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Webcast vs. Webinar: Similarities and Differences in Structure and Function

Posted on 04/01/2022

The ongoing advancement of technology has helped many businesses across the world improve their strategies and communication systems.

From AI techniques that push personalized recommendations online to potential customers, to software that helps businesses track customer buying trends, the benefits are endless.

However, some of the most valuable platforms that have been introduced are those that help businesses provide webcasts and webinars.

Webcasts and webinars are streaming methods that can help organizations reach broader audiences and retain their existing customers.

Nonetheless, they’re often confused for one another and the terms are used interchangeably.

This guide will set the record straight, helping you comprehend how the two are different, and delving into the differences and similarities to give you a full, in-depth understanding of webcasts and webinars.

So, let’s start by establishing exactly what webcasts and webinars are.


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What exactly is a webcast?

Like a traditional broadcast, a webcast allows the host to stream a conference or event. Webcasts are streamed online, either live or recorded, for a large audience.

Webcasts are a one-way stream of visuals that do not allow audience interaction. Much like a television program, viewers simply watch or listen to the stream, depending on whether it’s audio, a video, or a slideshow presentation.

For example, a digital consulting business may host a webcast to present a slideshow on how e-commerce businesses can improve their digital customer experience strategy.

This webcast could then be watched and referred back to by businesses when needed.

What is a webinar?

The term webinar is a combination of the words “web” and “seminar”. It may seem obvious that the difference between a webinar and a seminar is that the latter takes place on an online platform, rather than at a face-to-face event.

A webinar is a virtual (usually educational) seminar in which the audience can interact with the host and fellow attendees through features such as Q&A sessions or chat rooms.

For instance, a marketing agency may choose to host a webinar to help small businesses learn about using chatbots to optimize their affiliate marketing strategy. Participants would then be able to ask questions throughout the webinar if they needed clarification on any specific details.

Although webinars are live videos that are watched in real-time, they can be recorded and offered on-demand, allowing audiences to play them back as many times as necessary. In this case, the webinar would be evergreen.


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Webcast vs webinar: main similarities

Even though webcasts and webinars are two different terms that shouldn’t be confused, they have several similarities. Perhaps this is why many people continue to believe that they’re synonyms of each other.

Here are some of the main similarities worth noting.

The function

While webcasts and webinars are different, they can be used for the same purpose. They can both be used to host a presentation or demonstration. There are a few instances where you can leverage on what webinars are used for webcast situations too

For instance, either method would be useful for presenting the details of a product launch or providing commentary on a video game.

Individuals and businesses will fund both techniques helpful for relaying information to others. The deciding factor would be whether they would like audience participation and interaction or not. 

The type of broadcast

Webcasts and webinars are both forms of “one-to-many” broadcasts. Indeed,  they both revolve around a single stream that is viewed by an audience.

This characteristic  sets them apart from “one-to-one” broadcasts such as webchats, and “many-to-many” broadcasts like free web conferencing events.

While adjustments can be made to slightly alter the broadcasting type (for example, webcasts can become “few-to-many” broadcasts, and webinars can change to “many-to-many”), webcasts and webinars are mostly similar in that aspect.

Collaboration

While there are differences in audience collaboration, one commonality is that collaboration amongst hosts is possible for both webcasts and webinars.

Through specialized streaming services, webcasts can merge to create a multi-host broadcast. This collaboration can improve a webcast’s quality by including multiple professionals and specialists on the chosen topic.


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Similarly, a webinar can foster collaboration by converting guests into panelists. Some video conferencing software allows audience members to switch their webcam on and talk directly to the host and other listeners.

Webcast vs webinar: main differences

Now that the similarities have been covered, it’s critical to establish the main differences between webcasts and webinars.

Features

Thanks to technological developments, the software and systems required to host a virtual event are advanced enough to come equipped with all features needed for that particular streaming method.

Webinars require high-quality webcams and microphones to stream effectively. They also need to be equipped with chat features, screen-sharing, and file-sharing options.

Consequently, webinar software is prepared to offer this to audiences.

Webcasts don’t have these features. They are primarily used for one-way presentations so there is no need for the extra features that webinars have.

However, webcasts often have PowerPoint or slide-sharing features to aid presentations.

Overall, webinars are packed with features to improve the conference quality and attendee experience that webcasts typically lack.

Engagement and interaction

As previously mentioned, both webcast and webinar presenters can interact with others to create a multi-host conference.

However, when it comes to audience interaction and engagement, these two forms differ significantly.

Webinars are highly interactive and offer greater engagement between the host and the audience members. Audience participation is a normal part of the meeting and is encouraged through sharing and chatting features.

Additionally, viewers can often interact through Q&As, chat rooms, and live surveys.

The interactive nature makes webinars perfect for meetings with a small or medium-sized group of people. For instance, if you’re a small business, you could host a team meeting to create a schedule baseline for a project.

Conversely, webcast features don’t allow for audience interaction. Instead, information is simply broadcasted to audiences as they watch the event passively. 


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The audience: size and make-up

As previously stated, the audience size of webcasts and webinars can vary, and the maximum number of audience members is different between the two streaming methods.

In fact, the variation in the audience members is due to technological limitations.

As webcasts are one-way broadcast presentations, the software required to run them doesn’t have to feature any discussion or interaction tools.

Audiences simply need to be able to see the footage.

Because of this, webcasts can effectively target, and be viewed by, hundreds of thousands of people at one time. For reference, a popular webcast model is similar to that used by TED Talks.

Additionally, the audience make-up is also different between webcasts and webinars. While webinars are solely online events that attract a virtual audience, webcasts can also have a live, in-studio audience present.

As a result, the viewership size of webcasts is typically bigger than that of webinars. 

When to choose a webcast

If you’re looking to stream an event to a large audience that you don’t necessarily want or need to interact with, then a webcast would usually be most suitable.

For instance, if you’d like to extend your reach but have limited space for your live, in-person events, you could webcast these to target a wider audience. Or, if there’s an urgent corporate announcement to be made, a webcast could be used to alert your audience quickly and efficiently. Webcasts are ideal for planning corporate events and meetings that need to reach lots of employees that are based at different locations.

As well as this, webcasts can also be used to stream a sports game with an international fan base. Webcasting a game will allow fans to watch it wherever and whenever no matter the time difference.

When to choose a webinar

If you aim to engage your audience and encourage interaction, then a webinar may be best for you. Thanks to its more engaging features, a webinar would also be a good choice for businesses looking to increase conversion rates or receive customer feedback.

For example, small businesses could use a webinar to host a premiere for the launch of a new product. In that context, a webinar is a great way to make your customers feel more involved with your brand.

A webinar could also be used by businesses to hold employee training sessions or workshops. In cases of cross-team collaboration, this would be an excellent way to host team updates with members of multiple departments, whether they’re working remotely or from another office location.

It may also be a good idea to consider evergreen webinars. This would allow you to run webinars regularly and even produce a series. Evergreen content enables businesses to share their expertise and grow their customer base.


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Wrapping up

It’s clear that there are significant differences between webcasts and webinars; however, they’re both useful and should be leveraged by businesses.

Before making a decision on how you would like to host your video-driven events, consider the relevant factors.

Think of the size of the audience you’re trying to reach and whether you would like them to participate in the event actively.

Perhaps you would like to take advantage of both methods and use a blend of webcasts and webinars. Go for it. 

Whatever you choose to do, remember that this is fundamentally a marketing technique. So, plan every moment of your event down to a tee and enjoy the benefits of these thoroughly modern broadcast tools.

If something goes wrong, just go with it. There’s a learning curve to everything, including virtual events.

Author Bio:

Grace Lau – Director of Growth Content, Dialpad

Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. She has written for domains like BPlans and TogetherPlatform.

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