According to Facebook's head of live streaming, users are now spending about three times more time watching live video versus recorded video, and that's powerful engagement.
Churches are just as interested in live streaming as a means to brand themselves, and to send their message, while helping others that are unable to be there in person.
Rarely a week goes by, that we do not receive at least one phone call from a church tech who is seeking information on how we live stream or how to solve a live stream issue.
Any time the church's original material is not being used, obtain copyright permission from the owner of the material.
With trained volunteers and a professional technician, we produce a great live broadcast. It's not perfect, but our product is more than worth the time and experience, according to our viewers. Minor issues occur every so often, but this should be expected with any new media format.
Each church's live stream is set up uniquely, therefore the following includes the most common live stream issues and how to prevent these issues from occurring:
Internet connection, bandwidth requirements
It is critical to test the strength of your internet connection and make sure your provider is up to speed. When possible, ask those who will receive the stream, to check their connection as well.
For major events, call ahead to those streaming to groups in larger locations and remind them to perform a Speedtest. As a free and easy online app, Speedtest will tell you if you fall under an acceptable rate of download and upload speed. If you find yourself at an unacceptably low speed, you may need to contact your service provider and discuss options for improving connectivity.
Our church in Herndon, Virginia provides two sources of streaming bandwidth, a low bandwidth and a high bandwidth. Other churches may offer adapted or multi bit rate bandwidth through their provider, depending on what their streaming provider offers. Providing multi bit rate or multiple (high/low) bandwidth options covers those watching from more rural areas that can be burdened with poor internet connections, as well as those with the highest bitrates. For us, this fixed the issue of viewers unable to connect, as well as those experiencing excessive buffering.
Power outages or a temporary loss of internet access can happen, and causes can vary from location to weather. Recognizing that a live stream is a continuous stream of data, do not reset, unless you must and only as a last resort.
Some churches choose to live stream though their website using an embed code through a designated Adobe Flash player. If the viewer cannot connect through the website, the first suggestion is always to try and change their browser, which almost always remedies the problem.
Beware of how browser configurations can change without notice, and may affect the viewer's ability to connect. Recently, Google dropped Flash support without notice and other browsers are expected to soon follow suit. In this case, the configuration, code or link may need to change as well. So a quick check on any device before streaming may help identify connection results.
One last issue under this topic to check is that your computer has enough RAM, or your stream may also suffer. Streaming requires intensive CPU, and adding applications may tax a computer to its limits. So check your streaming requirements and the live stream computer RAM, to make sure you are covered.
And don't forget: Make sure all programs are updated.
We use an encoder for its reliability, flexibility and relative ease of operation, and we make sure to keep our encoder updated. Is your encoder updated? If not, this may affect the quality of your audio/video source, since the stream routes through your encoder.
Check other program settings, such as how you receive signals through software and the cards (i.e,. Kona card, etc.) that work in conjunction. One example we have experienced when a setting has been changed, is out of sync audio and video signals, making it hard for live viewers to watch, while also making it hard to fix or reset when actually live.
It is best to bring awareness of live streaming into the worship service, especially when open to the public, so people understand there should not be any expectation of privacy. People may also be uncomfortable with their information being given out, which may include prayer requests, new member information, etc.
If members of your congregation know in advance information may be released, they can choose to participate or not. If possible, make at least one video-free area available for those uncomfortable being filmed.
When deciding what to film during live streaming, look to eliminate filming people in unflattering positions, i.e., women bending over to light a candle or when someone is receiving communion.
You will need to determine which license for the services or events your church should obtain by what the license needs to cover.
Music, video and streaming may be separate licenses.
At Floris United Methodist Church, we carry CCLI and CVLI licenses that cover us for music, video and (generally for) streaming. Terms for licensing can be found online or by contacting the provider. To be safe, royalty free stock clips may also be purchased from sites such as istockphoto.com or pond5.com.
Any time the church's original material is not being used, obtain copyright permission from the owner of the material. For YouTube or other video clips, or segments the church would like to use, write and ask the person who owns the copyright for permission. Often they will provide permission. This generally covers the church, in case there is ever a question about permission. On YouTube and similar platforms, your video and possibly your stream can be subject to being shut down, if the site makes a claim that you are infringing on someone's copyright.
Stream location and social media
At Floris, we use Wirecast and find it affordable, reliable, and that it could be quickly integrated into our distribution system. The interface is easy to navigate, and we can now stream captions with Wirecast. Wirecast allows us to set church streaming up quickly and easily get our message out to multiple sources. There is no need for us to input information or links each time we stream. We input what we would like the stream to say and where we would like it to go. It is set each time we stream, unlike a YouTube stream, where information must be filled out for each stream.
Using third-party applications may provide additional functions like using additional camera sources, adding notes onscreen, sharing screens or having a moderator and guests join in.
Be as detailed as possible, in terms of production values for closest to professional overall look and feel. Most important are the three basics of using the best controlled recording environment, proper lighting and stabilized video possible.
Look to use a stable tripod, and if tracking, use some type of fluid head mount for easy and stable camera movement. Cameras should be color balanced before each stream. Check your focus often and use multiple camera angles to keep a viewer's interest during the stream. Recording in HD is recommended. Lowering resolution for a faster, easier upload later is easy enough if needed.
Using a script is especially helpful to A/V volunteers, so everyone is on the same page (most of the time) as well as the use of monitors for those on stage. We use either band or sermon display through Pro Presenter.
Don't forget to educate those who are on-camera about elements like colors/patterns, wrinkles in clothes, makeup, mic placement, and hair in pre production when possible.
Don't sweat over potential mistakes, like accidentally leaving live mics on, pre- or post-service, as this only increases authenticity. Recently, someone commented they liked being able to see how the band equipment following the contemporary service was put away prior to the church’s next traditional service, along with how the people who gathered for fellowship after the service.
Occasionally, volunteers forget to show or have emergencies that come up at the very last minute.
We have been known to survive when there are only two or three of us volunteering. When that happens, we do it this way: Using three cameras, we will set the wide shot on camera 2 and bring our two PTZ cameras (both PTZ cameras on one control surface) over to the volunteer switching, making them a camera person as well as switcher.
In this situation, the FOH sound mixer will then also do double duty, by also monitoring the separate audio for live streaming remotely via the application on an iPad. They will have to monitor two audio feeds, which is not ideal, of course, and a little tricky, but totally doable. That serves as a great example for why one should cross-train as many volunteers as possible.
Of course, in a smaller live stream situation, this will not be as critical an issue. Sending reminders through Planning Center, another app or email to volunteers the week of their assignment, helps jog volunteers' memory that they need to show for the service or event.
Keeping these elements in mind and with frequent checks on changes, live streaming can be helpful in many ways for your church. Remember to remain flexible, embrace change and look for developing technology that will make streaming even easier.