Welcome to Tech Talks, where we delve into issues pertaining to audio, video and lighting (AVL) technology with industry thought leaders. In today’s edition, we’re speaking with Paul Krizan, Corporate Solutions Manager at HARMAN Professional Solutions, about broadcasting live video presentations within an organization.
Before joining HARMAN 10 years ago, Paul worked in telecommunications. He says his passion has always been, “Helping people to communicate, whether it’s bits going across wired infrastructures or actual audio-video interfaces.”
In recent years, the Internet has greatly simplified the ability of large organizations to communicate with employees, wherever they may be located, and I was interested in Paul’s recommendations for capturing and distributing video content.
[MM] If an organization wants to communicate by video for an event, like an all-hands meeting, CEO briefing or new product launch, what’s the best way to arrange it?
[PK] Historically, when companies wanted to do this, it involved bringing in broadcast equipment—a truck of gear that sometimes included satellite uplinks. But, with our ability to now distribute video over a network, it has become fairly easy for companies to achieve on their own. Some corporations have designated locations that are equipped to broadcast to employees, regardless of where they are located. These employees could be at one of the company’s facilities, on the road or working from home.
[MM] Can you describe the process of setting up an internal broadcast system?
[PK] There are a number of ways. Ideally, the organization has a dedicated space, where it’s as simple as having a camera and mixing console connected to an H.264 encoder that takes the audio and video and puts it on the network. That’s the content capture end, if you will.
At the HARMAN campus in Richardson, Texas, for example, we have a mixed-use cafeteria space that we can also use for live presentations for all-hands meetings and other gatherings. The camera and AMX SVSI N3000 encoders are permanently installed, so they’re available any time we need to have a meeting. Before we added the camera and encoder, we already had lights, speakers, microphones and a mixing console, and we were able to present to audiences of about 300 people in the space. Adding the camera and encoder allowed us to make it an online presentation system, enabling us to send the same presentation to any remote campus across the globe.
[MM] How do you scale up the distribution to reach people in a variety of locations?
[PK] Because all of the content is on the network, you have access to different options with a range of costs. It depends on the company’s network infrastructure and how private the content needs to be.
One option is to livestream presentations to all of a company’s different facilities over its wide area network (WAN). However, it’s a mechanism that tends not to scale up well if they have lots of small facilities because, often times, they don’t have sufficient bandwidth. Plus, you’re left with an issue of excluding employees who are working from home or traveling.
Another approach is using a content distribution network (CDN), which is usually a third-party service. Companies send their videos to a CDN that has big data centers on the Internet and can immediately make the content available to all of their locations, employees, remote employees and remote sites anywhere. There are lots of options and lots of different CDN providers. One of the main things to be careful about is finding out how the provider secures their network.
In our facility, we actually deploy a hybrid system. We use a CDN that allows us to scale up for all of our small sites and handle our remote employees, but we also stream live to our biggest offices. We do this for a couple of reasons. If you have 100 people in an office, and they are each sitting at their desk watching the video from the CDN, it could seriously impact the facility’s Internet bandwidth. It would mean that 100 copies of the video are coming into the building through the Internet pipe.
The second reason is that at larger facilities, with a decent number of employees, people generally want to get in a room together for an all-hands presentation, sales meeting orteam briefing. There is something natural about people interacting with each other in those kinds of settings. At HARMAN, in our biggest offices, we have employees gather in common areas and set up a display with something that can play the stream and use a CDN for everyone else. For many enterprises, a hybrid system is probably the best solution. You get the best of both worlds instead of just one or the other.
[MM] What about recording meetings for later viewing?
[PK] Many CDNs offer options to record live presentation videos for viewing on demand. Depending on the organization’s distribution requirements, encoders like the AMX SVSI N3000 have a record capability, so while it’s streaming, it can also record to a disk. You could also use a network video recorder (NVR) that records streams off the network. If the goal is to simply archive the presentation, you can also use a PC to record it.
[MM] What happens when an organization needs to broadcast a larger, public-facing event, like a press conference?
[PK] When it comes to press conferences, stockholder meetings and other communications that go beyond the organization, it’s preferable to hire an outside company and not leave the production value to chance. You need professional camera and soundboard operators, which most companies don’t have on their staffs. At tradeshows and customer events, we usually bring in a professional AV company with a three-or-four-person crew using professional-grade video cameras to handle that end of it, allowing us to focus on our customers.
[MM] How would you advise smaller organizations that would like to broadcast a presentation?
[PK] These days, anyone can use their phone and Facebook to share a live event. When churches stream their services live, most use sites like YouTube, which don’t require the level of standards, uptime and quality of broadcast equipment of a major press conference or shareholder meeting.
An H.264 encoder can stream directly to YouTube, so it’s a really easy way to go. You can have a video camera hooked up to an encoder that is configured to point to YouTube, and you’re streaming live. If you’re a church, for example, or any company, facility or group that doesn’t have a big security concern, with just a couple of pieces of equipment, you can stream live on the Internet.
Many thanks to Paul for his insights about broadcasting for organizations. Do you handle AV for a group that broadcasts internal meetings? Please share your insights in the comments.