The rainy season is upon us here at DaCast headquarters in San Francisco, and that means that it’s the holiday season. Around the world, many religious groups are gearing up to celebrate and mark important days that fall in November, December, and January. That includes Mawlid, Saint Nicholas Day, Bodhi Day, Christmas Eve, Hanukkah, Ashura, and the New Year.
For many congregations, these are among the most important—and busiest—days in the year. People make time in their tight schedules to attend services as they can. But what can you do to attract a larger audience and reach people who are unable to make these important events in person?
One solution is using online video. In 2015, the number of daily digital video consumers in the U.S. grew to 213.2 million. According to the Pew Research Center, one in five people in the U.S. already uses the internet for spiritual and faith purposes, and almost half come across shared religious content online in a given week.
This essay will cover why faith groups are streaming, how to ensure your streams are high-quality, and how to avoid problems like buffering.
Why are faith groups using live streaming?
A variety of religious groups are recognizing the changing reality around media and taking advantage of new methods to reach people.
Live video has a number of advantages. Compared to traditional broadcasting, it’s extremely affordable. Even in tiny markets, only the largest religious groups can typically afford airtime on cable television. Online video brings the price down into a range that’s affordable for everyday people.
Another advantage of live streaming is that it’s instantaneous. Reaching members of your community who are traveling for business or doing mission work in far flung areas is possible using streaming video. In the past, DVD or on-demand distribution was the only way to reach people. Now you can bring the immediacy of community events directly to anyone in the world.
Streaming is also a great way for people to learn about you with no pressure. New community members who are interested in joining your congregation can check your services out online before they join in person. That’s a great boon when it comes to reaching new people.
Case studies in live streaming
Let’s look briefly at a couple case studies of faith-based organizations using live streaming to good effect.
First up is Christ’s Commission Fellowship, a thriving group of more than thirty churches based in the Philippines. CCF began live streaming in 2009 to reach people who could not join their services natively. However, their initial costs were too high. After finding a new provider (DaCast), they were able to expand their streaming to more than 85 countries. Today, they reach tens of thousands of people per month.
Another case study of live streaming comes from Mishka Productions, a company focused on spiritual learning events. Live streaming allows them to reach more than 12,000 viewers per event with monetization features embedded in the video player.
These are just a couple teasers that highlight some of the possibilities of live online video broadcasting.
What is needed for high-quality live streaming?
When thinking about streaming video, performance is always a consideration in people’s minds.
We’ve probably all tried to live stream the Super Bowl, a Presidential Debate, or some other major event and experienced problems.
However, most of those problems aren’t due to issues with the underlying technology or internet speed. In reality, those problems come from the bureaucracy that goes into these huge events.
Live streaming is a reliable technology, and most people have fast enough internet for excellent video quality. However, there are a number of elements that you, as a broadcaster, have to ensure are in place for high-quality live streaming.
Let’s look at a few of these elements.
Many of the factors effecting quality fall under the category of equipment. The equipment you use to broadcast can make or break your live streaming. Let’s take a look at a few of the pieces of equipment necessary and make some recommendations.
An obvious requirement for live streaming is one or more video cameras. These can be as simple as the built-in camera on a laptop, or they can be high-end professional cameras.
In general, any camera that can output HD (high definition) video should be sufficient for live streaming. Ideally, you want your camera to be exporting video in at least 720p HD quality (1080p HD is preferable). However, there are a number of other factors to consider.
Streaming religious services can sometimes be difficult because the lighting levels can be low. Cheaper cameras sometimes have difficulty producing good quality video in low light conditions. Video outputs can be grainy in these situations.
To ensure good video quality, there are two options. The first is to improve your lighting. With good lighting, even a cheap camera can produce passable video. The second is to use a camera or lens with a large sensor and wide aperture.
Another issue is zoom. Typically, you aren’t going to want your cameras placed between the live audience and the stage. Rather, you’re going to want them in the back or on the sides of the room. That means using zoom or telephoto lenses to capture the action.
One great option is the cameras from PTZOptics. These folks build cameras that are made for permanent installation in facilities like churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques. They support remote control panning, zooming, and tilting via integrated motors. This makes it easy for one tech working in a booth to control an entire broadcast.
Tripods, cranes, and booms
One essential element of video quality is stability. Shaky video just looks bad. To avoid this, placing your camera on a stable surface and avoiding bumps and shaking is essential. The simplest solution is a tripod. Another options is to use cameras like the PTZOptics models that can be mounted on walls or ceilings.
To take things to the next level, you can integrate camera movement. Equipment like cranes, booms, and dollies allow you to make smooth camera movements in the midst of recording. These bring a professional flavor to any production.
Sound quality is another essential element in perceived video quality. In fact, as we’ve written before, audio matters most for audiences. In a house of worship, sound is especially important. The human voice raised in sermon, chant, prayer, or song is central.
Therefore, sound quality is a huge priority. There are a few ways to approach sound quality. On the simple side, a single microphone on a stand at the front of the room can work okay. This will need to be split so the signal runs to your speakers in the room as well as to your live streaming equipment.
However, you’ll have a better result with multiple audio sources. These could include lapel mics, shotgun mics, and omnidirectional mics. Depending on the type of sound you wish to capture, you’ll need to create a custom solution. You’ll also need a soundboard to mix these different sources. We recommend consulting an audio engineer if you’re setting up a more complex audio capture system.
Mixing and studio
Another piece of the quality puzzle is mixing. Generally, if your streaming setup is quite simple—one mic and one camera, for example—then you may not need to mix in an on-site studio.
However, as soon as you have multiple sources, mixing becomes important. Switching between sources smoothly and at the right moment is essential. This is all possible using hardware mixing boards, or software like vMix or Wirecast. To learn more about mixing a multi-camera shoot with only one operator, check out this article.
For a permanent live streaming installation, like many churches and houses of worship will want, creating an on-site studio is a good idea. This can be an open-air booth or a separate room. It should allow one or more engineers/tech gurus to control cameras, mix audio and video sources, start and stop live streams, and monitor the system.
Encoding and settings
Video compression, or encoding, is a complicated subject. In brief, digital video files are large. They must be reduced in size to send over the internet. This is called compression. The most common compression standard (or codec) today is H.264. However, new methods like H.265 are becoming more common.
Whichever codec you use, you will need to choose the correct settings for video resolution, frame rate, bit rate, and audio compression settings. The settings you choose here depend on what you’re broadcasting, your internet upload speed, and other factors. For a comprehensive review of these issues, we recommend you set aside 15 minutes and read this article:
Streaming service provider
The final element in achieving high-quality live streams isn’t a piece of equipment, but rather a service. Specifically, a streaming service provider. This is the business that will ingest the video you broadcast and redistribute it to all your customers.
A streaming service provider works via a network of servers often called a Content Delivery Network (CDN). A CDN includes servers physically located in various locations around the world. Therefore, if 1,000, or 100,000, or even a million people try to access your video simultaneously, they will receive it from the closest server. This spreads the load around, meaning that each individual visitor gets a faster connection. That means higher-quality video for everyone watching your content.
Ideally, you should look for a provider that uses a well-regarded CDN, especially a fast “Tier 1” CDN like Akamai. We’ve written in the past about the best streaming service providers for religious groups, so check out that link for more in-depth information comparing different providers.
Creating an A/V plan
Besides equipment, there are a number of other important factors affecting the quality of your live streaming events, including:
- The number of viewers you expect
- The websites that users will use to access the content
- The internet speeds that you expect your users to have
- Your own internet upload speeds
- The type of content you are filming
- The number of cameras and microphones you will need to capture that content
As you can see, there are many elements to consider when planning a stream. As such, we highly recommend that you create a comprehensive streaming plan before your event.
How to prevent buffering and lagging
Excessive buffering and lagging can completely ruin a live stream. Luckily, the three main causes of this issue are easy to predict. However, only two of those causes are under your control. The other is the internet speed of the viewer. If they’re running dial-up or extremely slow DSL lines, then they may have trouble streaming. There isn’t anything you can do about that.
What you can control is two-fold: the speed of your internet uploads and the bandwidth at which you are streaming. When it comes to your internet speed, we recommend that you do not live stream unless you have steady speeds of about 5 Mbps (megabits per second).
Most broadband connections should have no trouble supporting that type of speed. However, beware misleading advertising. Many internet connections advertise speeds such as “25 Mbps download/5 Mpbs upload,” but include an asterisk. The fine print will read something like, “these are maximum speeds, sustained average speeds may be lower.” To get a more accurate sense of your internet speed, try this speed test at www.testmy.net.
The second factor is the bandwidth at which you stream. Live streaming in HD quality generally requires from 2-5 Mbps (Megabits per second). If you’re streaming in multiple qualities to reach audiences with varying internet speeds, you’ll use more total bandwidth.
With DaCast, it is possible to purchase extra bandwidth in advance to ensure you don’t run out during your live event.
Other methods to improve the viewer experience
Of course, high-quality video streaming doesn’t just involve technical factors. Other issues are important as well. You have to have a good program, for starters. Great video quality means nothing if no one will stick around to watch it!
Another factor is the ability to transport the virtual audience into the room as if they’re actually there. This is made possible by a combination of factors. For example, paying and access to the live streams should be easy and seamless. Third-party chat rooms, Twitter integration, or other two-way communication tools also make people feel more a part of the action. These small details can really make a difference in the perceived quality of an event.
Live streaming is easier and more affordable than ever before. Thankfully, streaming in high-quality is also becoming more doable. The days of small, blurry, stuttering live streams are over. No wonder more people and groups are starting to use this disruptive technology!
Hopefully this article has helped you understand the main requirements for streaming high-quality video of your religious services. Let us know what you think in the comments—we love to hear from our readers!