82 STREAMING MEDIA April/May 2018
How to Produce Interactive Webinars
on a Webcast Platform By Shawn Lam
Iused to differentiate a webcast from a webinar based on the platform that was being used on the back end. Now I use the term “webinar” to
denote a session that is more interactive, and
“webcast” to describe a one-way broadcast, re-
gardless of the platform being used.
Historically, webinars used Adobe Flash and
webcasts used streaming servers and the HTML5
standard. While the underlying technology might
not mean much to clients, the bigger client-side
difference was that webcasts had a broadcast
delay but the video looked way better.
Webcast producers would use hardware or
software video switchers to switch between vid-
eo and computer inputs or to composite a pic-
ture-by-picture or a picture-in-picture feed. The
best part of this workflow was that recording the
broadcast was very easy, whereas—as I will dis-
cuss later—recording was much more difficult
with Flash-based webinar platforms.
Features that were often lacking with webcasts include integrated chat, Q&A, poll questions, individual user registration and passwords, minute-by-minute viewership tracking,
and the ability to allow any participant to share
their screen or their webcam. These interactivity features were the main draw of webinar
platforms like Adobe Connect, WebEx, Go To-Webinar, and others.
Using the Adobe Flash platform for webinars
left a lot to be desired. For example, On Adobe
Connect, video camera feeds were limited to
a 480-line horizontal resolution and 20 frames
per second (480/20p). Officially, Flash webinars
supported only webcam capture, and because
480/20p is not a broadcast standard, traditional
video capture cards couldn’t be used unless the
video signal was first processed through an intermediary software that could conform a broadcast video signal into something that worked
with Adobe Flash. This also meant emulating
a universal video codec (UVC) webcam feed.
Moreover, it was painful seeing the resulting
video signal from a professional 4K UHD video
camera after a 480/20p downconvert.
In addition to a small video pod within a
larger broadcast window, webinar producers
could also share computer presentations and
fill the blank space with logos or images, chat
or Q&A boxes, poll questions, text boxes, and
several other pods. Unfortunately, the webinar
format doesn’t lend itself well to on-demand
viewing after a live webinar, and downloading
a copy of the webinar for archiving or viewing
on traditional video hosting platforms doesn’t
work well on all platforms, even when the feature is advertised.
Given these limitations, when working with
Adobe Connect or other Flash-based webinar
platforms, I took to screen-recording the broadcast from a second computer that was logged in
as a viewer. But these recordings would faithfully record all the dropouts experienced on
the users’ end of the live broadcast, and the 20p
recordings had sync issues, which forced me to
re-edit the webinar by going back to the camera
footage (recorded in-camera) and re-assembling
the slides. This was not an efficient workflow.
These and other Flash limitations weren’t
unique to Adobe Connect’s implementation. All
attendees viewing Flash-based webinars have
to maintain the latest version of Flash. Although
Flash used to be ubiquitous, in 2018 we cannot
assume that viewers tuning into our webinars
will have Flash installed and enabled in their
browser of choice. In fact, webinar producers
need to assume that a percentage of their viewers have already uninstalled or blocked Adobe
Flash within their browsers, both for security
reasons and because it is no longer required
in their day-to-day activities.
The work-around to this tech support challenge is to have viewers install an application
specifically for viewing webinars. Unfortunately, this adds one more viewing option with additional tech support steps for webinar producers
to follow before they can help viewers troubleshoot their issues.