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Webinar vs. webcast – what are they and when should you use them?

Justin Thomas
Oct 16, 2018 4:11:40 PM

When thinking about whether you want to host a webinar vs. a webcast, there are several factors to consider. 

What you’re trying to effectively communicate, how many people are attending, who they are, and what supporting materials you need to get your point across. But to truly get the most out of your webinar or webcast you need to first know what “webinar” or “webcast” means and when they’re most effective.

What is a webinar?

A webinar is defined as a seminar that takes place online. It usually consists of a speaker (and sometimes a co-host) making a presentation to a virtual room of attendees connecting online at the same time from various locations. Notably, presenters and attendees can interact with each other via chat, Q&A, and by using a virtual white board.

Characteristics of a webinar

  • Webinars are “few-to-many” events where one or several hosts present to and interacts up to 1000 attendees.
  • Attendees and presenters alike can be located anywhere in the world and can connect to their webinar on a desktop or mobile device.
  • A key aspect of webinars is that they’re interactive. They use features like whiteboard, screen sharing,  Q&A, polling and chat - however hosts maintain full control over their audience.
  • They can be recorded and turned into an evergreen webinar for later viewing, download, and sharing online via email or a sharable link.

When to use a webinar

The best use of a webinar is when you need to meet your audience "live" and interact with them in real-time. Let’s say you’re training your coworkers on a new task. In a webinar you could screen-share & whiteboard to walk-through and annotate documentation as you speak. Throughout your presentation your coworkers can use the Q&A tool to ask you questions and the chat to have discussions about the topic.

Let’s say you’re presenting a new release of your software - in a webinar you can demonstrate the software live and split-test features with the polling tool. Basically a webinar is best used when teaching a group, demonstrating a product, or when you need to get feedback from your audience on the spot.

What is a webcast?

Much like a webinar being a “web based seminar,” a webcast is a web based broadcast, or a broadcast that takes place online. However unlike a webinar, webcasting is characterized by a host (or hosts) simply broadcasting their presentation without any engagement from their audience. A large audience can view the webcast online from any device, but they can’t interact with their presenter.

Characteristics of a webcast

  • Webcasts are usually “one-to-many” in that a single broadcaster reaches a large number of attendees, numbering in the 10's to 100's of thousands, with little to no interactivity.
  • Often takes an “broadcast” format with a single stream sent out to the audience.
  • Are often “live-streamed” to other platforms like Facebook Live and YouTube, or embedded on a site.
  • Audience members are usually not able to interact with one another.

When to use a webcast

Webcasting is best used when you have an event like a corporate announcement, panel, or conference that you would like to broadcast to an audience that can’t attend it live.

This type of broadcast is also often seen in town-hall meetings or when music festivals are streamed online, even TED Talks are broadcast to an online audience after the conference has ended. Webcasts allow for events that are often exclusive, expensive, or inaccessible in some way to be enjoyed by a wider audience.

What should you use?

In summary, if interaction and engagement with your audience is necessary to bring the most value out of your online event, a webinar is the way you want to go. However, if your event doesn’t require audience participation or any kind of live collaboration, then a webcast is the best way to stream your event and have it viewed by the largest number of interested people.

Digital Samba had the opportunity to work with Deal Matrix on an online pitch competition, Global Pitch, where we streamed the competition all over the world on their site and on Facebook Live. While Samba Live allowed the jury to interact with the start-ups in a webinar style format, the event was also webcast out onto Facebook for a hybrid webinar / webcast.

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