Telephone conference calling started in the middle of the last century as a sort of bug in the telephone system - the requirement for people to share line service. This "who else is on the line?" group communication on the phone turned into a quasi-feature and got labeled the "party line" among residential telephone subscribers. As telephone systems matured and multinational business grew in 1980s the conference call service provider industry was born, coincident with the bust up of AT&T. Companies like Darome, MultiLink, ConferTech, Connex and a few others were among the first pioneering CSPs in the business in the Big Eighties. We know; we were there.
Though the basic telephone conference call has been automated and commodified, it remains the biggest revenue generator in the entire conferencing market of audio, video, and web conferencing systems and services. Elliot Gold's 2006 research of the global conferencing market has audio services at 57% and audio systems at 5% of total conferencing revenues. This, amid drastically eroded prices for a conference call.
PSTN-based telephone conference calls continue to be the voice backbone of most webinars, live webcasts and interactive online events. Conference calling, ironically, is the essential medium by which publicly-traded video and web conferencing companies conduct their quarterly investor relations conferences with investors. Conferencing calling is used by video conferencing companies who contract with web conferencing companies to power webinars to tout their video wares. As much as we hear about convergence and unified communications most of us continue to pick up our phone to dial in to a multipoint conference call and/or web conference. The telephone conference call even casts a linguistic shadow over new multipoint communication systems: Cisco's product placements in the quest of
hijacking contriving fabricating co-opting stealing appropriating branding a new concept of "telepresence" on TV have the actors saying "patch me into the call." (Indeed, the main interface to Cisco's so-called TelePresence system is the telephone. How cute is that? It's like an astronaut launching the Space Shuttle by putting a key in the ignition like a car.)
To be sure, web conferencing and video conferencing are sexier media because of their visual aspects that yield a richer mediated experience, but the basic telephone conference call remains the most frequently used and biggest enabler of mediated group meetings and it's the largest revenue generator, by far, so far. The Mighty Conference Call lives on. ...But things are changing.
So what's happening to the conference call market? Lots. The focus of Elliot Gold's "The Future of Conferencing Workshop" is not as broad as its title implies. This workshop is really about the Mighty Conference Call. With executives from the likes of conferencing arrivistes Intel, Skype, and FreeConference.com speaking at this event and many CSP and Media Server industry people, you might want to show up too.
Register for The Future of Conferencing Workshop. We'll see you there!
PS: Mention this blog post at the admission door in Vegas and Elliot will give you a free lemonade after some speakers have served you their Kool-Aid.
March 6, 2007