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Microsoft revamps Teams webinars

The latest Teams version lets webinar hosts register people and send notifications. Microsoft has also increased the number of view-only webinar participants to 20,000.

Microsoft has revamped Teams webinars, adding features expected to make it more competitive with Zoom.

Microsoft unveiled the webinar overhaul at the company's Ignite virtual conference. The changes will appear in the next version of Teams, scheduled to ship soon.

The update will eliminate the need for third-party apps to register participants and send webinar notifications. It also raises the number of view-only participants to 20,000 for the rest of the year to accommodate the higher number of remote workers during the pandemic. Next year, that number will drop to 10,000, which is the same as Zoom, but a fraction of Cisco Webex's 100,000.

"It's closing a competitive gap with people like Zoom," said Tom Arbuthnot, principal solutions architect at Modality Systems. Modality specializes in deploying Microsoft software and services.

Removing the need for paid third-party apps like On24 when conducting a Teams webinar should reduce costs, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Metrigy.

The new features provide access to custom registration options that let webinar hosts monetize the event. That capability has been a critical missing ingredient in Teams, Arbuthnot said.

Microsoft Teams
Hosts can now see webinar attendee information in Microsoft Teams.

Other critical additions include information about attendees after the webinar is over, such as names, emails and the amount of time spent at the event. Organizers can export the data to Microsoft's customer relationship management software, Dynamics 365.

While hosts will have more information about attendees, Teams protects the latter's privacy by preventing them from learning the names of other people tuning into a webinar.

Microsoft's focus on webinars follows its recent addition of polling to Teams. The feature lets event hosts ask questions and record meeting participants' answers.

Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams supports up to 20,000 view-only webinar attendees.

The improvements in Teams webinars raise questions about the future of Stream, live broadcasting software Microsoft integrated with the collaboration service in 2018.

"Stream has been incredibly popular," Lazar said. "Now that you can do webinars in Teams, the question becomes, 'What does that mean for Stream?'"

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