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How To Get Started With Worship Webcasting

Dufur_church_t670How would you like to get your messages out to a larger audience? Many churches are now broadcasting on the internet via live streaming. If you want an affordable way to join this new revolution we will show you what is involved and how easy it really can be.

What Is Live Streaming?

Live streaming involves using a camera, an internet-connected computer or dedicated encoder, an online streaming service, and a few other basic pieces of equipment to broadcast your church services. It’s similar to how television works. Except, instead of watching your broadcast on a TV, viewers who are connected to the internet anywhere around the world can watch your broadcast on their computer, tablet, smartphone, or other internet-connected device. In the past, broadcast technology was highly expensive and technical. It required a huge budget and a large staff to handle. But those days are ending. Thanks to ubiquitous high-speed internet connections and the rapid advance of computer technology, the power of broadcasting is now available to a much larger audience. We’ll cover more details about what’s needed to start live streaming after we discuss whether this technology is right for you.

Is Live Streaming Right for Your Church?

Churches are increasingly using streaming to reach more people than ever before including residents of foreign countries, business travelers, vacationers, shut-ins and invalids and outreach ministers far from home. It is a great choice to reach deployed military overseas as well. Live streaming is the perfect solution for any church that needs to reach out beyond their local community.

A great feature of streaming is that once your equipment is set up and you have properly configured your internet connection you don’t have to change a thing. You can now broadcast every service going forward to a much larger audience than you have ever had before. Plus, you can make a recording of each service available “on demand” for your audience to watch anytime at their convenience. You can also create DVD archives of your streams to sell or distribute as you see fit.

Income Streams

Let’s face it, in this day and age it is getting harder and harder for churches to survive economically. Dwindling congregations put a strain on budgets and make it difficult to keep the lights on so streaming offers a way to increase funds by charging a subscription fee to watch the streams or to solicit donations on the webpage that contains the video stream. You can also create ads that you sell to other businesses and then broadcast on your “channel”.

Live streaming is also a great way to reach the younger people who grew up with the internet and use it regularly for most of their media consumption. You can also get your local young parishioners involved with helping to create the broadcasts by operating the switching system, creating video content to send out or simply to man the cameras during services.

Getting Started

There are a few basic pieces of equipment essential for live streaming.

Camera(s)

Of course, it all starts with a video camera…or a few of them actually. These could be inexpensive consumer camcorders affixed to basic tripods or alternatively you could opt for some of the newer remotely controlled PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) robotic cameras. These are a GREAT choice because one person could control ALL of them easily with a remote control and they are very small and inconspicuous. Plus they offer true “broadcast quality” video, perform well in low-light and are not prohibitively expensive -typically selling for less than $2,500 each (and often much less). Finally, it is not hard to find high quality used professional broadcast cameras from the SD (standard definition) era for a fraction of what they used to sell for. It is not uncommon for cameras that once cost $30,000 or more to be selling for under $1k these days. Most professional videographers have upgraded to Hi-Def and these older cameras, while still functioning perfectly, are no longer adequate for their purposes. HD is not really important to streaming because the bandwidth needs are excessive (and expensive!) so most streams are broadcast at less than HD quality. Many people lack the internet connection to adequately view HD streaming content and the last thing you want is for their video to stop and start over and over as their computer “buffers” the stream; that makes for a very poor viewing experience and most people will quit watching- which is NOT what you want to have happen, believe me.

Webcams, both those built into laptops and external USB cameras, are not really adequate for streaming for a number of reasons. First, they often produce poor grainy and dim video. Second they are very limited in placement (a laptop on the pulpit or alter would look awful to the congregation and cannot follow a moving target). And finally, a single camera view gets old very quickly. But if there is no other option I suppose it is doable.

Audio

Let’s face it, a picture is nice but it is the WORDS that motivate and resonate with your audience. The good news is that you probably already have everything you need. Most churches already have a sound system (microphones, mixer, speakers) and it is often a simple matter to take a “feed” from the sound board to become the audio for your stream. If this is not possible then you may need to buy a few mics to capture audio – typically wireless clip-on lapel (also known as lavaliere) mics and/or perhaps a “shotgun” mic (usually mounted on the main camera). It is possible that the microphone built into a consumer camcorder could pick up the audio in the room but it will often sound weak and distant so this is not really a good option, but for ultra-low budgets it is certainly better than nothing.

Internet Connection

This may seem obvious but if you want to stream to the internet you will need a decent internet connection. Video requires decent speed so for streaming to work well the connection will need to be a fairly fast one ~ typically an upload speed of at least 2-5 Mbps (or better) will be necessary. The “quality” of the stream plays an important role here. The general consensus is that you want an upload speed that is 2 times your streaming rate, i.e. if you are streaming at a quality of 2Mbps you will want an upload speed of 4Mbps.

You can find out how fast your internet connection is by using a website like testmy.net or speedtest.net.

Stream Encoder

The final piece of the puzzle is really the heart of the system, the streaming encoder. There are inexpensive dedicated hardware gadgets that will take your audio/video signal and output your stream to the internet but they are often very limited and you will likely outgrow them in a hurry. A better solution is a dedicated computer system with streaming software (such as our own line of Stream Breeze systems). These systems offer so much more that they really bring your production to life with the ability to switch and mix from multiple cameras, have tons of “virtual” inputs (video clips, graphics, even power point presentations) use titles and overlays, perform chroma-keying, utilize virtual sets and so much more. This is likely to require a bit of an investment but should pay for itself in short order with an increase in income. If you don’t want to jump right into the deep end you can test the waters by renting a system to see if streaming is right for you.

Whether you choose a hardware encoder or software running on a computer, you will need a video streaming host (also known as a CDN – content delivery network) to complete the process.

A streaming host / CDN is where your video goes to then be distributed to the masses. Their service rates vary depending upon how much bandwidth you require, typically metered monthly. This is calculated based on three figures:

  1. the length of your programming (1 hour services, broadcast once weekly would add up to 240 minutes/month)
  2. the streaming quality rate (1Mbps for instance)
  3. the anticipated size of your audience (12 viewers each week…or 1,200 viewers?) This last figure is probably the hardest one to calculate but a reasonable guess will get you started. If you underestimate your audience, the viewers will still be able to see your stream but your cost will go up (sometimes significantly) so it is best to OVER estimate to stay within budget. A good starting point would be 1% of your typical in-house attendance figure but if your audience drops significantly each year due to seasonal migration you may want to account for those people “tuning in”. For instance if your attendance is normally 500 people/week but in the summer months it drops to 300 it may be wise to try to account for those now missing as being potential stream viewers and add those 200 to your projected audience figure.

A few of the main CDN services include Livestream and Ustream and DaCast. DaCast in particular is already very popular with churches that have started streaming. Livestream is a popular and mature service but is a bit pricey. Ustream is free but is ad-supported and the ads can often cover up important parts of your screen (such as the lower third area where your overlay graphics often appear.)

So in summary, video streaming offers an exciting new opportunity to expand your mission and create new income streams that can really benefit your bottom line. In addition to your regular worship services you could offer streams and/or DVDs of special events like weddings, baptisms, etc. The sky is the limit, really.

Find out more…

If we’ve piqued your interest in live streaming but would like to learn more about what sort of equipment may be needed or if it is feasible for your church, contact Stream Breeze at 888-463-9805. We would be happy to offer a free consultation with our technical support experts.

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