Author: David Mario Smith Date: April 7, 2014
Topic: Collaboration Research Note Number: 2014-T2
Issue: Who are the collaboration providers and how will they compete?
Webinars and webcasts are increasingly being made interactive for sales and marketing communications. Line-of-business leaders should ensure that prospective offerings fit their specific use-case needs.
Real-time communication and collaboration rely on a convergence of diverse technologies serving specific areas from web conferencing and video to integrated unified communication and collaboration (UCC) platforms. While capabilities are scattered, business requirements usually determine what business leaders look for, and webinars and webcasts are increasingly in demand for internal and external business communications. Integration with social software and marketing platforms are also becoming key criteria. In this report, we will discuss the market and provide a Who’s Who of the primary webinar vendors across a diverse landscape.
Table of Contents
Diverse Vendor Mix
Features and Functions
Video Content Management Vendors That Support Webinars/Webcasting
In the web conferencing space, webinars and webcasts are a popular use case and meeting type, used for internal training and by sales and marketing professionals to interact with prospects and customers. Most of the major web conferencing vendors have modules and facilities to accommodate larger webinar events. There are also specialists like ON24 that directly support large webinar and webcasting events.
Offerings are predominantly cloud-based and can be sold per event for large one-time events or as a subscription. We believe there is downward price pressure in this market and the entire web conferencing space, as free and low cost providers are constantly emerging with “good enough” feature sets.
As the market undergoes consolidation and technology convergence, capabilities such as video have become common in many offerings. In fact, most RFPs include video as a required item. Video and web conferencing have been on a collision course as offerings naturally combine the two to satisfy the growing requirements of users.
The need to meet and work with people in different locations is getting more critical in a digital era. Business is inherently distributed, dispersed and real-time, and high levels of collaboration are central to the enterprise imperative to improve and to innovate. Video delivery is getting less expensive, and quality is going up. The race to offer an integrated experience is an area of focus that is needed as enterprises begin to embed real-time meetings into other collaboration platforms.
Multiple departments within enterprises are using real-time capabilities such as web conferencing and webinars for sales and marketing communications, training, corporate communications and collaboration.
We are seeing a mix of vendors from different disciplines also supporting webinar capabilities. Video content management (VCM) vendors have increased capabilities for training, sales and marketing communications. Many of these vendors now support live and on-demand webcasts and webinars. So while we traditionally looked at Cisco WebEx, Adobe and Citrix as primary providers, a new mix of vendors now outside of the real-time space are offering these capabilities.
Users generally want the same things in a webinar that’s designed to meet a specific need. Here are a few of the standard ways that enterprises use webinar technology:
- Live training “virtual classroom” (may be archived for on-demand viewing in a YouTube-type library)
- New product launch
- Town hall meetings
- Recruiting interviews (see Research Note 2014-01, The Aragon Research Globe for Video Recruiting, 2014)
- New hire onboarding
- On-demand training
- Product introductions
- Investor relations calls
- Sales product demos
- PR and marketing events
- Lead generation
Each use case will demand certain critical features and functions. For example, a marketing webinar will require very granular reporting and analytics for lead generation activities. Here are some of the technical requirements that most of the use cases above will demand:
- Webcasting (with audio through both phone and computer)
In the past, session audio was carried on a phone bridge by default, but today most attendees use VOIP as a default, with a phone option available. Some larger providers with telecom ties still support large bridges, but costs are higher and can scale with the number of attendees.
At least one-way video from presenter to attendees; with smaller groups or multiple presenters, some systems don’t limit the number of video feeds. Most providers support one or more of the standard IP video protocols (Flash, H.264, AVC, MP4, … ). Flash is being phased out, and is not officially supported on Apple iOS devices or on Android 4.0 and above. On the desktop, however, Flash is still a widely used format.
The big shift in video is delivery to tablets. Tablets have become the ultimate meeting device. In many cases attending a webinar via tablet is easier than using a PC or laptop. When evaluating providers, try attending a session with a tablet.
Prediction: By 2016, 60% of webinar attendees will use tablets.
Session owners should be able to access complete metadata about each session, including attendee list, performance specifications, test/survey results, etc. Some systems can integrate with social networks, enterprise directories, LMSs and statistical tools.
Reporting and analytics tools help enterprises tie collaboration events such as webinars to long-term business processes like marketing, staff development, sales and CRM. Given the cost and planning requirements of webinars, it’s important to justify them by placing them in the context of a specific, measurable business outcome, such as improved employee performance or higher per-account revenue. Analytic data is an integration tool that allows business units to optimize the return on their collaboration investments.
- Lead Generation
Lead generation is one of the most valuable and fundamental applications for reporting and analytics in the context of sales and marketing webinars. Producers should be able to capture login information from attendees, measure audience activity and engagement level, integrate with CRM and campaign systems, and manage email campaigns based on attendance. Increasingly, webinar providers are integrating with standard marketing automation packages for post-webinar lead processing. If your webinar agenda includes outward-focused marketing events, look for a tool with robust analytics and marketing automation integration (see Research Note 2013-T2, Toolkit: Best Practices for Marketing Webinars).
- Interactivity – Chat
Providers offer different levels of feedback opportunities. At a minimum, attendees should be able to type in a chat window to ask questions or respond to a quiz or survey. Most products offer separate chat and quiz/survey modules; the latter go only to the owner or moderator, while the former can be directed to any individual alone or to the whole group. If global chat is offered, session owners should be able to turn it off.
- Interactivity – Polling
Testing and survey modules share the same structure, with different analytics at the high end. Products that will be used for a lot of testing should have hooks for integration with a learning management system. Polls, or surveys, are designed to provide feedback to the presenter or producer for purposes other than learning.
- Interactivity – Contextual
Some providers offer a range of interactivity features based on the nature of the session. For example, sales or marketing sessions may offer a range of follow-up options and social media tools; informational sessions may offer “further reading” options; sessions that are part of a sequence may offer links to other parts of the sequence. All these should be configurable by the owner in advance of the session.
Client account-holders should be able to set up sessions on their own, issue invitations and maintain a list of regular attendees for email contact. Many providers offer a wide range of self-service options, such as:
|Before the Event||During the Event||After the Event|
|Send email invitations||Create and save whiteboard contents in real time||Integrate with CRM or email for marketing follow-up|
|Schedule reminders to attendees||Create and deploy interactive elements like tests and surveys||Link to subsequent events|
|Sell tickets to attendees and process payments online||Process attendee feedback in real time||Make event recordings available on demand|
|Create presentations and store them online|
Table 1: Typical Webinar Self-Service Options
Online support should be available during sessions, with very fast response times. Some services can host sessions, with provider personnel in attendance. A minimum level of support includes online or telephone help desk service during sessions to assist producers in setting up the event and in troubleshooting connection issues, as well as to assist attendees in joining the session.
Deeper levels of support include pre-event support for producers, both in planning and provisioning events and in marketing and selling to attendees. Some providers offer portals where attendees can sign up for events, book and pay for tickets to paid events, or purchase access to recorded events. Providers who offer transaction services should be evaluated on their certification and security features, on how they account for and transfer event revenue to producers, and on their fee structure and payment mechanism for providing such services.
A few large providers can support really large events with broadcast-level production capabilities, including rental of physical studios with equipment and crews. Given the cost of such arrangements, they are nearly always suitable only for paid events. For producers near major production centers such as New York, Las Vegas or Los Angeles, it may be more cost-effective to have an independent facility mount the physical production, and feed an output to the webcast provider in a streaming format.
Enterprises that plan to produce many events per year may want to contract with a hosting service that can support a full ecosystem that includes an event archive and library of content, a replay system with shopping-cart service, and other provisions for managing and monetizing the entire curriculum over the long term.
- File Formats
Sessions can be streamed and recorded in many formats. Some services offer a choice; all should use standard formats such as QuickTime, Windows Media and MP4.
Avoid services that use proprietary formats. Even though some of them, like DivX, are well known and can be converted fairly easily into more portable forms, there is generally a cost. It may be an actual financial expense, like a licensing requirement or the need to buy a piece of software that you wouldn’t otherwise use; it may be a loss of quality in the output of the conversion, which can render the content unattractive to viewers and limit your ability to monetize it further. Formats that require a proprietary viewer or decoder restrict your audience and reduce the content’s portability. Sometimes they are deliberately chosen for this reason, as a kind of ad hoc copyright protection. Since players are available for nearly every format, this limits only casual sharing.
- Service Configurations
Most services today are cloud-based, and require no special telecom infrastructure. Many configurations exist. For example, most services broadcast IP audio on the outbound side, but some require a telecom connection for incoming audio. If a telecom bridge is required, costs may be higher, and scale with the size of the audience. The industry trend is away from bridges and toward IP-only configurations.
For most providers, the baseline engagement is contracted per event and billed per minute or per event. In many enterprises, business-unit managers will engage with providers in this way rather than enter into a purchase-order relationship. For steady users, however, this is generally the most expensive way to contract webinar services, particularly if an enterprise has multiple business units engaging multiple providers in this way, with no economies of scale. This is a major reason for IT to get involved in the webinar process enterprise-wide.
- Portal and Branding Options
Some providers offer cloud portals branded with the client’s trade dress at extra cost, with the baseline offering branded by the provider. Clients with ongoing regular webinar schedules such as daily, weekly or monthly learning or marketing events can establish a long-term relationship with branded tenancy at reduced rates. Enterprises that use webinars in an ad hoc way will probably achieve the best costs with a provider-branded interface.
- Recording, Cloud Storage and Playback
A webinar is a valuable piece of content. It should be recorded for reuse. The better providers allow for recordings to be stored in the cloud. Aragon thinks that the cloud recording part of the webinar feature set should not be overlooked.
Rates should be reasonable for maintaining a repository of recorded sessions. Some providers can build you a branded channel and help you monetize on-demand viewing. Video content management vendors allow the archiving and editing of the content.
- Camera Support
Webcams are fairly standardized, and most services will accept input from any standard brand (Logitech, Microsoft, etc.). Today most of the better laptops come with a solid webcam. Most smartphones and tablets also have cameras, but some of them may output different video formats from a standard webcam. Phones and tablets may also be difficult to mount on a tripod for maximum steadiness. For high-end results, find out if your service can take a feed from a dedicated video or TV camera, which will be far more adjustable and far higher quality if it is compatible.
- Professional Services
Many firms can and do offer a higher level of support during a live broadcast. Many do offer services at reasonable rates. Large providers can set up special sessions or send a team to your facility. A few, like ON24, offer full broadcast production facilities.
Most vendors provide similar functionality at a minimum. Differences arise around pricing and mobile support.
Every webinar has a similar flow that should be supported by any vendor you consider. The flow will involve all the required features and functions in a particular order of events. This flow will be a main component of the overall webinar strategy for producers. The success of the webinar can be measured on how seamless the flow was, plus the final reporting and analytics to see if the goal of the webinar was met. Establish the goal before the event. Planners should look for the following flow and typical list of services:
Table 2: Webinar Flow and Required Services
Literally hundreds of providers offer various levels of real-time collaboration through a variety of business models. Here Aragon focuses on the vendors we see consistently in the marketplace and that come up frequently in client inquiries for webinar and webcasting tools.
|Cisco||WebEx Event Center||www.cisco.com|
|IBM||IBM SmartCloud Events||www.ibm.com|
|iLinc||iLinc for Webinars||www.ilinc.com|
|Intercall||Intercall Unified Meeting||www.intercall.com|
|PGi||Global Meet, iMeet Live||www.premiereglobal.com|
|Qumu||Qumu Enterprise Video Platform||www.qumu.com|
Table 3: Vendors Covered in this Guide
Adobe has been in the web conferencing business for almost 10 years since its acquisition of Macromedia and its Breeze product. Adobe has continued to grow the business by focusing on major use cases such as web conferencing, webinars and virtual classrooms. Adobe Connect also does a nice job of integrating the registration process for webinars by leveraging capabilities from other Adobe products, such as Adobe Experience Manager. Other providers may want to emulate Adobe in this area.
Adobe Connect is one of the major virtual classroom offerings on the market. While having strong traction in education, government and defense, Adobe has steadily increased its footprint across the enterprise in areas such as sales and marketing webinars. A differentiating feature is that Adobe Connect also supports hosting meetings along with video from mobile devices.
Cisco offers a full suite of real-time collaboration offerings that spans from its flagship WebEx web conferencing line to its Cisco Jabber unified communications client and all the way to personal, room-based and immersive telepresence systems. WebEx has the largest global footprint in web conferencing and its solutions integrate together. Both WebEx and Cisco Jabber offer high quality video experiences on tablets. In addition, Cisco’s enterprise video portal, called Show and Share, integrates into WebEx and TelePresence with the ability to watch recorded webinars, provide video analytics, embed into SharePoint and other sites, as well as provide an on-premise webcasting solution integrated into Cisco’s content distribution products. The breadth of Cisco’s product offering has sometimes created some confusion with enterprise buyers.
Cisco’s specific webinar services are in its WebEx Event Center, which scales up to 1000 participants out of the box, with additional capacity available. Its capabilities resemble those of WebEx Training Center, with similar capacity and level of interactivity. Event Center lags Adobe and Cisco’s own WebEx Meeting Center with regard to full join/attend capabilities from mobile devices and a central meeting space for sharing documents and recordings pre- and post-meeting.
Citrix has popularized meetings with its Flagship GoToMeeting service that it advertises heavily. It also offers GotoWebinar, GoToWebCast and GoToTraining, where GoToWebinar is a leader in the webinar space. GoToWebinar scales up to 1,000 participants and supports marketing presentations and other large group events. GoToWebCast supports up to 5000 attendees. Citrix’s HD Faces desktop video conferencing capability also is available in GoToWebinar sessions. The offering comes in 100, 500 and 1,000 participants plans. Go-To-Webinar is supported on iOS, Android and Windows Phones.
Due to its viral marketing and ad campaigns, Citrix has amassed strong traction in SMBs and direct procurement by lines of business in mid to large enterprises. The addition of its Podio social business and collaboration platform has the potential to be leveraged especially by digital marketing webinar producers to create communities and groups spawned from and based on webinar events and topics to continue the conversation and engage with attendees. This is crucial lead generation capability for sales and marketing professionals.
Fuze, recently rebranded from Fuzebox to Fuze, is known more for its meeting product, FuzeMeeting, which offers one of the most seamless desktop and tablet video meeting experiences on the market. In 2012, Fuze pioneered a next-generation experience by offering a native meeting app for Apple Mac products. Its iPad video experience is good from a user perspective. FuzeMeeting will be ideal for enterprises that are Mac shops, and it also supports Windows.
FuzeMeeting has a Webinar Mode module to extend its capabilities to support larger webinar events. These events are also supported on the iPad. Presenters and hosts are given more control over audio and video, plus the ability to hide attendee details from other attendees. Along with its name change, Fuze also announced recently that it’s now starting to release a more adaptive and dynamic user experience, first on iPad with applications for Mac, Windows, Android and HMTL5 by July 2014.
At the IBM Connect conference in January, IBM announced it would now market its collaboration offerings under the IBM Connections brand. IBM has been shifting its real-time collaboration focus to the cloud, and it now offers both dedicated hosted options and multi-tenant SaaS implementation from its data centers. Its current SmartCloud services include SmartCloud Meetings for web conferencing and SmartCloud Events for webinars, among other offerings. SmartCloud Events has all the usual required webinar features ranging from pre-event registration and management to post-event analysis and reporting. Its native mobile support includes iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices.
IBM’s network for SmartCloud is globally distributed, providing both capacity and availability in many countries. SmartCloud Events offers a central event management page, where webinar producers can create, edit and review events. While SmartCloud Events is generally available, it is sometimes difficult for business users to find specific information online. IBM needs better web navigation to get users the information they need about all the different SmartCloud offerings and modules.
iLinc has a suite of products called iLinc Suite, which includes iLinc for Meetings, iLinc for Learning, iLinc for Support and iLinc for Webinars. iLinc for Webinars includes Salesforce CRM integration and social network integrations. It can support up to 1,000 participants with both VoIP and a fully integrated audio bridge.
While the suite supports both Mac and Windows PCs, iLinc still lags the market in full mobile device support. The ability to access features via a browser on a mobile device may be sufficient for some attendees. Presenters and webinar producers would lack certain host controls without native support.
Intercall is a service provider, which via acquisitions has gained a range of traditional web conferencing (Genesys), virtual events/trade shows (Unisfair) and webinar and webcasting (Stream 57) capabilities. Along with its audio conferencing bridge services, this gives Intercall a complete end-to-end virtual events portfolio.
Intercall is currently working to fully integrate all its acquired virtual events and conferencing assets, to present a more cohesive platform with a similar look and feel across all services. Similar to other service providers such as PGi, Intercall also resells web conferencing services from the likes of Cisco WebEx.
The ON24 platform can support thousands of attendees and deliver interactive webinars using its Platform 10 widget architecture. It can integrate with broadcast and satellite infrastructures, and even provides a production studio, complete with staff, for those who can afford it. The company will also manage and host events, and offers many online utilities for webinar producers, from creating presentations to managing ticket sales. ON24 will maintain a library of events for access on demand, and producers can impose various conditions on that access. Producers can also create branded portals and integrate e-marketing and social tools to promote events.
ON24 also has a self-service offering, Webcast Elite, which is available via annual subscription along with its traditional per-event services. Webcast Elite allows webinar producers, who range from digital marketing leaders to training professionals, to produce their own events from start to finish. This brings ON24 services into an overlapping market with web conferencing products like Cisco WebEx, Citrix GoToWebinar and Adobe Connect.
PGi is a service provider that resells other vendors’ web conferencing products such as Cisco WebEx and Adobe Connect alongside of their own Global Meet, iMeet and iMeet Live services. Global Meet is their traditional conferencing service that includes an audio conferencing bridge along with web conferencing capabilities.
With Global Meet as its primary webinar offering, PGi ends up competing with the other webinar services it resells. Global Meet requires no download for guest participants, which is a benefit to organizations that have a desktop lockdown policy.
The Saba Webinar solution is based on the Saba Meeting product, which has global use in higher education, governments and enterprises. The offering integrates with Saba’s social platform, enabling webinar events to be launched live or played back within the social network. The webinar solution supports VoIP and HD video and integrates with learning management systems for virtual classroom use cases.
The platform supports up to 3000 webinar attendees with adaptive bandwidth management features that automatically adjust to ensure that the viewer’s experience is optimal. The platform is fully self-service, allowing webinar producers to customize and handle the registration all the way to post-event analytics and reporting.
Vyew is one of the lower-cost providers and is contributing to the downward price pressure in this market. While not as heavy on features as some, Vyew does offer optional plug-ins to the webinar experience. There is an online video portal so you can search YouTube videos that are relevant to your webinar or training session. Your users won’t need to download anything extra for these features.
Vyew’s shortcomings include the lack of a real registration tool and the fact that users cannot create profiles. It also lacks smartphone and mobile device support. Its e-commerce functions are limited, so enterprises can’t charge attendees for attending a webinar.
Video Content Management Vendors That Support Webinars/Webcasting
Qumu’s enterprise video platform supports live and on-demand webcasting with video in addition to slides. As a video content management platform, one of the benefits Qumu provides is the ability to deliver one-to-many webcasts at scale. Its secure content delivery network ensures webcasts are delivered to any device with minimal network impact. Webcasts can also be recorded and stored for on-demand viewing at a post-webcast date.
Its myriad of uses includes streaming trade shows, town hall meetings, new product launches and virtual classrooms or learning events. A benefit for enterprises with video content management platforms like Qumu’s, is the ability to have a portal to view both live and on-demand video content and make it searchable, taggable, interactive, and organized into categories and channels. It also supports reporting and analytics for all videos in one consistent interface.
Sonic Foundry has a strong history in education with its lecture capture capabilities. Its Mediasite platform was designed first as a live/on-demand webcasting platform and has evolved to become a VCM platform. Increased enterprise use has taken the offering to support multiple uses like marketing webinars and webcasting events. Through its Mediasite Event Services, Sonic Foundry supports large hybrid events, which are face-to-face events with an online streaming element.
Mediasite integrates with room video conferencing systems and can stream those sessions to any device. It also integrates with learning and content management systems. The platform supports the entire workflow from capture/record to management and delivery of interactive content such as webcasts and video presentations. Sonic Foundry uses partners for its CDN capabilities in its Mediasite Cloud.
VBrick’s platform supports live and on-demand webcasting and webinars to any device and from multiple devices including iPads. Any enterprise user can stream content straight from their iPad to thousands. VBrick’s platform and content delivery network have been used in government and defense use cases for secure media delivery, where security, network optimization and scale are crucial. Vbrick’s portfolio of offerings ranges from on-premises to cloud.
Vbrick is currently expanding its on-premises offering with a cloud architecture platform to support on-premises, cloud and hybrid enterprise video platform deployments.
- Take an inventory of use cases from multiple business units and try to consolidate them to find one or two offerings that can serve the entire enterprise.
- Use our ITEX Toolkit TCO Calculator for Web and Video Conferencing to assess your bandwidth needs before beginning negotiations. Network costs can vary widely across the industry.
Webinars and webcasts are increasingly popular for internal collaboration, learning and training, and a growing range of interactions with investors, prospects and customers. Most major web conferencing vendors now have webinar products, but low-cost providers are constantly emerging to put downward price pressure on the established players and create an increasingly competitive market.
Copyright © 2014 Aragon Research Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.