A one-sentence email exchange truly does make for an interesting interaction.
The reason you are streaming, will drive how you choose to deploy the technology to support your goal.
Recently, I have been helping a volunteer named Bob (not his real name), who is a new streaming engineer, serving his local church. Bob is a pleasure to work with, but his preference is to communicate by way of email, using no subject, one sentence at a time.
Having developed a good relationship with Bob, my new streaming friend, I've come to appreciate the simplicity of our succinct dialog.
Here's a typical email exchange between Bob and myself:
Bob: "Camera doesn't work"
Me: ""Check HDMI cable."
Bob: "That worked, thanks."
Two days later
Bob: "Stream stopped and I don't know what I did."
Me: "Send screenshot of settings. I'll check."
Bob: "Oh, I fixed it."
Me: "Good job. Glad you figured it out."
As you can see, I took the liberty to respond back, in the same vein. While moderately unproductive, but surprisingly entertaining, this "one-liner" mode of technical support has highlighted the basic elements of getting a video stream established.
They can be summed up as:
As a technologist, working in a church, you may have a pending project on your list, to begin a live streaming program for your congregation. Fortunately, there are many options to consider.
Before you commence ordering hardware and evaluating services, as a guiding principle, consider taking time to establish a streaming strategy for your deployment.
It's always a good idea to have a vision and a clear understanding of what is to be accomplished in each phase of implementation.
Begin by focusing on a few aspects toward having a successful process:
Who are you targeting to watch your stream? Are you interested in people in the adjacent community, or is your intent to traverse the globe with your content? What age demographic will most likely view your stream?
The more you know about your audience, the better informed you will be when making decisions about production, style, and the network(s) you use for distribution.
Why are you streaming? As people join and begin to view your stream, what do you want them to leave with? Are you providing a virtual church experience? Is your broadcast offering a simple time of praise and/or teaching? Is streaming a tool to persuade a visit in-person, or is an ongoing, online connection to your church your primary goal? Are you intending to promote your own website and audience? Is a social media presence on Facebook or Twitter a priority?
The reason you are streaming, will drive how you choose to deploy the technology to support your goal. It will determine who, what, and for how long you will be broadcasting. Understanding these dynamics will help you make good technical and production decisions.
Budget and Scale
How many people do you expect to view your broadcast? Do you plan to leverage a free service, like Facebook Live, or will you be delivering content to a private endpoint, like your church website or Apple TV channel?
The economics of streaming should always be considered, both when it comes to the sunk cost of purchasing equipment or ongoing costs, should you choose to pay for a private content delivery network and invest in video engineering staff.
As you begin to develop your strategy, be sure to categorize initial and ongoing expenses.
To get started, you may need to purchase equipment, dedicate network resources, and establish an account with a streaming service. On an ongoing basis, you will need to think about who will produce the stream, each week. In the beginning, it will likely be easy to find volunteers to oversee the streaming operation. As time passes, you may find that staffing the function, if possible, will ensure that the service many will come to depend on, is always available.
It's often assumed that the engineering who manages the technical elements of your streaming workflow, is solely responsible for the video stream.
When streaming to Facebook Live, and other interactive services, like Periscope and YouTube, be sure to have a person to host your stream, real-time, who can respond to questions and make people feel welcome. Don't forget that while you overcome the technical challenges, as you go live, people will participate, and you want to be there for them, which does nothing but demonstrate that your ministry cares deeply for the people they contact, in-person or online.
With your strategy in-hand, getting started is the fun part.
For me, it never "gets old" to be able to generate live content in one location and enable people to view that content in another. Initially, it's a good idea to setup a simple workflow that you can use as a learning platform, as you develop your skills and learn the challenges of your streaming configuration.
In my opinion, developing a video streaming program should be a "crawl-walk-run" process.
In getting started with a simple workflow, let's consider some low-cost and free solutions. As an example, working with my new friend, "Bob," I was able to get him streaming for less than $250, by taking inventory of his existing camera and computer equipment and directing his church to purchase only what was needed.
Here's how our email exchange began:
Bob: "I want to start streaming. I have a camera. How do I start?"
Me: "Hi Bob. Thanks for reaching out. What sort of equipment do you have? Any ideas on your goals for your streaming project?"
Bob: "Facebook Live"
Candidly, I could tell that I didn't have a big talker on my hands, so I went out on a limb and made the recommendation that they use their existing camera, purchase a low-cost capture device, and use Open Broadcasting Software (OBS) for their encoding application, which is very capable of streaming into Facebook Live.
Camcorders have come way up in quality and gone way down in price over the years. If you have an "HD" camera that can produce a clean HDMI signal, you can use this as a streaming source. Getting started with streaming can begin with your family's camcorder, mounted on a tripod, and patched via HDMI into a capture device. The Canon VIXIA is a decent consumer product line, available at your local retailer for around $225.
A video stream is created by an encoder, which is essentially a computer that can read the video signal, from a capture device, and convert it into a network format that can travel across the Internet to a streaming destination. If you have a decent computer, like a mid-range MacBook Pro or Windows Workstation (i5 or better preferred), you can connect a low-cost capture device via Thunderbolt or high-speed USB and leverage the computer as your video encoder.
In this case, with Bob, I suggested using OBS, because it's simple, moderately reliable, and the price is right, i.e., free. If you're interested in a paid solution, with much better support and a great deal more features, consider Telestream Wirecast. You can download Wirecast for free and try it out.
In my second part on how to get started for streaming, set for Tuesday, March 13, we will look at viable capture device options, encoding setups and other bits of advice to get you up and running in the most effective manner.