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What is a Webcast?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By matthewc23 — On Apr 07, 2012

@Izzy78 - I am really wondering that myself and if that is not the case than it would be a really go business venture for someone to go in to as they will be able to go to games and be paid for their services.

I really feel like this could save schools a lot of money as well as be able to provide the person or company the chance to actually make money by broadcasting all the games for people to see on the web.

I find this to be a bit of a lucrative enterprise as people could be able to simply either rent out their equipment or go to these games and film them themselves for a fee.

I really feel like something like this could take off if it has not already and if there are small time companies out there that already do this? If not than someone who already has the equipment might want to think about putting it to good use and make some money in the process.

By Izzy78 — On Apr 06, 2012
@stl156 - To be totally honest I do not know the answer to that question, but I imagining that there are a lot considering my small high school is even doing a webcast of their basketball games for a very mediocre team and the enrollment at the school is only 325.

I really feel like that although this is a good thing and that it does allow people to watch games that cannot go to them, it is a waste of money, at least in cases like at my high school where all it is is a high school basketball game that does not generate much money from people watching it.

I think that to spend thousands of dollars on web cast equipment is a bit of a silly venture are far as a high school is concerned and I am wondering if there are simply companies that can be hired out or equipment rented in order to webcast games so schools do not have to pay so much for the equipment?

By stl156 — On Apr 06, 2012

@JimmyT - To be totally honest it seems to me what you experienced is nearly the full experience one gets in a webcast. You were lucky to go to a small school and still be able to have the appropriate equipment that even professional teams have.

The only difference I can think of is that with more funds and more money comes more cameras, but as far as what you described that is usually how a webcast works over the internet, even for college teams, and the only other difference I can think of is the people they hire to perform the webcast as they are probably professionals that do this for a living all the time.

I am really wondering nowadays how common webcasts are and since small division three colleges have them if large high schools may even have them and how prevalent they are in schools across America?

By JimmyT — On Apr 06, 2012

When I was in college I worked for a small division 3 college football team and I was able to work the webcast for their games.

I did not find this to be too hard of a job as the cameraman merely had to set up the appropriate cables to the camera that would be able to feed it onto the internet broadcast.

The equipment we had was quite expansive as it all cost around ten thousand dollars and we also had a main laptop that the director looked at in order to switch camera views, we only had two.

This made me think of what a professional team would have or even a team from a bigger college as all this was just for a very small college. I am wondering if anyone has any experience at one of these levels or if this is about the same deal for a webcast anywhere?

By nextcorrea — On Apr 06, 2012

A few bands I like have offered live streams of shows they do in other countries. I think this is really cool because I am never going to go to Sydney Australia to see a band but I can watch them on my computer and share in some of the excitement of the show.

I really wish more bands would experiment with this. I think the problem is that they think more about music than internet technology. If there was an easy way to do it though it would be an amazing way to connect with fans.

By whiteplane — On Apr 05, 2012

I always watch the Presidents speeches in webcast form. They are broadcast on the white house website and also usually publicized on Youtube and other video sites.

The broadcast is identical to what you would see on TV but it just expands the potential for viewing. And when it comes to something like a Presidential speech there should be every opportunity to watch and listen.

By summing — On Apr 05, 2012

I have seen a couple of things in webcast format. It is convenient because I don't have a TV set and there is no way for me to watch live TV. I can watch just about any show after it is broadcast on the internet but that is not the case with sports, news and concerts.

I watched the webcast of the super bowl this year and I was really impressed. My only complaint is that they ran the same few commercials over and over again. Otherwise it was great. I did not have to go sit in a bar in order to watch the game.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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