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Microsoft launches Teams webinar feature

Microsoft has released a Teams feature that allows event hosts to register, present and keep in touch with thousands of webinar attendees, which is important in the hybrid world.

Microsoft has launched a webinar feature in Teams, playing catch up with competitors in the large-scale virtual event space.

The company this week announced the general availability of the feature, which it had introduced at its Ignite virtual conference in March. The feature allows organizations to host webinars for up to 1,000 active attendees and accommodate view-only audiences of up to 20,000 members -- a number that drop to 10,000 next year. Microsoft said the temporary 20,000 limit is intended to accommodate the current high levels of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The feature puts Microsoft in more direct competition with other video conferencing vendors: Zoom can accommodate webinars of up to 50,000 attendees and Cisco's Webex can reach an audience of up to 100,000 people -- both well above Teams' 20,000 limit. Those higher attendance limits, however, come at higher prices, while Microsoft's webinar features are included in 365 plans.

The Teams webinar feature allows event hosts to set up custom webinar registration pages and notification emails. Before, companies needed to use third-party apps to handle attendee registration and notifications. Handling these tasks in Teams saves companies money.

Organizations will soon be able to export webinar data -- such as attendee names, emails and how long a user tuned in -- into the Dynamics 365 customer relationship management application, Microsoft said. The company said this capability, available later this month, will automatically create a campaign in Dynamics 365 using attendee contact information, allowing a business to reach out to them more easily.

A Microsoft Teams meeting
Microsoft has expanded the number of view-only webinar attendees to 20,000 in Teams.

While Microsoft is late in providing webinar features, the ability to host the sessions is a necessity in the UC market, said Zeus Kerravala, founder of ZK Research.

"With the work-from-home trend looking like it's going to become perpetual and events -- even when they are live -- keeping a virtual component, webinars are a must-have," he said.

Microsoft will also provide additional presentation options in Teams. The company made PowerPoint Live in Teams generally available this week, giving presenters a single view for upcoming slides, notes, meeting chat and audience members during a meeting.

Microsoft is set to launch Presenter mode later in May. With the feature, speakers can choose how to display their presentation to the audience. Reporter mode will display content over the presenter's shoulder; side-by-side mode shows the presenter's video feed next to the slideshow; and standout mode has the presentation appear in the background behind the speaker.

The features will be available to those with Microsoft 365 E3, E5, A3 and the 365 Government G3 and G5 subscriptions. Companies with Business Standard and Business Premium plans will receive the features, but only for meetings of up to 300 attendees.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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