declining from 61% in 2005 to 56% in 2006. Wow! The general consensus for public events such as marketing lead generators is that you can count on a mass market conversion rate of about 33% from registrants to attendees. These publishers are doing something extremely right!
My guess is that they have a huge advantage with targeted subscriber lists and opt-ins from readers self-selected for interest in a particular subject area. The publishers have a legitimate, authorized communication channel to their list base, where people are more likely to open, read, and act on an email invitation than you can get with mass market email lists. Something to think about when you are considering how to push a lead generation webinar. The big publishers can charge a lot of money to co-sponsor an event, but if they include promotion and marketing to a receptive audience with result rates like this, it can definitely be worth it.
When looking at audience behavior, I was not surprised to see that attendees tended to stay connected significantly longer for live events than for on-demand webcasts. If you are producing events for on-demand use, you need to cut down the content and cut down the length. Attention spans and patience are both shorter when watching pre-recorded material. It is worth the effort to repackage content specifically for on-demand considerations.
A section of the report dealing with type of content completely baffles me. ON24 segmented webcasts into those containing live video versus those using only slides and voice narration. They said that webcasts with video saw significant increases in the number of registrants and the number of attendees from 2005 to 2006. At the same time, registrations and attendance for slide/audio webcasts decreased slightly. I don't know what to say about this. I have not seen many (any?) advertisements or promotions for webcasts that mention whether speaker video will be included. I can't imagine that this is significantly affecting the decision of potential attendees. I wonder if it is a non-causal relationship of independent factors. If the big publishers with better promotion and marketing machines also happen to be the ones that use video, it might look like video performs better, when in actuality it is just the marketing and list quality that is better. I'd love to see more study on this.
The use of polls, surveys, and Q&A text interaction is very high across the study groups. There were slight decreases from 2005 to 2006 on an overall basis, but I'm guessing this is probably because producers got smarter about not including them in recorded or on-demand events. Still, over 85% of all events include these kinds of interactivity features. At the same time, audience response levels dropped when looking at polls and surveys year to year. Event producers are not helping the situation by including more and more self-serving polls, rather than ones pitched as beneficial to the audience. I have talked about this in past posts. Don't treat your audience as lab rats for the benefit of your marketing department!