I'm continuing my in-depth look at webinar features that don't get enough attention. Today we dive into the topic of session recordings. As with many of the other features I have discussed, this one seems trivial and commonplace at first glance. But there are a surprising number of hidden facets to consider and different product capabilities you should know about.
Do I really need to define the basics? Okay, to make sure we're on the same page, I'm talking about the ability to record a live webinar, webcast, or web conference so that people can go back and watch the recording later at their convenience. Now let's talk about the various options and behaviors that vendors have applied to this seemingly simple piece of functionality.
SETUP AND PREPARATION
- Some vendors give you the option to have the system start recording automatically as soon as your session goes live. If this is available, a host should be able to override the option setting for a single meeting rather than having it only be an account-wide setting that has to be changed for everyone.
- Record to server vs. record to local disk. The GoTo products from LogMeIn are the only ones that come to mind as I write this. You can choose to record directly to the cloud in your GoTo account, or you can record locally to your hard drive. The latter is useful if you plan to edit the recording file before putting it online or distributing it. Why go through the extra step of having to download the source recording from the web to start your edits? Once again, a host should be able to choose the destination for a single meeting rather than having to change it globally on the account.
- If you host or moderate enough sessions, someday you will forget to start your recording. I wish some vendor would create a private alert for the host that pops up a message (maybe in the private host chat?) reminding them that the recording is not active when the meeting goes live. I know of no product that offers such a reminder.
- The ability to pause and continue recording is a nice option that is still fairly rare. If you have a technical problem that crops up in the middle of a meeting, it's nice to pause the recording while you solve the issue. Or in a long session you might choose to give attendees a bathroom break or give them time to work on an exercise. Why record all the "dead air" while waiting for the group to regather and start talking again?
- Automatic stop and save when you end the session is now commonplace, thank goodness. You should always confirm that your vendor doesn't throw away the recording if it is not explicitly and manually stopped before the session ends. Amazingly, this used to be an issue with some products!
- Now we come to the big, thorny issue of what gets recorded. This presents a real problem for many products. I know of one very popular webinar product that for a long time would not record any video content included in a webinar… whether live webcam video of participants or prerecorded videos played back in a session. They finally updated their software to include that content, but it's an example of a question for your vendor… Is there any type of content that won't make it into the recording?
Another example is questions or chat comments typed in by participants. And I have even seen a case where poll results shown to attendees in the live session don't make it into the recording (or the opposite case… poll results show too much data in the recording, such as the number of raw votes for each answer choice when the in-session results only showed percentages).
I am a big believer in capturing exactly what an attendee sees. The recording should be the same as if you used a screen capture tool on a logged-in computer. If questions and chat are public in the session, they get captured in the recording. If it is private for presenters, it doesn't show up in the recording. But this leads us to the next issue…
- How does the product format the recording layout when attendees are able to change how things appear in the session? GoToWebinar is a relatively simple example, where a participant can move, hide, or undock webcam streams. ON24 offers even more flexibility, with attendees able to open, close, move, and resize almost any content window on their screen. How does a recording capture "the user view" when each user can have a different view?
PROCESSING AND EDITING
- A few vendors provide editing tools for their recordings. These are usually more rudimentary than full-fledged dedicated audio/video editing software, but for many casual users, they can suffice. The most common functionality is the ability to trim unwanted content off the front or end of the recording. Next you might look for an automatic volume leveling algorithm that attempts to balance sounds from various participants as well as prerecorded content played back in the session. Even fancier (and very uncommon) is a noise reduction option that attempts to eliminate background hiss or hum from your audio.
- If you want to do more extensive editing, you will need a way to save the recording file on your disk in a standard format such as MP4 or WMV. You would then import this into a dedicated editor such as Camtasia or Adobe Premiere Pro.
- We are just starting to see some vendors offering additional processing options for an extra fee. They might give you an option to produce a transcript document. This may be auto-generated from a speech-to-text algorithm, or they may offer human transcriber services. Even better, some vendors are now offering the ability to match the transcript to time codes in the video so a viewer can jump to a section of interest based on a keyword. There is also the possibility of getting your video recording text-captioned, either in the source language or in a translation.
- Most products offer online storage under your account with access links for users to view your recorded content. The first question to ask your vendor is whether there is a limit on the number of recordings you can host, the total storage size you can use, or a lifespan for recordings, after which they are deleted from the account. Running into these limits unexpectedly can be a nasty surprise.
- Some products attempt to offer interactivity for viewers of the recording so that their experience is as similar to a live attendee as possible. They may be able to reconfigure their content layout, respond to polls, or type in questions. The first question to ask your vendor is whether a host can capture the new interactions in a report or even have push-notifications delivered when something gets input. You may wish to respond to a question or use a newly-submitted poll answer as a sales lead qualification. The second question to ask is whether the recording can be "flattened" to a non-interactive MP4 or WMV format for hosting elsewhere. If you are restricted to using the hosted version in the vendor's proprietary format, they effectively own your content forever and you'll have to keep your account active as long as you want to use the recording.
- If your vendor offers hosting and a playback link, you suddenly have a full slate of access options to consider… Can you create a registration page with custom fields to track who is accessing the recording? Can you get reports on who viewed the recording, how many times, and for how long? Can you use a "lead source" parameter on the access link to tell which campaign or channel brought the viewer to your recording? Can you charge people to view the recording? If so, is there a way to generate a limited-access individualized link that permits one or a few viewings as a way to prevent people from paying once and distributing the access link to everyone they know?
- Can you upload an edited video file to your account to be accessed through the vendor's standard registration and access methodology? Does that file have to be associated with a previous live web event, or can it be an arbitrary piece of content that stands on its own?
- Does your vendor offer a way to brand the video selection and playback pages under your company's colors, logo, and text? In most cases, I still see playback of recordings being heavily branded by the web conferencing vendor. An even fancier option (that I have never seen) would allow companies to create access links under their own high-level domain name so that it looks like the content is coming from their own company rather than from a web conferencing vendor.
RECORDING A RECORDING
- There's one last special use case to consider. Some web conferencing products allow you to host a live session using a previously recorded session as content ("simulive" or "simulated live" events). In the best case, you can incorporate live interactions with the participants in the second session such as answering their questions. In this situation, you need to ask your vendor whether you can make a recording of the new session while it is playing back the content from a previous recording. That is not necessarily a given.
Whew! So much for recordings being a simple and obvious piece of webinar functionality. I hope I've given you something to consider when evaluating products and I hope I've given the vendor community something to think about in their product roadmap meetings.