August 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Broadcast News - August 1998 Current Issue
August 1998
Broadcast News

What it takes (and what it costs) to hold a meeting via video, audio or Internet

By Sarah J.F. Braley

When aircraft manufacturers Boeing and McDonnell Douglas made their merger official last summer, becoming The Boeing Company, more than 175,000 people joined in a celebration on Aug. 4. What was remarkable about this gathering was that only a fraction - 100 employees and spouses from several company sites - attended the main party at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The other participants partied throughout North America, listening to welcome speeches by the chairman and the president of the new venture, beamed by satellite to more than 58 sites in 17 states and Canada.

The idea of broadcasting various portions of meetings has become increasingly attractive, thanks to the number of technologies available to link site to site, attendees to shows, trainees to seminars and CEOs to the masses. Making these connections electronically cuts travel costs and saves employee time. But is it the way to go? The following should help you evaluate your options and their effect on your bottom line.

Across the beam
To link the sites, Boeing tapped DigitalXpress of St. Paul, Minn., which has also broadcast training sessions for Nike. Companies like DigitalXpress (888-591-1053; and Fort Lauderdale-based Vista Satellite (954-525-7884; sell videoconferencing services for all types of gatherings, such as sales meetings, training and product launches, among others.

"The satellite portion of any event is such a drop in the bucket," says Tina Plant, a spokesperson for DigitalXpress. She says the downlink equipment rents for about $1,400 per site; the actual airtime at the high end is $900 an hour - a pittance compared to the cost of gathering those 175,000 people in one place.

The costs that add up, says Plant, come from the studio time needed to script, produce and edit the live broadcast and any prerecorded material. For the merger event, Boeing used Dick Clark Productions and its top-notch staff and equipment, so the cost was significantly higher than it would have been to film a bare-bones production.

Over the phone lines
Audioconferencing and videoconferencing have become staples at Waterford Wedgwood USA in Wall, N.J., the American subsidiary for the crystal and china companies. Using just the phones, the sales staff gathers for a weekly meeting, which is probably the best use of this technology; the video capabilities are used by executives, managers and designers in New Jersey; Barlaston, England; and Waterford, Ireland, to work out pattern details, conduct board meetings and discuss new-product development. Videoconferencing also works well for seminars and distance learning, where the number of people who need training is fewer than 100.

Waterford Wedgwood taps into its MCI phone service for both types of connections. The picture comes across on a Sony TriniCom 5000 using six ISDN lines. A document camera at each location lets participants mark up the same design or outline simultaneously.

"The savings are fantastic," says Carla Pariso, Waterford Wedgwood's telecommunications manager. "Prior, we had to fly to England or Ireland, or they had to fly here. Many times, this way, people get to speak face-to-face with someone who would not have the opportunity to fly." Pariso adds that the videoconferencing setup is used every day, about five hours a day. The meetings include anywhere from one person in front of each camera to 20 people gathered at each site.

The going rate for such convenience? Sony ( has three basic types of videoconferencing systems, ranging from $10,000 to $21,500. Equipment is also manufactured by PictureTel (, priced at $35,000 to $39,000. For the phone call, MCI reports that the average rate per minute per participant for an audio conference is $1.91. For example, five people connected for 30 minutes would cost about $286.

The videoconferencing numbers are a little more complicated, according to MCI: In connecting four locations, or "ports," the caller pays $1 per minute per port ($4 a minute). The average videoconference is transmitted over six 64 Kbps channels at a speed of 384 Kbps; the use of each channel costs 20 cents a minute. This equation then comes to six channels times four ports at 20 cents a minute, for a total of $4.80 a minute. Add the two per-minute costs ($4 + $4.80) for a total of $8.80 a minute. A two-hour conference then would cost $1,056. Prices, of course, vary depending on your contract with your carrier.

Combo packages
Several companies now offer audio links between multiple participants; at the same time, these remote users can each simultaneously view the same PowerPoint or Web-based presentation.

One such company is Denver-based Broadband Associates, which markets a service called M.Show (888-996-7469; to such "retailers" as Frontier ConferTech and Williams Conferencing. Broadband's vice president of sales, Dick Schulte, calls M.Show's capabilities limitless. "There aren't any real boundaries," he says, since you can connect five people or hundreds of people for $1.25 to $1.50 per connection. "It's also quite easy to use, because you access tools that people already have at their desktops: a PC, a browser, access to the Internet and a telephone."

The process is ideal for distance learning. "Basically, anything that you can put in a Windows-based program, you can have up on your PC when you conduct an audioconference," says Lisa Silverman, director of marketing for networkMCI (800-952-2987; www., an Internet and audio-conference service offered by the telephone company. Another good use: product demonstrations. For the past year, the Vantive Corporation in Santa Clara, Calif., has been using the service to sell its software products. NetworkMCI is much less costly than the traditional route of presenting the programs in hotel meeting rooms around the country. The basic cost for networkMCI's audio portion is 30 to 50 cents per minute per location. A flat rate is charged for the Internet portion, depending on the number of sites; the price for up to 10 sites is $180 per hour.

On the Web
Broadcasting live over the Internet has yet to find its niche outside the techno world, but that doesn't mean the process isn't worth looking into, especially if your organization already has an extensive Web site geared to an upcoming convention. Site designers like Decatur, Ga.-based Third Millennium Communications (800-442-5177; offer live events and the archiving of seminars and speeches as part of an event package. The company has a division called Millennium Event just for this purpose.

It's all about giving exhibitors and attendees value-added services on the Web, according to Kirstin Berney, the Internet company's business development director. "If you want a full trade show business system - an interactive site with online registration, lead-generation forms, personal schedulers for attendees - you're looking at a starting cost of $20,000," she says. The cost will vary depending on the features you choose, including broadcasting an event or taping classes to be stored on the site.

Searching for good suppliers? Tracking down the right company to handle your broadcasting needs can be difficult.

Your best bet is word of mouth - talk to other planners and see what they've accomplished with their meetings. Go to local chapters of industry associations and ask fellow members who they've used. On the Internet, search for Web site designers, satellite service providers, netconferencing services, and video- and audioconferencing products and services.

And hire them the way you would any other employee - by asking a lot of questions and thoroughly checking references. S.B.

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