Multisite video venues have spread across the United States, and have proven to be a dynamic church planting strategy for churches that are seeking a scalable and resource-efficient model for deep engagement within local communities.
Since the first multisite video campus launch nearly two decades ago by North Coast Church in California, options for video delivery to multisite campuses has progressed with many potential methods to choose between.
What are the options for multisite video delivery?
There are four major methods to deliver video to remote sites:
1) prerecorded file delivery,
3) point-to-point streaming, and
4) leveraging the public internet for streaming.
When choosing which method is right for your application, there are a few factors to weigh. These include quality of video and experience, reliability of playback, ease of use, delay of video playback, and of course, costs - both upfront and ongoing.
Video is captured and stored in a digital file (ex.: an mp4 recording) or on an analog tape, then transferred to the remote site, over a network or delivered by hand. When hand-delivered, this method of playback is playfully coined "sneakernet."
When campuses are relatively close together, sneakernet is the most affordable method of streaming. Video quality can be uncompressed, resulting in very high resolution with no risk of artifacts. Stability is also a large factor here, as playback is reliable with the option to add redundancy with multiple files. It is also the simplest form of playback, requiring the least amount of technical understanding and the least expensive equipment.
File-based streaming requires close distances and long periods of time between the first service at the broadcast site and the first service for the multisite. Often times, pastors will even speak to an empty room earlier in the week to accomplish this type of video distribution.
File based delivery works well, if you are beginning the journey into multisite and have a Friday or Saturday night service at the site where the pastor is speaking from. Transporting this type of large file is often time consuming and stressful, and doesn't give flexibility for which sermon to use.
If the pastor isn't as comfortable with his first message, it has to be used anyway. As a church grows beyond two or three campuses, it becomes more important to transition into more scalable methods of video delivery.
Video captured and transmitted via geostationary satellite. Remote sites can receive the live content with a satellite dish, or a teleport can push it to the web for remote sites to receive over a standard internet connection.
If paired with a high quality encoder and adequate satellite bandwidth, video playback can be live with good quality. The delay can be as low as a few seconds. Reliability of playback is also a positive factor with satellite transmission; however, rain and other outdoor elements can thwart the transmission. Satellite is also very scalable, as anyone with line of sight to the satellite can receive the signal.
Due to the high upfront cost of satellite, it often doesn't make financial sense to use satellite until a church is transmitting to a very large number of receiving sites. Satellites are also difficult to operate. A transmission engineer is required at uplink, and the remote site dish must perfectly point at the satellite. DVR playback could also be complex. With the advent of the internet, the option of satellite transmission is decreasing in popularity and transmission engineers are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
Streaming over dedicated network connections
For campuses with dedicated internet connections between each other, video is transmitted point-to-point with an encoder on the broadcast site, and a decoder and DVR on the playback site.
Point-to-point networks can sometimes be set up between campuses with close geographical locations. The bandwidth provided by these connections is typically fast enough to transmit high quality video, very reliably.
Dedicated internet connections come at a hefty upfront and ongoing price. On top of those costs, you also have to pay for a quality encoder, decoder, and DVR. As recent as a couple years ago, transmitting through dedicated connections was the cheapest method to ensure quality and reliability of live video delivery. The public internet was simply too risky.
However, with the introduction of new resilient technologies which offer reliable video delivery over the internet, this is no longer the case.
Public Internet Video Streaming
Video encoders capture, compress and transmit video over the public internet through a cloud service. Video decoders pull the video from the cloud, and output the video. Each campus only requires a standard internet connection.
Streaming over the public internet is very scalable, and the only solution besides digital file-based delivery which is not limited by location. Transmitting over the public internet is very cost effective, and results in a near live experience for churches. Public internet connections are inexpensive and easily available, and streaming over the public internet is very simple to use and set up. Some video decoders can also DVR content to allow the receiving campuses to begin playback whenever they are ready, instead of trying to sync timing perfectly between two campuses. Streaming over the public internet can also be extremely reliable, if resiliency is used.
If the technology cannot account for interruptions at every stage in the transmission process, it is very possible (and likely) that the remote campus will experience pauses in video playback, "buffering wheels," blackouts, and even video skips. As recent as 2016, this was common at multisite campuses receiving video over the internet. Be extraordinarily careful in your search for internet technologies, and make sure to inquire about the reliability of playback at every stage: from the encoder to the cloud, and from the cloud to the decoder. If you are experiencing these types of issues, there are solutions available on the market today which offer end-to-end video transmission resiliency and an uninterrupted high quality video experience.
(Paul Martel is CEO and Co-Founder of Living As One, LLC, an organization focused on strengthening and uniting The Church through improved communication technology. Living As One has created the Multisite Platform, a technology making transmission over the public internet and direct connections possible for the whole of God's church. Visit https://LivingAsOne.com for more information. Paul is speaking at the WFX Conference & Expo in Dallas on October 12-13, 2017. Don't miss his session on “Connecting Multi-site Campuses with Video” in the Tech Arts Conference at WFX. Learn more at wfxevents.com).