Meetings & Conventions: Broadcast News - August
What it takes (and what it costs) to hold a meeting via
video, audio or Internet
By Sarah J.F. BraleyW
hen 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; www.digxpr.com) and Fort
Lauderdale-based Vista Satellite (954-525-7884; www.vistasat.com)
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
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
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 (www.sony.com) has
three basic types of videoconferencing systems, ranging from
$10,000 to $21,500. Equipment is also manufactured by PictureTel
(www.picturetel.com), 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.
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
One such company is Denver-based Broadband Associates, which
markets a service called M.Show (888-996-7469; www.mshow.com) 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
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.
nmc.mci.com), 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; www.3mc.com) 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
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.
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