So you’ve been tasked with the responsibility to broadcast your Sunday messages? I’ve got good news for you. There are a number of services and technologies which can be readily deployed to stream your churches’ video content. However, to minimize the confusion, I’ll mainly be addressing the process to LiveStream or to simulate the LiveStream of Sunday sermons and/or special events. This is in contrast to hosting videos or downloadable content (video on demand).
In my opinion, there are two categories of LiveStream service providers out there, what I call…
Commercial LiveStream providers tend to focus on the lowest common denominator. These services can get you up and running quickly, with little or no specialized onsite equipment or expertise. Typically you’ll connect your soundboard and video feeds into a laptop or server that runs a proprietary encoding software platform. Additionally, some of these services will provide a Content Management System (CMS) that you can customize to your church’s look and feel. These are generally low cost, low barrier to entry, and low-tech solutions. Some examples include:
I’m not going to spend any material time discussing commercial solutions because I don’t believe they provide a well-rounded offering for most Churches. They may provide, in some instances, a way to get your feet wet, but I don’t recommend swimming unless you’re happy with a low cost, low usage solution. But if you’re still hoping there’s a quick and dirty way to stream for almost no cost, here’s a pretty good article on it: http://goo.gl/JLjRk
There’s one new hybrid solution which needs mentioning. The Church Online Platform just released by LifeChurch.tv is a powerful CMS worth checking out. If you’ve ever enjoyed Pastor Craig Groeschel online, you’ve likely engaged in their online platform. Now it’s available to churches at no cost. You’ll still need a network provider, so keep reading…
On the Industrial side, the Rock looked at a few different solutions, including 316 Networks, Trinet Solutions, and an internally developed system riding on Akamai’s network. In the end we chose 316 Networks because they demonstrated the engineering horsepower, network relationships (they use Akamai) and desire to push the envelope so to speak. (NOTE: The Rock developed it’s own in-house solution in early 2013. We are no longer using 316 Networks. We are, however, direct with Akamai, which we’ve found to be a significant improvement in terms of uptime and support. I’m planning on writing a blog soon on our new configuration.) From my perspective, if you’re going to stream to a large audience around the globe, Akamai is the only game in town.
Here’s a simplified view of how Akamai works.
Here is the short list of our signal path to the stream encoder
- For the video signal we use 1080i cameras (Grass Valley LDK 4000) which feed an HDSDI router (Grass Valley Concerto).
- Next the signal passes through the switcher (Barco Encore) and back to the router, from the router to an audio embedder (MOTU V4HD) to combine and embed audio in the HDSDI signal and to the encoder.
- The audio signal is a mix, a room ambience mic and a direct feed of the pastors mic from our house sound desk (Midas XL-8) fed to our Router as two AES pairs.
- From the router the signals pass through a frame syncronizer (Evertz 7743-4-AES) to delay the audio correcting for delays in the video chain.
- From the frame sync it goes back to the router then to the audio embedder. Here the embedder allows us to further balance house feed and and room ambience specifically for the stream. At this point the audio and video are married and at the encoder.
The encoder set up is pretty straight forward:
- Connect your video cameras & audio inputs into your encoder. We use a KulaByte (more specs later).
- Determine the bit rate (frame rate and quality of the video/audio stream). Generally speaking, you’ll want 300KB, 600KB, 1200KB, and possibly 3000KB (HD quality). We use all of these and also provide a 600KB just for the iPad.
- Schedule the encoder to fire up, encode the signal, and start streaming (if you’re streaming live).
A few questions you might have about the process:
- What is the client side viewer? We use an Adobe based Flash viewer. There’s a ton of Flash flavors to choose from, so this is really more about the type of experience you want to have. And no, Flash does not work on iOS, so we have an alternative for iOS devices.
- What kind of viewer can be used on the iPhone and iPad? 316 Networks pushes a dedicated stream to iOS devices over Amazon’s S3 Network. I’ll talk more later about streaming to mobile devices or tablets.
- What kind of statistics are available? Gathering stats on LiveStream is part art and part science. 316 provides an included stats product called MediaSuite, which is a web based LiveStream and stats management tool. In short, what you care about is a) How many unique IPs connected to your stream, b) Where they watched from (by county and US States), and c) How many streams were viewed in total. I’ve spoken with a number of churches that stream and they all go about gathering their stats a little differently. In the end it’s mostly some combination of IPs and stream pulls.
- To chat or not to chat? I don’t think a church can have a relevant dialog without a chat experience during the service. I won’t get into the philosophical or ideological discussion today, but I’m a believer in the chat experience. 316 provides a relationship with ChatRoll which has been pretty solid for us. We’re currently looking at more malleable solutions, but it’s getting the job done.
- Giving? Yes, you want to provide online giving. It’s easy and people will give online during or after the service. The Rock uses Mogiv for our online giving (disclaimer: I co-founded Mogiv) and since we launched, the live stream giving has more than paid for the services we’ve provided. Amazing.
- Costs? If you’re going with an industrial strength solution, be ready for an industrial strength cost. A high end encoder (KulaByte) will run you about $1,000 a month along with bandwidth fees ranging from $1,500 to $5,000 a month depending on the number of streams that are viewed. Also, the Rock uses a 50MB fiber connection to the Internet, which isn’t cheap. You’ll want to be sure that you’re balancing your network usage with a LiveStream solution. If you don’t make network improvements with your LiveStream set up (VLANing, QoS, etc), you may learn some hard lessons about network saturation. Hint: VLAN your LiveStream traffic whenever possible.
- Social Media? We use a simple Facebook integration and Twitter feed on our LiveStream page. Also, you can chat by logging in with your FB credentials. We’re working on some new enhancements to make the social aspects better.
(A special thanks to Doug Mote, our Production Arts Technical Director for his tireless contribution to the Rock’s LiveStream services.)