Ten years ago the rapid pace of change in video technology made it unthinkable for most businesses to support live streaming in-house. But today, that pace of change has finally created an ecosystem where it would be unthinkable not to live stream your own events. HD cameras are now cheaper and smaller, computers are now more powerful and capable, and new software has now eliminated the need for the specialized hardware and custom overlay networks that used to be required for streaming video.
These days it’s possible to live stream without the need to hire large, expensive production teams or to source mountains of specialized equipment or even to set up complex overlay networks for streaming on your WAN.
And not only is it possible — it’s actually surprisingly easy.
In most organizations where live streaming isn’t yet a routine practice, the call to broadcast an upcoming event or announcement often comes first from above.
Whether it’s from the head of the team or the head of the company, sweeping pronouncements are made.
“I’d like to see us broadcast the official release of the new product.”
“Let’s make sure everyone on the team can follow along with the conference live.”
More often than not, when you hear those words from someone your leadership team, you’re not going to want to tell her she’ll have to wait a few months.
You’re going to find a way to make it happen.
For most people, the natural first inclination after such a discussion is to look into the streaming options everyone already knows about. Live streaming video is now the fastest-growing type of content on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and the streaming services on these social networks are a big part of the reason so many people today expect to be able to “go live” at the press of a button.
But for many business purposes such as live executive communications, employee training events, or user conferences, live streaming via any of the popular social networks is a poor choice. Social networks are public-facing by default, and offer few options for private viewing. Additionally, each network explicitly states in its terms of service that the content shared there belongs to the network, making it unwise to utilize these services to share anything sensitive, internal-facing, or in any way not 100 percent public.
In short, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may be excellent streaming options for the marketing team, but aren’t well-suited to supporting the live streaming needs of the rest of your business.
With social networks off the table for privacy reasons, a common next inclination is to bootstrap a solution using the video conferencing software that your organization already uses for real-time conversations and meetings.
Video conferencing solutions like GoToMeeting, WebEx, Zoom, Skype, BlueJeans, and others are now common in organizations large and small. And while these tools can provide a workable, no-frills live streaming solution if you’re in a pinch and don’t expect a large audience, they tend to quickly break down as you scale up.
Fundamentally, the challenge with these tools is they support a different kind of video than what’s needed for many (especially larger) live streams.
Video conferencing systems are built for “synchronous” video, that is, video that can be streamed with nearly zero lag time in order to enable a back-and-forth conversation. But sending video feeds back and forth between call participants that quickly is a challenge, so the conferencing tools have to make tradeoffs. Many require specialized apps that every participant must install ahead of time, cap the total number of people who can attend any given session (typically to no more than 100 or 1,000, depending on your contract), and reduce the quality of the video shared to make it easier to stream.
More appropriate solutions for live streaming, instead, typically are built for “asynchronous” video, which allows for a few seconds of lag time between the actual live event and the video stream (similar to the lag common in most television broadcasts). This extra time enables the system to process the live video data while delivering it, thereby enabling the system to do things like stream to an audience of any size, as well as to stream in full high-definition to any device.
If you’re still hoping there’s a better live streaming solution for businesses, there is.
Today, enterprise video platforms have been built to simplify live streaming for businesses, making it possible to securely or publicly broadcast live video online without expensive investments in either your recording hardware or your network infrastructure. These solutions are designed to deliver video in the same way as does Netflix or YouTube, and are built to be flexible enough that an organization could set everything up to start streaming professional-looking events or communications in as little as a few hours.
A modern enterprise video platform, like Panopto, provides flexible support for live streaming video. Connect an HD camera or two and a microphone to your company laptop, and a three-person Corporate Communications team can capture and stream your company’s next all-hands meeting. Open up the camera and microphone in any smartphone and your CEO can live stream an important operations update to the entire company. You can even self-produce an entire conference using your presenters’ own laptops.
Let’s take a deeper look at how live streaming in a video platform works.
The modern video platform is designed to be a “corporate YouTube,” enabling businesses to securely live stream, record, and share videos. In stark contrast to a decade ago, when virtually every video task required its own set of specialized point solutions, today’s video platforms are built to support video from end-to-end.
With only one system to learn (and far fewer potential points of failure), a video platform can serve as a versatile live streaming solution that will be flexible enough for any use case but still simple enough for everyone — even executives — to use.
But simply being user-friendly is far from the only benefit to live streaming with a video platform. There are a number of technical benefits as well:
Today’s video platforms are built on modern streaming protocols that deliver live and on-demand video securely over your company’s network or from anywhere with an Internet connection, without the need for any special hardware or complex setups.
Unlike traditional methods that required heavy investments in specialized equipment and overlay networks, a video platform streams live video with a more modern and efficient approach.
Video platforms deliver video using the architecture of the internet, typically through protocols like HTTP Live Streaming (HLS). HLS streaming enables you to broadcast your live streams to virtually any size audience with minimal buffering and the highest quality video, and is what many of the biggest players in consumer video use to support their own video feeds.
Additionally, if you’ve already invested in technology like an RTMP encoder, your video platform may be able to ingest the RTMP feed and convert it to HLS, enabling your team to deliver video at scale to any device, with minimum video startup time and buffering.
Perhaps the single greatest value of live streaming with a video platform is that these tools provide you with the utmost flexibility to allow access to video streams. You control whether your live stream is public or private and who specifically can view it.
Most modern video platforms integrate with single sign-on (SSO) identity management systems, including oAuth, SAML, Active Directory, and Google Apps. This means viewers from within your organization can gain access to a private live stream simply by using the login credentials they already use at your organization. You can set sharing permissions just like you would when sharing a document — allowing anyone in your company to view a live stream, restricting access to a particular team or group, or even hand-picking those who will be able to see it.
Many of today’s modern video platforms also provide you with far more flexibility to choose what content you want to share, and how that content will be presented. Panopto’s video platform, for example, enables you to capture video from multiple cameras and multiple screens, so viewers online can feel like they are right there in the room, watching the presenters and slides (or other supporting media) side by side.
Whether you are live streaming a product demo and want to show the presenter and their screen, or need to display multiple video angles of a panel of speakers at a conference and slides, multi-camera recording eliminates the need for specialized video switchers. Just plug your selected video capture equipment into your laptop, open your slides, and your platform will sync everything in the cloud.
Some video platforms also include capabilities intended to simplify potentially complex recording logistics for live streams. These can save time and reduce costs, especially for larger events. They can also enable businesses to unify global teams with live streams from multiple locations without any complicated configuration.
One such capability is called “distributed recording.” With distributed recording, you can stream and record different views from multiple cameras — without hardwiring everything together. You can even stream live from multiple locations.
With distributed recording in Panopto, all you need to do is select the same live session when you set up each separate video stream. You don’t need miles of cables to connect all of your recording equipment in a large auditorium, you don’t need signal amplifiers, and you don’t need video converters. The software automatically syncs everything in the cloud in real time.
Like many of the point solutions for live streaming, a video platform will often include a video analytics suite that enables you to see minute-by-minute live stream stats, including the number of people watching, who is watching, and where people are dropping off. This can be useful data if you are streaming an employee training event, or if you want to show the success of using live streaming for corporate communications, marketing, and customer advocacy.
Many business use cases for live streaming won’t require extensive analytics, but for larger and more visible events, your team will likely want the ability to monitor the quality of the experience in various locations. A tool like Hive Insights, which is included in Panopto’s video platform, is a powerful live video analytics tool for sniffing out users or locations that are having a poor streaming experience, such as severe buffering. This helps you identify potential problems and make adjustments on the fly as the live stream is happening to ensure everyone tuning in has an optimal viewing experience.
By using a video platform for live streaming, you can give your viewers an experience that they wouldn’t have had using older streaming methods — and one that they may not get with other live streaming software.
Today’s video platforms optimize their video players for viewer engagement, showing the presenter or speaker alongside whatever they are presenting — whether it’s a PowerPoint deck, a whiteboard, the output of a document camera or another specialty recording device, or an onscreen demonstration from their laptop.
Every platform will provide different options for how you can show your presenter and their materials. Where available, side-by-side video feeds offer a superior experience to traditional picture-in-picture displays, as they better ensure that someone viewing online will be able to see everything shown live in the room, without any information “hidden” behind the picture-in-picture feed. Check with your platform to see what’s available.
And as an added benefit, most video platforms will even allow you to add your company’s branding to your video player. This is a nice, professional touch you can’t get when streaming with tools like Facebook Live or Skype.
When a stream is only available as a live feed, there’s no option for viewers to catch an earlier moment they may have missed. That might not be a problem when the subject is meant to be purely entertainment. For businesses, however, it’s likely that if the content is worth streaming in the first place, it will be worth ensuring every employee has the opportunity to watch it in full and absorb it at their own pace.
And that means it will be important for viewers to be able to pause, rewind, and start over.
Because most video platforms also record as they stream live video, many are able to offer DVR-like features that can enable anyone who joins the live stream late to go back and watch from the beginning, or to “rewind” the live video to replay any moment.
One of the most appealing features of live streaming on social media is the interactive aspect of it. Live streams on Facebook and other social platforms take viewers off the sidelines and enable them to engage actively with a live event by leaving comments and asking questions.
Businesses can provide the same “active-viewing” experience using a video platform. Audience members can submit questions during the live stream and leave threaded digital comments through the video player.
These days people expect to be able to watch a video or a live stream from anywhere, on any device. That means your live streaming software needs to allow viewers to watch from a mobile phone, a laptop, or any other web-connected screen they happen to be using.
Without the right software, you would need a large, expensive video encoder to process, package, and deliver live video that’s optimized for every device. A video platform, however, can transcode and optimize live video streams for every smartphone, laptop, tablet, and desktop computer automatically, so you don’t need any extra hardware to guarantee your audience can simply click a link and start watching a stream without any errors or delays.
With an end-to-end video platform, you’ll also have everything you need to record, edit, archive, and share your live streams after they end. And that means you’ll be able to make your recordings available to viewers almost immediately while still minimizing your post-production costs.
Without modern live streaming software, recording and streaming video simultaneously can be a complex process. This might require both a streaming server and an on-demand server to capture the event and serve-up on-demand content right away. Or, if your streaming server can capture both the live stream and the on-demand video, it will take some time to encode an output file and also require manual work to upload that file so it can be delivered by the streaming server.
A video platform will typically include a video content management system (video CMS) that does all of this for you, automatically. It records your event as you are live streaming it, then transcodes your video so it can be played on any device, and uploads it to your video library where anyone in your organization can view it. That means your live streams can be viewed on-demand as soon as they end.
When your events require a bit more professional polish, it may make sense to hire an external partner to take care of the final editing. But for many other live streaming applications — whether it’s an employee training event or routine internal communication — you simply don’t need that kind of Hollywood-style production. And in some cases, over-producing a live stream could cause you to lose the authenticity that makes live streaming so effective.
For those live streams that don’t need sophisticated editing, there’s no need to spend weeks waiting for a vendor to finish the final production or investing time to learn complicated video editing software on your own. Many video platforms include an intuitive web-based video editor that helps you perform common editing tasks like cutting out unnecessary footage, switching between video feeds in multi-camera recordings, and even splicing in extra video footage. That means that for most live events, cleaning up the final recording will be both easy and quick.
If the information you’re presenting is important enough to live stream today, there’s a good chance it will also be important enough that you’ll also want your audience to be able to find it tomorrow.
A modern video platform can make searching the contents of your recorded videos simple. Many modern platforms automatically index your videos as they are uploaded to the library. And what they index goes far beyond the basic metadata that used to be the limit of video search.
Panopto’s SmartSearch technology, for example, uses a variety of tools to automatically index every word spoken aloud or shown on-screen in every video uploaded to your library. This enables viewers to instantly find and fast-forward to any relevant moment in the recording. So, for example, if someone is looking for information they missed on the upcoming open enrollment for health benefits, a quick search for “open enrollment” will take them to the exact moment it was presented in the video from your last company benefits announcement.
In the past, making videos searchable required hours and hours of manually tagging important topics and ideas. Not only was this time consuming, but it was up to the person tagging the video to determine what parts of the video were important. With SmartSearch, every word is captured and no additional time or effort is required of your teams.
Watch how SmartSearch works in the video below:
Read our latest white paper, 15 Ways Businesses Are Using Live Streaming, to learn how live streaming is also being used in corporate training, corporate communications, and even customer success strategies.