Christmas is quickly approaching, and your leadership team is asking to get your services online. You own the camera, switching platform but you are just unsure of the platform that you would like to use or how to begin to get it there reliably.
Many people start livestreaming with Facebook for some obvious reasons. The largest is that it notifies people that you are live…
If you are like many churches, you may have just one camera, a caption card and you would like to get your service to Facebook. It seems simple enough, right? Maybe you moved from using a cellphone and the church has blessed your ministry with a dedicated camera and you would like to increase the production level. Livestreaming is still relatively new for many and the number of ways or integrations grows all the time.
We want to look at several options to go live direct to Facebook, YouTube or through a CDN (Content Delivery Network).
I always find that personal experience is key, when looking for a new or different solution. When I began livestreaming, we started with MEVO and had about a 40 percent success rate to Facebook. We switched to Blackmagic Design ATEM switchers and Canon C100 cameras and went directly to Facebook through a Teradek VidiU. Live was great, until we realized that we wanted to also start hitting YouTube for a higher quality stream. We also wanted the ability to fire the stream up for testing, without yet going live. This forced me to start checking out CDNs that would allow for these features.
Teradek VidiU/VidiU Pro
Some of the many features of these devices is that they do a few things very well. With the VidiU series, you will get a great encoder to send your stream somewhere. They have two different devices, the standard VidiU is great for most situations. If you will be on the road though at all, step up to the VidiU Pro for the ability to bond connections, stream to multiple destinations direct, and manage the device remotely. An added feature on the Pro model is the SD card slot, where it will record .H264 files. Entry pricing begins at $699, while the Pro retails at $999.
One CDN who is under constant innovation is BoxCast. At NAB this April in Las Vegas, they showed off a new encoder that would be capable of the newly announced compression standard, HVEC. HVEC is critical to stream 4k content at the much lower bitrate and bandwidth requirements. BoxCast also serves as a CDN in distributing your video to just about anywhere. They feature the capability of a monitoring dashboard to check your stream health and it integrates nicely with every major platform and has some unique features, such as highlights and flexible embedding. I see the highlight feature being a quick and easy way to distribute a clip "Elevation" style rapidly. BoxCast starts at $20 per month to stream to Facebook and YouTube and tiers up from there, with advanced features like embedding to a website and more.
Having spent some time with the team while speaking at WFX in Dallas this October, I have come to appreciate their level of commitment and understanding to the faith community. Churchstreaming.tv only serves the house of worship and faith community, so they understand your needs and challenges in intimate detail. They offer several options for free software using Wirecast or hardware encoder device to get your church to get online. This alone is hundreds of dollars' worth of savings. They offer a simple pricing structure of $139 a month for unlimited streaming. Churchstreaming.tv is the only service that offers a free trial to get you online, while you work through the long-term viability of streaming and budget planning. I had the chance to speak to Michael Smith, the managing partner with Churchstreaming.tv, and he explained that oftentimes, the initial low-cost tiers to plans don't include what you may have wanted. The result is that you end up seeing the rate increase after a few short months. The pricing plan with Churchstreaming.tv includes every feature that they offer now or scheduled for the future.
This fall, we learned that one of our favorite video platforms Vimeo had purchased Livestream. You have probably heard one or the other in some form or fashion before. Having them come together was a huge step for Vimeo, to get into the livestreaming arena. It is not yet known what the new partnership will be like, other than Vimeo is now currently offering livestreaming packages. Vimeo is restricted currently from distributing content to social media platforms, but I look for that to change as things are worked out between the two companies. Livestream is an industry staple in pioneering the market. They offer some very nice components and software suites that allow a one-stop package from production to distribution.
I was recently introduced to Restream via a sponsored post. It quickly caught my attention, for what it can do, which is to take one broadcast and make it many. The pricing plan is pretty simple and a la carte, if you will. I ended up purchasing the Black Friday special for $165, which gave me the ability to stream to two separate Facebook pages and two YouTube pages at the same time. I also purchased transcoding hours for our Facebook stream. We send a single 1080p video, running between 5-7mbps to restream.io and let them distribute the content. I have enjoyed going from our Blackmagic Design ATEM to the Teradek and getting the stream live to the Restream site, while being able to check its health status and then clip a few boxes on our Facebook page to activate video. This has allowed us to better tag and hyperlink our feed on Sundays, as well as copy and paste things into the YouTube livestream. As with anything, it will take testing to lock down settings, as we experienced only two issues of audio/video sync, which was resolved by switching which server we were sending the video to.
With many social media platforms opening up APIs to take in live video, many software switchers like vMix, Wirecast, Livestream, and OBS allow you to go live for free. There are many advantages to this type of solution. In large part, it is the cost savings associated with not needing to have a paid CDN as the middleman. As previously discussed, there can be downsides to that as well though. One example that I often think of is the hit go live button and say a prayer.
I like to know that the stream is stable, audio is good, and everyone is ready. We play our own worship songs as the final song before going live. It cues our team we are close and we do not have to worry about getting a strike for copyrighted content. Much like many other parts of this, though, if you are OK with the approach of going direct and really need to fall within budget constraints, then more likely than not you will be able to stream without many issues.
What platform do I choose to stream to?
The answers will always be which one do you get the most engagement. If you must choose one over the other, make sure it has an audience.
Many people start with Facebook for some obvious reasons. The largest is that it notifies people that you are live and it is very simple to interact with your stream. Once you begin to master one, maybe look at going to another as a separate offering. Ultimately, we had a few people ask about better quality, after which we chose to also stream to YouTube and give the hyperlink in Facebook via a shortened URL. Our YouTube channel remains at about 10 percent of live viewers than our Facebook. There is also the option of embedding the stream onto your webpage. It may be a great way to include some additional information about the church on one concise page with links to events, announcements, and giving.
It has never been easier to get your church online, through any one of these many ways. Just like when the pace of computers couldn't keep up with the market, so too is livestreaming. My prediction is that we will continue to see Facebook and YouTube push to get content to them directly. At the end of the day, our goal is to share the good news and livestreaming seems to be a great way to assist in the facilitation of the Great Commission.