A post from Robert Scoble reminded me to share a vision of our webcasting future: Multisourcing. While his post wasn’t really on this topic, he did describe a moment where, in the middle of what appeared to be yet another boring online press conference with audio and slides, the principles in the company turned on a webcam and continued the conference live on camera. They showed their produce, live, and they took questions openly and without screening. The impact of going to live video was immediately apparent, since so much of the message is contained within the body language of the presenters. Also, their willingness to field questions openly indicates that this is not a press stunt – they have a real innovation to talk about and they’re proud of it.
Bravo to the Intel team, who gave the press conference. Was it necessary to use a handheld camera and an amateur operator? Probably not – you can mix production value and honest delivery and achieve even better results. But the fact that this was a video press conference isn’t what I’m here to talk about.
The fact that they “switched on” the video mid-broadcast, and the fact that it had a casual appearance is what made me think of multisourcing as a topic of discussion. Multisourcing, as it pertains to webcasting and events, refers to bringing in broadcast sources from multiple locations. For example – you could incorporate live video feeds from your CEO in Dallas, your CMO in Seattle, and your EMEA VP of Sales from London.
Traditionally we would have to use either satellite or terrestrial fiber (which you may have heard called Vyvx) to connect video feeds from multiple cities and switch them into a live broadcast. For broadcast television that is still the way it’s done 99% of the time. That’s very expensive. It’s reliable, but crazy costly. Especially when you bring in more than one source and when the distance is greater than 1,000 miles (satellites can only see so far so you may need multiple hops and fiber is billed per mile of transmission). The other option for remote feeds is video conferencing, but getting the right mix of gear on both ends and successfully penetrating firewalls with the connection is, at the very least, a juggling act.
The webcast world has some answers, mostly thanks to Flash video from Adobe (Macrodobedia).
First, flash video servers make it easy to incorporate multiple video streams into your broadcast. You can have a dozen participants anywhere on the internet turn on a standard webcam and become available as sources to your webcast. You can switch them one at a time or, in some cases, show several at once as part of an ongoing conversation – useful for a panel discussion. The quality will not be the same as if you had them all together in a studio with professional equipment. To a certain degree, that’s totally acceptable – especially if there is a high-quality “anchor” broadcast and you are only using the remote feeds to bring in people unable to make it to the central studio. There are a number of companies already doing this including Operator11 and Avacast. Most of the larger webcast platform companies are also working on their flash solutions and this capability is certainly on their roadmap.
Next, there is a relatively new mobile video product from ComVu that allows you to switch between multiple live video streams, some or all of which can be originated from mobile phones, and rebroadcast them to desktops and (you guessed it) mobile phones. This is the ultimate in anytime, anywhere broadcasting, and is especially exciting for the future of remote news gathering. The quality is, well, what you would expect from cameras attached to phones that have been rattling around in people’s pockets along with lint, breath mints, and dirty sexy money. But it’s acceptable for certain circumstances and it will only get better. They’re already where internet video was six years ago – give it time.
There are, I’m sure, other solutions available. I can’t even count the number of times we’ve needed to “bring in” someone in a far away place to webcast or live meeting. And we’re getting increasing numbers of requests for virtual meeting solutions where multiple people, in multiple locations, need to talk to a large group of people all over the place. The future of webcasting will certainly include multisourcing as a standard capability.