Why Live Webinars are a Painful Waste of Time

Speaking to our customers there comes a very common request from senior managers to communicate directly with their entire workforce. The assumption is usually that the way to do this is with a live web conference, with everyone logging in at the same time en-masse to get the latest news from the top.
As bandwidth offers ever better video and audio quality, online live events are becoming increasingly attractive. However, there are many pitfalls that mean live is not always the best option. The attractions of this kind of live online event are obvious – in theory, everyone gets the same message at the same time and this can be used to drive a feedback loop with people asking questions and feeling involved in a two way conversation.
Did you notice the ‘in theory’ in the last paragraph? As always, reality does not quite match up to the theory.

Problem 1 – Availability

For any live communication, a proportion of the intended viewers are not going to be available at the time the broadcast is taking place. This is especially a problem for organisations operating internationally, with a workforce spread across widely separated time zones.

Problem 2 – Accessibility

As you will know if you regularly use live video online, there are all kinds of problems that people can have in viewing a live stream. And that doesn’t include the pain of trying to install a .exe or run a applet on a corporate laptop or desktop.

Problem 3 – Scale

Let’s assume that despite the first two problems, a significant number of people manage to view the live stream and want to get involved in a conversation. Now you have a new problem. Accepting and responding to input from thousands of participants in real time is simply unworkable without a large team of well-trained moderators.
Even if you put the resources in place to deal with a mass audience, failing to give time to all of the many issues raised can lead to what should have been a positive conversation becoming a negative experience for viewers who feel ignored.

Problem 4 – Bandwidth

The problem of scale brings us on to perhaps the biggest problem with live communications. This is the one that brings any IT department out in a cold sweat when mass live communications are mentioned – bandwidth usage.
A live communication to all employees necessarily means that a huge amount of data must be shifted across the corporate network during the broadcast. Broadcasting a video stream encoded at a modest 548 Kilobits per second to 5000 viewers requires an eye-watering   10 Gigabytes per second to be delivered across the network. Use higher quality video or more viewers and the numbers only get bigger.

If Not Live Then What?

So if mass live communications are problematic, what is the solution?
Let’s look at the original aim – to communicate with the entire workforce. Does this need to be done live, with everyone viewing the communication at the exact same time? Perhaps in some unusual cases but, the vast majority of the time, there is no problem with viewers accessing content over a period of time.
Using on demand communications neatly solves the problems we identified earlier.
Viewers who are not available when the content is first released can watch it at a time that suites them.
On demand video can be encoded into a wider variety of formats, making it reliably available through more browsers and devices and with fewer firewall issues.
When on demand communications are used, viewers expect responses to their comments to take longer and more diverse channels can be used. A great approach is to solicit comments and questions a week before a communication is produced. It can then cover the concerns and questions in a well-planned manner.
Bandwidth usage for on-demand communications is transformed compared to live. The amount of data transferred overall is the same (or even higher – often on demand communications can be delivered in higher quality than would be possible live) but it is spread out over a much longer period of time.
Look at this example of an on demand video communication, sent out at 10:00 on a Monday morning:
As you can see, the viewing is spread out, with only a relatively small proportion of views occurring during any particular hour.
For the same 548 Kilobit per second video that required 10 Gigabytes per second of network capacity to deliver live, this scenario would only require a peak of around 0.1 Gigabytes per second – 100 times less.