Over the last few years live streaming church services and special events has become easier than ever and pretty much expected from followers. I get weekly calls from houses of worship that still have issues with broadcasting, mostly because they are missing a single element that may cause issues to the broadcast. While broadcasting content is easier than in the past, understanding the many factors involved in the setup can still be overwhelming. The various hardware, software, and platform options can create a barrier to getting started.
The questions I receive on the live streaming setups are mostly from beginners. There are lots of ways to set up a live stream. You can pull out your phone, open a social media platform, and start streaming on the spot. On the other hand, you may have a full production studio with a full time crew. Most houses of worship find themselves somewhere in between.
A four-part process
Let’s break down the live streaming process into four different parts, Audio and Video Capture, Production, Going Live and Video Management. When I started in broadcast, you needed a video camera. Now, you can stream from all kinds of devices. The cameras on our phones and tablets are getting better each year. All you need is a live streaming app on a social media platform. Mobile devices that are paired with a live streaming platform are extremely reasonable options if you’re a live streaming beginner, as long as you mount your mobile device on a tripod, connect your camera to a better audio source than its internal mic, have a good light source, then choose the platform for you and your followers.
Now remember, zooming in or out will be limited as touching the devices could affect your positioning, or worse, the wrong touch could easily ruin your stream by flipping the image. While mobile devices are now a legitimate alternative, video cameras remain the best way to broadcast high-quality video.
There are four specific types of video cameras: consumer, prosumer, professional, and pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras. Consumer cameras are a great place to start if you’re streaming for the first time. They have a low price point and they can still pack a punch. You may not have all of the high-end camera features, but you will be able to deliver a good product. Prosumer cameras are a step up from consumer cameras in terms of lens capabilities and overall picture quality. These mid-level options are ideal for small or midsize organizations looking to create a professional stream. If you have a professional videographer on staff and cameras with the latest technology, you can create visually stunning video content. If you’re buying a camera for the future, make sure it has 4K output capabilities. PTZ cameras mount on a wall or ceiling of a room. You can control them with a remote or leave them alone as stationary cameras. You can use different types of cameras to stream. Some mirrorless cameras, IP cameras, and GoPros will work in certain situations.
If you do choose to use a non-standard video camera, make sure to double-check your specs before building your setup. You should look at the maximum length of recordings and ensure there’s a clean HDMI output.
Your audio setup is super important, many people spend too much time thinking about picture quality and not enough time considering sound quality. Your live stream is only as good as your ability to hear it.
If you’re broadcasting for the first time, do yourself a favor and make it simple. Start small by building a smooth workflow for you and your team. You can always grow your production down the road.
Production elements are the additional features (overlays, titles, switching between cameras, etc.) you bring into your stream to improve the viewer experience. While using production tools is a great way to increase viewer engagement, they also require additional crew. You don’t have to enhance your stream with production elements, but you will have that option down the road.
If you can’t actively produce a live stream, that’s okay. You can set up a feed from a PTZ camera in the back of the room or a video camera on a tripod and not have to worry about anything else.
If you have the crew for a bigger production, you can create a better viewing experience by switching between cameras during your broadcast and overlaying images and titles adding the full production experience. A few live streaming platforms provide a built-in graphic overlays feature for placing images on top of the video mid-broadcast. If you want to change between two camera angles a few times, you can do so with a basic HDMI switch. To live stream, you also need to send that video to the internet in real time.
Outside of those simple production enhancements, you’ll need a hardware-based or software-based video switcher. Here are few for beginners. There are a limitless number of destinations for your live stream, including your own website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope (Twitter), and smart TV apps. Your own site is the best place you can serve your viewers with your brand and resources.
You don’t need to stream to every destination. For example, if you don’t already have a YouTube following, it’s probably not worth your time to manage a stream there. Pick a few spots that work for you and focus on growing your audience in those places. All live streaming destinations require sending your stream to the internet. If you’re using a mobile device for capture or a software switcher for production, your video is already one step closer to the internet, since it’s sitting on a phone or computer.
Networking and multiple destinations
If you’re using video cameras for capture and a hardware switcher for production, then you’ll need to connect to a local network. If you’re capturing or producing your video on an internet-connected device, you don’t need a hardware encoder. You do need a platform app or software with encoding and content distribution.
On your phone, your Facebook or Periscope app can encode video. Unfortunately, those apps will only distribute the video for their own platforms. If you rely on those social apps for encoding, you’ll be limited to streaming to one destination. If you’re not using an internet-connected device for capture and production, you’ll need a hardware encoder to send video to the internet from your camera or hardware switcher.
Simulcasting is the name for live streaming to multiple destinations (like your website, social platforms, mobile apps, and smart TV apps) simultaneously. Multi-destination streaming is a great way for your organization to grow its audience. If you aren’t sending your broadcast to various platforms, you’re missing out on viewership. You can save time and plan ahead by scheduling broadcasts days or weeks before you go live. You can also set recurring broadcasts and upload your events in bulk.
The top priority for you as a broadcaster is to ensure you maintain a good network for your live stream. Whether you’re using Wi-Fi or a cabled connection, read up on minimum bandwidth requirements and the factors that affect them. The last aspect of live streaming is what happens to your video when the stream is complete. In many cases, the recordings of those broadcasts can be just as important for viewers as the live video.
Consider where your recorded broadcasts will be hosted for on-demand playback, how to edit them, who has control of them, and how long they’ll be available to you. Once your live stream is complete, you’ll have an opportunity to improve the recorded video for easier viewing. If you send everyone to a specific link to watch your live video, intuitively, you want the recorded version of that video available in the same spot. This way, your viewers will see your content when they click on the old links.
Viewing on demand
Downloading and re-uploading videos for on-demand playback can be complicated. If your stream starts late or ends early, you may end up with superfluous footage at the beginning and end of your broadcast. You need a way to cut out any unnecessary video at the beginning or end of your broadcast. Whether you want to upload a locally recorded version or replace it with a post-processed video, a broadcast replacement option can make this easy. This tool should ideally maintain all existing listing links, embeds, and analytics from the original broadcast. Video markers allow you to tag significant moments in your broadcasts so viewers can reference them easily. Whether you’re tagging the topics of a city council meeting agenda, marking the moment of a goal in a soccer game, or breaking apart a five-hour business presentation, video markers can help your viewers quickly find what they’re looking for.
If you stream to Facebook Live or YouTube directly, those companies own your videos, so they can monetize it. YouTube and Facebook need complete control to stop any video they deem in violation of copyright law. In theory, it seems good that these platforms crack down on copyright law, but in practice, the policy can be a big concern for organizations. These platforms have algorithms that pick up video and sound that infringe on copyrighted material, and they’re not always accurate. Make sure you have a way to download your broadcasts for internal record-keeping.
Remember it’s always good practice to keep a backup copy, Make your workflow easy; don’t try to add too much production too fast. Consider the crew or volunteer time required. Let’s start Streaming!
Bill Di Paolo has worked in live production for over 30 years, He is the owner and technical director of Entertainment Services, a production company based in upstate New York that handles lighting, audio and video for events of all sizes in the Northeast. If you have any questions, feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.