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Webcasts tapped for more than meetings

Less camera shy

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Improvements in video and audio compression software and greater access to broadband networks have made Webcasting technology more feasible, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix. In addition, as companies scrutinize their travel budgets, Webcasting has become more acceptable as an alternative to business trips.

MasterCard International Inc., for instance, has found the technology can be used instead of travel, said Linda Locke, the company's VP-corporate communications. When MasterCard made major changes to its back-end credit card processing system last year, it set up RealNetworks Webcasts to let thousands of member banks learn how to connect their computers to the new system.

"This way, no one had to travel," Locke said. "They just set an hour aside to access the presentation at their desktops." Some companies are already documenting tangible results. GE Global eXchange Services (GXS), which operates one of the world's largest e-commerce transaction networks, recently partnered with editorial content provider and conference organizer IT World to provide a Webcast to discuss specific services and offerings.

At one recent GXS event, 871 people registered and 722 signed on for the Webcast. Of those who participated, 122 accessed a specific Web site to evaluate GXS' products, and 166 signed up for its e-mail newsletter. "It appears to be a useful tool, and we will certainly do more," said Reid Walker, director of marketing for GXS.

Fidelity Investments uses Webcasting routinely. Its portfolio managers conduct regular Webcasts to confer with research analysts at Lehman Brothers Inc. (the two companies have a research-sharing pact). Fidelity also uses Webcasts to provide educational seminars for its third-party investment advisers, with topics ranging from sales presentations to product information and industry trends. It even offers continuing education credit for licensed brokers and representatives via Webcasts.

Similarly, broker Charles Schwab & Co., which usually holds regional seminars for its investment advisers at branch offices, has begun Webcasting the live seminars and then archiving them. A Yankee Group report found that while 60 Schwab advisers signed on to watch one live seminar, more than 600 others watched the archived version later.

Another Webcast proponent is McKesson Corp.'s McKesson Information Solutions, which trains medical practitioners on patient and practice management software.

Until 18 months ago, only a handful of hospital employees could justify the time and expense of attending McKesson's sessions. But attendance has increased dramatically since the company began conducting online training with Centra Software Inc.'s CentraOne Platform, said Ginger Brill Pisik, project manager for McKesson's professional services group. Real-time attendance for the Web broadcasts increased 865% from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2002, she said.

Through RealNetwork Web seminars and live Webcasts, Oracle can make thousdands of pieces of video content available to partners in 252 countries from one server, and has reduced the cost of seminars from $350 per event per person to less than $1.

"I don't think you're going to use Internet broadcasting to replace e-mail or to replace Instant Messenger," said Jim Lewandowski, VP-enterprise solutions for Yahoo!. "But, by the same token, seeing the person you are interacting with far surpasses any other communications vehicle."

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