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Streaming Providers Guide, Part 3: Software

Most streaming provider platforms offer a set of features that improve the experience for the live audience, above and beyond what they can access on social media.

Software Basics 

After getting the signal into your platform, the streaming software allows you to set up and produce your broadcast, control what the audience or congregation sees, and manage your destinations. Some software is very simple, while others include the sophistication of professional hardware. Deciding how feature-rich your software needs to be, are aspects that should be part of your original discussion of setting goals for your webcast. 

Social Platforms 

For many, their first experience in live video online was a product like Periscope, Facebook Live, or YouTube Live. Social platforms are fairly simple in terms of features. At the same time, paired with that simplicity, are the realities that often such platforms include no support from the company providing the service. 

The biggest feature of these platforms are the commenting tools. These are very useful for creating engagement, diagnosing problems and communicating ideas. 

Commenting can take some more sophisticated and specialized turns. Christian World Media, for example, is a church-specific streaming platform. It integrates Facebook and Twitter commenting directly into its main interface, rather than simply porting the video to Facebook. In addition to that, an integrated Bible panel can be engaged. This customization really allows you to tailor the page to your specific community. 

Simulcast and Embedding 

Social integration in other platforms is a great tool for accessibility of content. In addition to the main, paid platform, the ability to simultaneously broadcast to multiple locations helps people stumble across the content, while they casually browse their platform of choice. This is the most common way to see a single platform utilize multiple destinations. Depending on the platform and social media stream, this is done either through built-in connections or RTMP links. 

Embedding live on a website is also a great way to control the destination environment. Depending on your platform or subscription package, live embedding is not a given, so make sure to check the details relating to the platform you are considering. Most platforms offer embedding of replays for easy accessibility of previous events. Plans may include storage limits on how much replay content is offered, or the option to buy storage as needed. 

Live Features 

Most platforms offer a set of features that improve the experience for the live audience, above and beyond what they can access on social media. DVR, or the ability to pause and resume by any other name, is very convenient and a great feature. Unlike live TV, a viewer does not need to miss content when they need to leave the room or take a phone call. 

Some platforms allow you to bring in other sources. For example, you may be able to overlay text or graphics on the video directly from the software. Or if not over the video, then posted in the feed of the event. 

You may be able to upload introduction video sequences, to play before your feed begins, or again, to post it within the context of your stream’s platform. 

Some platforms also make it easy to find moments in your video, by allowing you to insert markers or create special highlights within the event. This can be great for sharing small excerpts or building a table of context type of experience for your viewers. 

Some platforms also bundle giving services. These may integrate well with other giving services or may need to be independent, but the goal is to present them conveniently and in a more highly visible way. 

Third-Party Software 

While third-party hardware is common, third-party software is growing in frequency. Platforms like Church Online Platform can connect via RTMP, allowing you to customize the platform experience for users and administrators, essentially creating your own customized set of features on your website. 

This Drupal-based system includes a wealth of features, including the ability for users to make and save their own notes. They also have a chat exclusive for staff, where one can discuss the feed privately as a group, in addition to the audience chat. Plus, the features for both the user and admin experiences are highly customizable. 

Multiple Inputs and Apps 

Increasingly, the streaming software choices are also being developed to simulate a switcher through local networks. Many platforms are now including packages that make it possible to connect multiple cameras or mobile device cameras to a single feed, using the internet or local network. 

Telestream‘s Wirecast utilizes many features found in professional switchers. You can connect multiple feeds from many different sources in remote locations. It also adds sophistication to the overlays, transitions, and animations. 

Most of the companies mentioned here also include mobile apps as part of their offerings, to allow one or more phone or tablet cameras to broadcast conveniently. BoxCast has a software service for switching between iOS devices. SlingStudio and Livestream’s Studio software have tools for connecting multiple devices, each with different options for management and control. 

People Power 

Finally, make sure to investigate support options. We work on Sundays. If something breaks, will someone be there to help? Email, chat, and phone support may be available, but at sliding scales of cost.

Final Thoughts 

The topic of a webcast involves knowledge of audio, video and internet; streaming platforms, social media, and viewing destinations; servers, encoding hardware, and administrative software. Each one of these items is in itself a doorway to a huge amount of information. 

So how do we proceed without becoming paralyzed by all the unknowns? 

Begin by finding a shoe that can fit your foot. Therefore, if you have a small team, a small budget or are lacking in experience in this area, start with a platform that can do it all with you. Even free social media streams and cellphones can give you a foothold. 

As you do more, you’ll learn more. 

You can decide what you like, what you don’t like, and look for answers to problems. 

As you grow in knowledge, you can grow in complexity to get the best results for your church. Above all, always keep learning.

Last of three parts 

When you have a chance, take the time to read the first of the three parts to this guide on streaming, which became available on Friday, August 31. The second of three parts to this guide was released on Wednesday, September 5.

TAGS: Streaming Gear
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