Webcasting Charles Schwab's Way - InformationWeek

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Webcasting Charles Schwab's Way

The financial-services company offers Webcasts through its Schwab.com site on topics such as retirement planning, saving for college, tax-law changes, stock research, and choosing mortgages

Tech GuideWhen Charles Schwab & Co. wanted a compelling and cost-effective way to communicate with clients and potential customers, it turned to Webcasts.

Earlier this year, the financial-services company began offering Webcasts through its Schwab.com Web site on a variety of topics. Visitors may view Webcasts on retirement planning, saving for college, tax-law changes, stock research, and choosing mortgages. Schwab has been producing Webcasts at the brisk pace of two a month. "We find that a Webcast adds a personal touch," says James Burton, VP of Schwab's center for investment research. "It's engaging to see and hear a human being, as opposed to just reading text."

When important financial news is released, about a drop in interest rates or a dividend-tax cut, for example, Schwab may use a Webcast to offer commentary and guidance to clients and customers. The company has become so adept at Webcasting, it's able to produce and post a Webcast on its Web site within a day, Schwab officials say.

Since the late 1990s, Schwab has experimented by conducting periodic Webcasts, held as events scheduled long in advance and requiring much advanced planning. About eight months ago, the company began working with Webcasting firm Interactive Video Technologies Inc., on whose platform Schwab produces its Webcasts. IVT also hosts and archives the Webcasts, which viewers access via the Schwab.com Web site.

Schwab already had a small video production studio in its San Francisco offices that its employees now use to create Webcasts. The studio sits in a small room, containing special lighting, a backdrop, a camera, monitors, and a control room. The studio was dedicated to producing mostly corporate videos, TV segments, interview tapes of executives, and media training.

The Schwab Webcasts aren't all produced the same way. For example, commentary offered by a company investment strategist takes the form of an audio-only Webcast, accompanied by a photographic image of the speaker. At other times, a PowerPoint presentation may accompany an audio portion, along with an online survey asking about spending and savings habits.

Schwab employees produce the Webcasts, typically using a production manager, a camera and audio-equipment operator, and a technical producer, who configures the look and feel.

To attract the largest number of Internet users, Schwab makes the Webcasts available to people who access the Internet using a minimum 28.8 Kbps dial-up modem. According to the company, thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of people will access a single Schwab Webcast. As an alternative to watching the Webcasts, the Web site also offers transcripts, which may be easier to access and download for some people.

Schwab won't disclose how much it spends on Webcasts, saying they're part of an overall investor and customer communications budget.

The Webcasts do present some challenges. At big companies, getting materials and content approved for distribution in a timely manner can be difficult. Webcast content is no different. "It's important to have a good production process," Burton says. "We've now got the process down."

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