For ministry reasons, logistical reasons and usually some combination of both, more and more churches are choosing to go multi-site.
If that's the direction your church is headed there are many questions to be answered, including how the service weekend's content will be delivered to other sites.
There's no shortage of options, so we spoke with industry experts, pastors and leaders who are veterans of content delivery. Their insights can guide you in choosing which content delivery option may be right for your church.
Internet streaming allows the delivery of live and on-demand content, such as a Sunday sermon, to an end user's internet-connected device.
Streaming differs from downloading the video file because the user doesn't have to download the video before playing it. Instead, only the part of the video that is currently being watched is temporarily loaded to the device's video player. "[Internet streaming] is an inexpensive way to grow your ministryit's not a huge expense but comes with a tremendous upside," says Brian Duerring, founder and CEO of StreamSpot, a streaming service provider for houses of worship.
Streaming is not without limitations, though. Delivering content to multiple sites requires use of a DVR where the ability to cue and pause video is available.
Matt Browning, President of Ikonik Media shares, "One of the issues with trying to use internet streaming for live video delivery to a remote campus is that those services are not designed with that goal in mind. While we provide internet streaming services, we always encourage our customers to utilize solutions built from the ground up to meet their specific goals, such as Cloud-Hosted DVR or real-time point-to-point video transmission. In addition, not all content delivery networks have the infrastructure needed to support sustained high-bandwidth throughput as well as the failover redundancy for reliable video transmission."
Cloud-Hosted DVR solutions have been developed with the purpose of multi-facility video in mind. By using cost-effective, dedicated playback hardware and a robust multi-site content delivery infrastructure, Cloud-Hosted DVR services allow content to be accessed at remote campuses either live or on-demand via a playback interface and with an video output format that fits within production workflow.
Satellite delivery is accomplished by installing an uplink antenna at the origin campus and downlinks at the remote receiver locations. Using the same technology as cable television, satellite is high quality and extremely reliable, according to Mark Johnson, director of technology with Ka You Communications, a satellite services company serving the faith-based market.
Once uplinks and downlinks are installed, content can be transmitted using bandwidth that is paid for by the hour with no increased costs for adding locations or increasing bandwidth. Through Ka You, transmission is initiated when a phone call is made from the broadcast location requesting to set up a feed. Another phone call closes the feed.
"Satellite is great for churches with two or three sites wanting to grow to six or seven or more," adds Johnson.
Equipment-wise, Johnson says churches can keep their current high-definition audio and video equipment as their service doesn't require a custom interface. Ka You's transmission system allows for growth from standard definition to 4K resolution.
Obtaining a dedicated data connection is similar to other options outlined here, but is can be more economical than satellite and more reliable for complex multi-site delivery than basic internet streaming.
In its most basic form, delivery of video over a dedicated connection uses an encoder to package video and audio data at the origin location, then sends it to a decoder at one or more locations where the content will be viewed. There are three scenarios: (1) Point-to-Point, (2) Point-to-Multipoint, and (3) Bi-Directional.
Dedicated connectivity could be achieved through use of internet or fiber to transmit, and is on-par with satellite for eliminating delays in live broadcasts.
"[Dedicated connectivity] is ideal for churches of 1,000 or more with two or more sites," says Mark D'Addio, vice president of business development for VITEC, a digital video and media solutions company.
Southlake, Texas-based Gateway Church broadcasts using EVS.tv and theswtich.tv and can deliver live or on-demand content to and from any of its campuses, also called bi-directional delivery. By using its central campus as the broadcast center, it can set up simple systems at remote campuses for ease of volunteer use, according to David Leuschner, senior director of technical arts and technology for Gateway. "This was built to allow us to have 50 campuses if needed. It's very scaleable," he says.
Cost-wise, dedicated connectivity is better suited to larger churches. A point-to-point stream from a main site to a remote has an encoder and decoder that can immediately recall any video or audio data lost during transmission, resulting in a seamless presentation.
New Hampshire-based Next Level Church employs another scaleable solution that would be relatively easy for most churches to adopt. The church has always delivered pre-recorded video, even when it had only one location, explains executive pastor Daniel King.
Next Level, which holds 15 weekend services at seven locations in three states, has experimented with several content delivery methods, including satellite. Today its standard process is to record the weekend's first and only live sermon at the origin campus and upload it to DropBox.com for other campuses to download and play to hear the pastor's message.
"New technologies also continue to arise that provide some of the reliability benefits of a dedicated connection over the public internet, such as Haivision's SRT (Secure Reliable Transport) technology. We've had a number of customers connecting from one side of the country to the other with great success working with us to implement this technology," says Browning.
Regardless of delivery method and whether the content is live or recorded, a must-have is a backup plan. "With any setup, if you don't have a backup plan and the video goes down for even fifteen seconds, you've completely disconnected your audience. What's the plan? Staff and volunteers have to know exactly what to do," says Leuschner.
For that reason, all of the experts we spoke with recommend equipment redundancies and building automatic switches into the system. As well, it's a good idea to have someone prepared to take the stage. "It's better to address to the elephant in the roomif equipment fails, own it and go live. Be transparent," says King.