The ROI of Enterprise Webcasting: Justifying the Expense

Enterprises have been delivering video over the internet since around 1997, and we’re well past the phase of delivering video for video’s sake. If your CFO asked you, “Has all this streaming video even remotely paid for itself?” could you answer in the affirmative — and back it up? We went hunting for use cases where streaming media was clearly financially justified.

Obviously, this can happen in multiple ways. First, streaming media can provide a cheaper alternative to an existing practice. Second, it can open new revenue opportunities. Finally, it can allow you to extend your marketing reach beyond what was available using traditional technologies. Here are six mini-case studies that are examples of these practices.

Lockheed Martin: Cutting Travel Costs

Eric Hards is the manager of digital media services for Lockheed Martin. He runs an internal group in the company that supports multiple business units, primarily producing executive- and director-level all-hands webcasts as well as internal and external training events. Hards’ team produces between 40 and 60 live events per year, with an average audience size of around 1,800 viewers and a peak audience of around 4,000 viewers.

Hards uses the Sonic Foundry Mediasite to capture and deliver live and on demand presentations. Interestingly, Hards chose Sonic Foundry because it was one of the few systems that didn’t require him to install software on the locked-down computers in conference rooms or to ask presenters to deliver slides a day or two before the event. Instead, the Mediasite capture stations accept and capture the graphics output from the presenter’s computer in real time, so there’s no need to install software or bug the presenter for slides in advance.

Before implementing the Mediasite solution, most meetings were face-to-face, which meant lots of expenses. Hards’ rule of thumb estimate of travel cost for each attendee of a two-day event was around $2,000, so a 50-person event started at around $100,000. That’s before you add the cost of facilities and other associated expenses.

Hards wouldn’t disclose the costs of the Mediasite system itself, which probably would be irrelevant anyway because pricing depends upon a number of factors, including company size. He did note that Lockheed Martin considers the Mediasite system a centralized enterprise service with the cost spread over the various business units.

Beyond the allocated costs, if a business unit wants to host a webcast, it needs to buy and maintain its own lecture capture station from Sonic Foundry, which costs $25,000 for the desktop version and $27,000 for the mobile version, according to the company. Most business units already have cameras and related audio and lighting gear, so the additional investment in hardware was minimal in most cases. They also had knowledgeable shooters and audio technicians, and since webcasts are only held about once a month in most business units, they didn’t need to add personnel to run the units. Overall, Hards estimated that most business units would easily recoup the costs of the capture station in 18 months or less.

Though Hards has never calculated the hard return on investment from the Mediasite system, he knows it’s saving Lockheed Martin money because he often gets requests from different business units to convert an existing live event to a webcast. As travel budgets get cut, an increasing number of business meetings, and particularly training sessions, are going virtual or hybrid, where local employees attend the meeting in person while others attend via Mediasite.

Hards noted that Lockheed Martin is also saving significant money by replacing managed teleconferencing services with a Mediasite webcast. Specifically, Lockheed Martin hosts many audio-only events where participants used to dial in over a third-party conferencing service, resulting in a significant bill for a one-hour event. Since most participants really didn’t need live interaction, however, Hards can produce an audio-only webcast at no real incremental cost to Lockheed Martin.

Centerplate: Cutting the Cost of Intercompany Communications

Centerplate is a hospitality company that handles concessions and fan services at approximately a quarter of NFL stadiums, in addition to other venues across the globe — in 2014, the company will serve more than 115 million guests over 350 venues worldwide. If you had a burger at Mile High Stadium in Denver or a beer at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, chances are it was served by Centerplate.

The very nature of Centerplate’s business means that its workforce of more than 45,000 is scattered around the world, which complicates important communications. Last December, the company had an important announcement that significantly impacted global operations. In the past, upper management would have travelled around the U.S. and Europe for major company announcements and briefed employees in centralized locations, which was expensive, time-consuming, and failed to deliver the message quickly.

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For example, to announce their recent merger with a U.K. company, 10 Centerplate executives flew to London and employees were brought in from around Europe, at an estimated cost of over $50,000. For other events, they tried audio-only bridge lines, which the company found unwieldy.

For the recent announcement, it was important to give everyone the same information all at once, in a personal manner, direct from the CEO. Centerplate broadcast the event live using Livestream. After considering several options, Bob Pascal, Centerplate’s chief marketing officer, chose Livestream because “they had the technology platform that could handle the bandwidth and speed, and because we were impressed with their personnel, particularly in customer service.”

Centerplate staffed the announcement with its own crew of three, with an interviewer chatting with the CEO, and on-demand clips interspersed throughout. The company handled all production, with Livestream encoding and distributing the stream. Pascal estimates that producing the live event cost less than $15,000, a significant savings over their previous events in cost as well as other non-monetary expenses like travel time.

Pascal was quick to note that the merger-related travel was “money well spent. Oftentimes you really do need to be face-to-face.” However, for major time-sensitive announcements in which it is imperative that everyone has an opportunity to see and hear the information at once, he wanted a solution that delivered as close to the live event experience as possible. In a choice between personal, face-to-face delivery and time sensitivity, the phased delivery of a “road show” style tour often diluted the impact of the message.

“Our business depends upon getting people to live events, and we believe in the power of the gathering,” he says. “But when assembling our entire team together in person proved impractical due to numbers, geography, and time, we found Livestream was able to add a sense of immediacy, energy and excitement that we were seeking. In short, Livestream most closely replicated the live event experience.”

AICTC: Cutting Travel Costs and Reducing the Carbon Footprint

The American Institute of Certified Tax Coaches (AICTC) trains and certifies tax professionals with the Certified Tax Coach (CTC) designation. To gain and retain certification, members must attend an initial three-day training session followed by 25 hours of continuing professional education each year.

The organization was founded in San Diego in 2009 by CPA Dominique Molina. Initially, the organization conducted all training, continuing education, and support at centralized locations around the country, which meant that she and her instructors had to travel to these meetings, as did members not located in that particular training location. Not only was this costly in terms of time and money, but it also limited their ability to perform these activities and deliver other benefits of the organization, like networking. After several years of this status quo, Molina “wanted to find a way to increase these services without additional travel and expense.”

After evaluating several web conferencing systems, Molina chose Citrix GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar for several specific reasons. First, the AICTC had to document class participation to award CPE credits, which GoToWebinar’s polling and reporting capabilities enabled.

Second was the ability to share the presenter’s screen in real time, which is one of the major differences between most webcast and conferencing systems. Specifically, with most webcast systems, you upload a PowerPoint deck that gets displayed during the event, usually without any animations or transitions. In contrast, conferencing systems like GoToWebinar broadcast whatever is showing on the presenter’s screen. Molina obviously favored the second approach. “It is imperative to our business that we share our screen and go through our slide presentation,” she says.

Overall, Molina estimates that the AICTC has reduced corporate travel costs by more than $100,000 per year, while saving their members the time and expense of traveling to the meetings. While Molina wouldn’t discuss her webcasting costs, GoToWebinar’s standard pricing for up to 500 attendees is $399/month, or $3,828 when paid in one lump sum for a year.

That said, Molina makes it clear that GoToWebinar is not only about cost savings — it’s allowed her to offer more services to existing members and extend the AICTC’s marketing reach. For example, while on­site meetings have been cut to three or four per year, she now offers weekly training webinars to groups of 50 to 75 members. She’s also added a new service called masterminding where groups of six to eight members can meet to share ideas, plans, and goals, which provides a group “accountability” that’s produced “amazing” results.

On the marketing front, Molina uses GoToWebinar to offer free introductory training courses to prospective members, so they can “test drive” the key benefits of the organization. This marketing vehicle has proven so effective that AICTC no longer exhibits at trade shows, since she can meet prospects “in a classroom environment, which is what we specialize in.”

GoToWebinar also allowed Molina to meet another goal: reducing the carbon footprint of her organization and its members by more than 200 tons per year. To calculate that figure, she took the average number of webinar attendees and multiplied it by the average emissions associated with travelling to an AICTC event. “We are a very green company, and the reduction in our carbon footprint with web conferencing has been tremendous,” she says.

CommPRO.Biz: Finding New Sources of Revenues

Looking beyond cost savings, there are many instances where online video enables new revenue channels that couldn’t otherwise exist. One example is CommPRO.biz, an online media platform for business communications professionals. Founded in October 2010, the company has six employees in its offices on midtown Manhattan’s Park Avenue South.

According to co­founder Fay Shapiro, CommPRO.biz is like “the Huffington Post for B2B marketing professionals,” with six content areas stocked almost exclusively with sponsored content. Website visitors include more than 75,000 C­suite executives, who visit the site to read the content, share their opinions and collaborate with others.

CommPRO.biz grew by 72 percent in 2013, and one growth area is sponsored webcasts, which accounts for about 30 percent of the company’s revenue. Though CommPRO.biz does collaborate with brick and mortar events, Shapiro says that “99.5 percent of our events are virtual.” The obvious reason is reach. “Our audience is global,” Shapiro says. “Some recent webcasts pulled over 11,000 viewers from the U.K., and over 5,000 from Australia. You can’t reach that kind of distributed audience at a traditional live event.”

CommPRO.biz produces three or four webcasts a month, most using the Onstream Media Platform. Shapiro, who had worked with multiple webcasting systems in previous jobs, chose Onstream because “they’ve got great technology and pricing, and the Onstream team, which helps us coordinate and produce events, is absolutely five-star, a critical component of their overall value proposition.”

Even when participating in traditional events, Shapiro strongly advocates a live online presence. “You have to use webcasting to carry the live event beyond the brick and mortar; it’s not either or, it’s both.”

SiliconANGLE: Monetizing New Eyeballs

SiliconANGLE.com is another example of a business that uses online video in ways that would not be affordable with traditional technologies. By way of background, SiliconANGLE was founded by John Furrier in 2009 as a real-time news site focusing on technology and related companies.

One of the company’s principal audience acquisition tool is broadcasting live from industry conferences that are large enough to generate a significant worldwide audience but not large enough for traditional broadcasters. In 2013, the company broadcast from conferences such as Amazon’s AWS Summit, Accel Partners Symposium, IBM Flash, and EMC World, often streaming live from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. for multiple days.

Furrier estimates that live consumption of content from these events outnumbers on-demand by about 10-to-1, with David Pogue and other techno-celebrities drawing more than 100,000 live views when he spoke at a recent IBM conference. “We focus on events that otherwise don’t get covered,” Furrier says, “like ESPN back in the day with the NCAA Tournament.”

While the company uses its own homegrown appliance for production — Furrier boasts that they can roll in and be ready for a six-camera shoot in under and hour — the company quickly eschewed developing its own live streaming service, opting first to go with Justin.tv and later switching to Ustream for conferences. “When you’re streaming 13 hours a day, the transit costs alone would have killed us,” Furrier says.

Though SiliconANGLE still uses Justin.tv for some broadcasts, it switched to Ustream for conferences because of Ustream’s superior analytics and quality, which Furrier felt helped take their broadcasts to the “next level.” He sees Ustream as the “DevOps” for media companies like SiliconANGLE, providing both the software production and distribution environment and the distribution structure that few companies could afford on their own.

According to Furrier, affordability is key. Though some costs of the live webcasts are covered by sponsorships, the company primarily monetizes the audience through their blogs and research organization. “Our live broadcasts have synergy with other areas,” he says, “but without Ustream’s ability to make it affordable, we probably couldn’t make it work.”

Experian Data Breach Resolution: Dramatically Expanding Marketing Reach

Experian Data Breach Resolution, powered by the nation’s largest credit bureau, is a leader in helping businesses plan for and mitigate consumer risk following data breach incidents. Traditionally, the company has marketed its services through email, direct mail, website, and event marketing. According to brand management coordinator Brandon Tarnow, these methods had some significant limitations.

“Our integrated mix of traditional marketing could only generate so much awareness with our opt-in list, and we wanted our event and engagement to live well beyond our standard reach of in-person show attendees,” he says.

Accordingly, the last few times an Experian executive spoke at a privacy conference, Tarnow decided to stream the event live. “We were seeking to amplify the impressions from a presentation by our executive, and gain more brand awareness with other potential clients that didn’t attend the conference,” he says.

Experian turned to Ustream for several reasons. First, Ustream offered a completely turnkey service, bringing in all necessary equipment and personnel. “They handle all of the production, and we simply show up with our computer to present,” Tarnow says.

Second, because of Ustream’s social media support, they were able to add live Q&A for those watching the broadcast, enhancing interactivity and engagement. The live broadcast also allowed Experian’s PR team to leverage the presentation among the press and other media via a press release with the stream URL.

Finally, Ustream’s LiveAd feature allowed Experian to meet greatly expanded viewer targets for the event. Here’s how LiveAd works: Before the event, Ustream meets with Experian to identify their target audience and set viewer targets. Then, Ustream creates a media plan that identifies websites that align with those targets. Ustream distributes the content to these websites during the event, spilling over to rebroadcasts or on-demand broadcasts if the targets aren’t met. To harvest leads, viewers who click the player in the embedded website are taken to an Experian page where they can enter contact and other information.

While Experian declined to share cost information, it’s obvious that none of this came cheap. On the other hand, with a high-value service like Experian’s, the ability to extend their message beyond the 200 attendees in the room to a guaranteed relevant audience seems like a wise investment. As Tarnow concluded, “Their syndication efforts really help inject life into the panel in a big way. An event can quickly go from a few thousand views to a few hundred thousand views.”

Hypothetically, if the proverbial CFO happens to sit at Tarnow’s desk, and asks whether his investment in streaming media expense has paid for itself, you’d have to think he could say yes, and back it up with evidence. After all, Experian has produced multiple events with Ustream using this schema. While it’s not for every company and every product, Ustream’s services would likely have been fully funded and more if even a handful of the hundreds of thousands of impressions that Ustream delivered converted into a client.

As I said at the start, justifying streaming media isn’t all about saving money, though obviously that’s a meaningful component. It’s also about opening up new revenue or customer acquisition channels and expanding the reach of traditional brick and mortar events. I hope these stories have given you some direction — now the ball is in your court.

About Jan Ozer

I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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