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Through the evolution of online multimedia, especially webcasting, we've seen a number of trends. At the beginning, people adopt a technology because it's "new and hip." Much of the time, the specific technology is a novelty and the best reason anyone can give for adopting it is "everyone else is doing it." Eventually, the novelties fade away and the technologies that provide the all-important return on investment (ROI) are the ones that are left standing. In the current financial environment, I'm hearing those letters more and more as it pertains to webcasting.
In the grand scheme of things, webcasting is a young technology, but it has a few battle scars from surviving an economic downturn. In the late '90s, during the technology bubble, webcasting was still in its novelty phase. When companies were flush with cash, they utilized webcasting for large scale events that had vague purposes like "Increase Frequency of Communications" or "Improve Consumer Experience." When the bubble burst, the webcasting industry took a hit, but it was forced to evolve. The large, highly-produced webcast faded away and was replaced by events where the ROI could be proven.
The evolution is still going on today. The challenge is to prove that webcasting technology is a viable communications solution and does not always have to be a costly, highly-produced "event." It's not an easy challenge to tackle, but it can be and has been done. An example that is cited quite often in the industry is how the old phone companies promoted their long distance service.
Steve Vonder Haar, a webcasting analyst, writes the following:
"For decades, AT&T priced long-distance telephone service at premium rates, and those fees shaped the image of long-distance as service only to be used in dire emergencies. Witness how characters in Hollywood movies made in the 1940s and 1950s often rush to the phone to take a call placed from across the country.
By the 1970s, however, AT&T had begun restructuring long-distance fees to more reasonable levels and launched promotional advertising encouraging people to 'reach out and touch someone.' Essentially, Ma Bell shifted consumers' focus from the costs of long-distance to its ability to help individuals achieve their own personal communications objectives. In short, they re-crafted the value proposition. Who cares about the cost if you get the chance to talk to family and friends?"
These days, most people don't think twice before dialing a long distance number.
Webcasting is not quite there yet, but the costs of using the technology are dropping and will continue to fall as bandwidth costs get lower and PCs become more advanced. As this happens, we see more companies utilizing webcasting to save money. Webcasting a meeting means that travel costs are significantly reduced. Webcasting a large scale phone call can actually be more cost-effective than having people dial in to a phone number. Webcasting a conference or seminar can not only save money, but even generate revenue if you decide to charge for it.
As I read the papers today and hear about the current economic environment, I can't help but think about a few things. First, I remember how the last "economic downturn" forced an industry to evolve. Second, I think about the AT&T example and the amount of time it took for "long distance" to become commonplace. Ultimately, I'm amazed to see what this ever-changing industry has done over the past 10 years - and I'm excited to see what it will be like in five, 10, 20 years and beyond.