Videoconferencing Comes Down to Earth

Article excerpt

Videoconferencing Comes Down to Earth Technological improvements, lower prices, and increased availability are making videoconferencing an option for more public relations purposes Videoconferencing: (a) is much cheaper than it was two years ago; (b) is more expensive than it was two years ago; (c) requires less technical expertise on the part of users than it did

a few years ago; (d) requires more technical expertise on the part of users.

Depending on who you talk to, videoconferencing--aka satellite videoconferencing, video teleconferencing, and two-way interactive video--is all of the above.

Contributing to this confusion is the recent proliferation of videoconferencing options. For starters, there are now two different types of videoconferencing, "ad hoc" and "dedicated."

Most public relations professionals are familiar with ad hoc videoconferences. Typically, these are "events," such as press conferences, that originate in one city and are linked by satellite to other locations across the city, the country, or the world. The videoconference network of satellite dishes and facilities is custom-assembled for each event, hence the term ad hoc. So, practitioners have to rent and transport portable satellite dishes to each videoconferencing site, hire people to operate them, and reserve satellite transponder time to send the signal. The quality of the picture is comparable to that of television programming (broadcast quality). These videoconferences are usually one-way video and two-way audio. Adding two-way video capability can double the cost of an ad hoc videoconference.

"Dedicated" videoconferencing is basically an interactive, audio-visual meeting between two or more locations with permanent videoconferencing equipment. These videoconferences have two-way video and two-way audio. The big advantage here is that, in most cases, dedicated videoconferences cost a fraction of the price of ad hoc ones, because different technology is generally used to transmit and compress the information on the video signal. This also means, however, that less information is transmitted, so the picture is not quite as sharp as a broadcast-quality picture, and it is therefore not acceptable for television reproduction.

Dedicated videoconferencing facilities can and are being set up that are capable of transmitting broadcast-quality signals. However, with these set-ups, you may lose the cost advantage.

Increased videoconferencing options have fueled an increase in the uses for the service. As little as five years ago, "mega-events," such as multi-city press conferences linked by satellite, dominated public relations applications of videoconferencing. Today, this technology is also being used for crisis communication, investor relations, marketing support, fund raising, recruitment, and many different types of meetings. Even the traditional ad hoc video press conference has a new, less costly wrinkle, the satellite media tour.

Formerly, practitioners were limited to ad hoc videoconference networks; now, there are an increasing number of existing "public" videoconferencing facilities that can be rented. These range from in-house corporate TV studios that are rented to other companies, to videoconferencing rooms run by independent vendors, to public relations firms with video operations that can be rented when not in use by the firm or its clients. Arranging a videoconference from one of these facilities is much simpler, and often requires less technical expertise, than assembling an ad hoc videoconferencing network. However, as already noted, the quality of transmissions at these facilities vary.

To help practitioners sort through these services, PRJ interviewed videoconferencing consultants and suppliers, organizations that have established their own videoconferencing facilities, trade journalists, and public relations practitioners.

Usage on the upswing

One of the few things that virtually everyone agrees on is that videoconferencing use, both ad hoc and dedicated, is up--way up. …