A webcast is a transmission of media over the Internet using streaming technology. The media can take the form of audio and/or video, with the key being that users do not download the media, which contrasts a webcast from something like a downloadable podcast. Essentially, webcasting is Internet broadcasting, and it should come as no surprise to learn that almost all major broadcasters offer webcast services, from the BBC's famous World Service for news to America's Fox television for entertainment. The technology is also used to provide streaming video of lectures in universities, speeches at conferences, and a wide variety of other events.
There are two forms of webcasting. In a live webcast, the data is sent in real time. This is common for transmissions of news and major events, as people want to be able to hear or see the event as it happens. In an on-demand webcast, the data is hosted on a server, and users can choose when and where they see or listen to it. In the examples above, the World Service is a live webcast, while Fox programming is available in an on-demand format.
The idea of webcasting was first proposed in 1989 by early Internet pioneers, although the term “webcast” didn't exist yet. By the early 1990s, several people had successfully created webcasts, and a word was coined to describe the process. Some people prefer to use “netcast.” With the increasing level of broadband penetration worldwide, the technology exploded, as did tools for creating one's own webcast and watching broadcasts in a centralized database.
Some webcasts utilize existing platforms for viewing or listening to media, so that all users need to do is click on the button which starts the webcast for it to begin. In other cases, users may need to download a proprietary platform to access the content. These platforms are sometimes used to protect the integrity of the webcast by making it harder to capture and distribute, and they are also utilized to give users access to special features and information which are embedded into the platform.
Webcasts can be accessed all over the world, although access to a broadband connection gives users the ability to listen and watch far more webcasts than dial up Internet. Users can access content on the main pages of major broadcasters, and through various directories, and they can also upload their own webcasts. Many small media providers use webcasting to distribute information, taking advantage of the technology to reach a large audience which might otherwise be inaccessible.