Many years ago, I asked a friend of mine if he had heard of the then-popular MySpace social media website. His snarky response to my sincere question was, "I don't know Tim, have you heard of the internet?"
Facebook, without question, has become the dominant, most recognized livestreaming portal on the internet.
We shared a good laugh.
I felt like an idiot.
Obviously, today, I wouldn't dare ask people if they've heard of Facebook, as I'm sure the snark factor would be much greater. Similarly, a very witty, appropriate response to, "Have you heard of Facebook Live streaming?" could easily be met with the same brand of sarcasm.
Facebook, without question, has become the dominant, most recognized livestreaming portal on the internet. Consider these statistics from The Facebook Live Streaming Benchmark Report, conducted by Wowza Media Systems, and while you review these, ask yourself, how many churches might the statistics listed here apply to?
Nearly 80 percent of all broadcasters are already using the platform
Viewers watch three times longer on Facebook Live
Viewers are 10 times more likely to comment on Facebook than on any other platform
For every single viewer on YouTube Live, 15 users are represented on Facebook Live
82 percent of people polled consider Facebook Live a strategic initiative
66 percent stream to Facebook Live on a weekly basis
People Are Interested
Recently, attending this year's Church IT Network National Conference and WFX Conference & Expo (both in Dallas, Texas), speaking directly with church broadcasting and technology specialists, I was impressed with nearly every conversation involving Facebook Live in some capacity.
Personally, during the past 12 months, I have invested a very large percentage of my time consulting organizations, including churches, who are taking advantage of the many opportunities introduced by Facebook Live.
On several occasions, I've even had the unique opportunity to visit the Facebook campus and work directly with teams, inside the live video platform. I'm absolutely amazed with the very progressive, rock-solid content delivery network (CDN) that Facebook has built and continues to expand. With this new medium, growing exponentially, there are many compelling reasons why churches should be leveraging Facebook Live as a resource to connect with people.
Based on hands-on experience and industry trends, these are my conclusions:
1. Facebook Live streaming has arrived and is here to stay. Some may resent this, some may embrace it, but there isn't anything we can do about it, so let's get this right!
2. Most churches are already using the platform, and if they're not, they most likely soon will be.
3. A growing number of people are going to church, virtually, every Sunday, via Facebook Live.
4. Equipment, setup and integration is not easy when connecting to Facebook Live.
5. Not every church using Facebook Live is "doing it right."
Strategy Is Critical
Across all industries, when I approach an organization who needs livestreaming, my primary contribution is typically the technical configuration. That said, I have discovered that organizations, without a streaming strategy, tend to get lost, purporting an "aiming at everything, hitting nothing" philosophy, which dilutes the impact of their primary message.
While technology has made it possible to duplicate a single stream to nearly all CDNs and social media streaming platforms, simultaneously, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. For example, services like Stream Monkey, StreamSpot, and even Wowza Streaming Cloud make this very easy to accomplish. Still, why stream to a location that doesn't make sense?
Strategically, churches must engage their online audience in a manner that will technically distribute their stream in a reliable manner while returning personal interaction and accessibility, for the viewer, to complete the experience serving the broadcasting congregation.
Facebook makes this easy because (1) the majority of viewers are already there and (2) the reaction and comment platform is very familiar. Other platforms, like Twitch and Periscope, serve more of a niche audience or lack the relevant audience to justify using it as a church streaming platform.
Will your Sunday service make sense on a gaming platform or will you be adding unnecessary noise that viewers have to sort through? I strongly suggest targeting the platform that aligns with your mission and purpose. Please, be sure to spend your time and effort on a platform where your message is most relevant.
A simple and accessible strategy will win the day. If you're in a situation where your leadership are asking you to publish everywhere, push back a little. A simplified "less is more" approach, like a stream hosted on your website and simultaneously on Facebook Live, will make more sense to your viewers and will be much easier to manage, with excellence. If you do this, you will only need to manage two platforms and your stream will be accessible to anyone with internet access or who is a Facebook member.
On the technical side, Facebook Live has recently upgraded their livestreaming API which has matured the platform, greatly. When Facebook Live originally became available, it was more of a fun, personal, mobile broadcasting use case.
As the platform progressed, we began to see broadcasters (and a few large churches) starting to publish professionally produced streams. Reliability was inconsistent and publishing access to the platform was very limited, and difficult to configure. All that has changed, today, with Facebook having emerged as a major outlet for live broadcasting across a burgeoning segment of the video streaming market.
My preferred method for publishing a stream into Facebook is to take advantage of the new livestreaming portal.
Using the livestreaming portal, anyone can create a stream using the familiar Facebook interface. Even better? In the process of creating the stream, Facebook provides the necessary RTMP publishing information, enabling you to easily connect your RTMP hardware or software encoder.
The streaming information and familiar Facebook interface provides everything you need to direct your encoder or cloud transcoding service to publish a livestream. This is a good start, however, broadcasters will need to be sure to set their encoder or transcoder to within Facebook streaming requirements:
The maximum resolution is 720p (720 x 1280), at 30 frames per second
You must send a key frame (I-frame) at least once every two seconds throughout the stream
The recommended maximum video bitrate is 4 mbps
The audio bitrate must be 128 kbps mono
The audio sample rate must be 44.1 kHz
The maximum length is four hours
Encoder Configuration is Difficult
Each encoder is setup differently, but will need to be configured properly, or the stream will simply not work. As we have discovered and experienced, this is the most challenging aspect of Facebook Live streaming and where many people fail, technically, to get a stream to work properly in the first place.
Most of the time, people blame Facebook for a poor experience when, in reality, they are not providing the proper stream settings, which dramatically degrades performance. It is critical to test your encoder, extensively, so you can become an expert and get this right, every time.
Remember, each Facebook Live broadcast will require a unique stream key, which is generated at the time you create a stream in the Facebook livestreaming portal. As a process, you and your team will need to be familiar and comfortable with configuring your encoder for each live broadcast.
Fortunately, most encoder manufacturers and cloud service providers are aware of this challenge and are happy to help you with an initial configuration process to get started. While streaming to Facebook is better than it has ever been, it's not the "set it and forget it" workflow you may be used to on conventional streaming platforms.
There is also an "easy way" to stream professionally into Facebook
Recognizing that encoder configuration is the primary reason why a Facebook Live broadcast will fail, Wowza Media Systems invented the ClearCaster encoder ($6,495) that simplifies live encoder configuration by removing it all together.
The new Facebook Live API is capable of "talking" to a livestreaming encoder. ClearCaster takes advantage of this new capability, introducing a high-end encoding device that can easily be paired with a Facebook account, where it receives optimal stream settings, all in the background, via the updated Facebook API.
Every detail of the streaming configuration process, including the streaming URL, stream key, resolution, bit rate, frame rate, key frame, and sample settings are loaded, without the user ever having to think about it.
The stream will always use the perfect bit rate and quality, including [only via ClearCaster] up to 1080p resolutions today, with 4k coming online when Facebook eventually makes that available. ClearCaster is also currently able to broadcast 360VR content at UHD resolutions into Facebook Live.
In addition, ClearCaster provides an exclusive "Talent View" option, which is a live HDMI output, from the device, which the people on camera can reference and interact with.
For churches, this means the pastor can be facing a monitor, on stage, where they can see and interact with comments from users, in real-time, based on feedback from the online community. This is a supreme interactive use case.
Pairing the device and creating a stream is all available in the Facebook Live streaming portal. Simply sign-into Facebook, access the portal, pair the device (if necessary), setup and start the steam. That's it. No technical configuration required. Even more? The ClearCaster marks the exact frame when the stream starts, displaying a 3-10 second countdown, on the Talent View, providing confidence to the speaker to the exact second when the stream goes live (no guessing).
Take the Time
Regardless of how you decide to broadcast video into Facebook Live, take the time to learn the nuances and process, which will become your technical expertise. Work with your organization to develop meaningful interaction. Get better with every broadcast.
Facebook Live is here let's use it! Mastering the configuration and establishing a good strategy will position your organization to be ready to effectively reach more people with the message that they need to hear. Just get it right!
If any of you have questions or interest in learning more, please contact me, directly ([email protected]). I am passionate in helping churches succeed with their streaming media initiatives and would be honored to hear from you.