The Difference Between a Webcast & a Podcast

By Shea Laverty

The similarities between webcasting and podcasting make it easy to confuse the two -- even their names sound alike. Webcasting is essentially broadcasting over the Internet, using online streaming to deliver content. Podcasts are delivered via the Internet but are not streamed. Because of the differences between these media platforms, they have different software and storage requirements and are better suited to some tasks than others.

Required Software -- Webcasts

Webcasts and podcasts each require different software to function properly. Webcasts are primarily hosted on the Internet, usually meaning you need a Flash-enabled Web browser and the latest version of Flash. In some instances, such as with the real time streaming protocol, the stream itself can be viewed in a compatible desktop media player. Several types of streams use different encoding methods or streaming protocols to send data to anyone receiving the stream. This means that not all media players are compatible with all forms of streaming, giving online Flash-based streams a broader audience.

Required Software -- Podcasts

The software you need for a podcast depends on how it's delivered to you. If your podcasts update to your computer or device automatically, then you need a media player with a "podcatcher," a program that checks the podcast's host and automatically downloads new episodes during updates. Otherwise, any media player capable of MP3 or the open-source Vorbis playback is generally sufficient for enjoying podcasts. Some podcasters may prefer Vorbis audio because of its slightly higher fidelity compared to MP3 and the fact that it's an unrestricted, patent-free format.

Delivery Method and Storage

The biggest differences between podcasts and webcasts are how they are delivered to you and whether they are stored on your devices. Webcasts stream video over the Internet, meaning your device doesn't store a copy of the video, so a constant Internet connection is required. Podcasts are downloaded directly to your computer, usually by media players with podcatchers. This means a connection is required only when downloading a new episode, and that the podcast episode is stored directly on your device.

Potential Applications

Each of these formats is more useful than the other under certain circumstances. Webcasts are easier to distribute among viewers who can't directly download a file, like those using a public computer as a guest. They can also stream live, making them useful for broadcasting live events over the Internet. Podcasts are better suited for distribution to people who can download them, but who may need to pause the podcast and return to it later. Users without Internet connections that are sufficiently strong to maintain a good stream also benefit from podcasts.