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How Houses of Worship of All Sizes Can Spread Their Message with Streaming Media
By: Alex Dobrushin

Throughout the years, houses of worship have continually incorporated technology to benefit their visitors and congregation, from advanced audio systems to high-definition monitors that offer an enhanced viewing experience.

Today, many houses of worship are eager to extend the same quality viewing experience to members outside of their physical building. The consistent use and popularity of streaming media has prompted churches to recognize the value of using the Internet to distribute their content similarly to and often in place of radio, TV, VHS, and DVD distribution methods used in the past.

Internet distribution enables a level of communication that would have been impossible just a few years ago. It can bring live services to members who are unable to attend in person, make archived sermons available for viewing anytime, and provide a level of offsite interactivity unparalleled by previous technology. The cost of streaming audio and video over IP continues to fall, and the devices that display the streaming content are becoming more widely adopted.

These two factors are changing the way people access and digest information, and they present an exciting new opportunity for houses of worship to expand their communities and spread their messages globally.

Megachurches have been using streaming media for some time now to deliver both audio and video content, such as sermons and news updates, to parishioners and the general public. Now, lower costs and new, more easily accessible technology has made it possible for houses of worship of any size to do the same.

With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and streaming devices like Roku players, churches now have an opportunity to deliver their message anytime, anywhere. But many don't know where to start.

Here are three strategies for a house of worship to consider when looking to expand outreach via streaming media.

1. Setting Up an In-House Operation
An in-house streaming operation gives an organization flexibility to set up unique features like interactivity. For example, viewers at home or in the hospital could text or video chat with the rest of the congregation during a live-streamed service. Such features are attractive, but they also require significant resources.

This approach is better suited for organizations with their own data center, sufficient access to bandwidth, and IT personnel. An in-house streaming setup requires an Internet connection with enough bandwidth to stream to all concurrent viewers. Typically, that means at least 100 megabits per second, which is a great deal more than what most DSL or cable modem connections provide.

2. Using a Web Hosting Facility
Hosting services like SoftLayer, Influxis and Amazon EC2 provide hardware servers and bandwidth necessary for a house of worship to stream video, and they also provide technical support. Beyond saving capital costs, a big advantage of hosting services is that their bandwidth scales to accommodate everyone who is watching. However, streaming content through a hosting service still requires a fair amount of in-house expertise to operate and maintain the service.

3. Using a CDN or Streaming Service Provider
Content delivery networks (CDNs) and streaming service providers make streaming content relatively turnkey. CDNs typically deliver all kinds of media types, from Web pages to streaming audio, while streaming services providers specialize in streaming only. These companies provide both infrastructure and expertise, making it as easy as possible to get a streaming media project off the ground.

In most cases, a house of worship needs only capture and deliver the content either video-on-demand (VOD) files or a live encoded stream and the service does the rest. The disadvantage is that the provider's limitations are the organization's limitations. For that reason, it's important to evaluate a potential provider's capabilities carefully before signing a contract to avoid any surprises.

No matter what the strategy, there are some general things to keep in mind. First of all, since it's hard to predict just how many viewers will be tuning in, the bandwidth and network have to be able to expand and contract readily with demand.

Likewise, some streaming systems require content to be stored in multiple encodes to suit multiple platforms and devices, which may not only add complexity and expense to the system as a whole, but it may also limit playback devices choices and hence the number of viewers to which media can be delivered.

A unified media server is a simpler solution and often a more cost-effective solution that enables streaming to the maximum number of devices, including set-top boxes, game consoles, PCs and mobile platforms like the iPad or iPhone.

Many houses of worship have already experienced the power of streaming media as an effective means of communicating within the congregation and beyond. When exploring the best strategy, consider the organization's goals and capabilities, and those of any CDN, streaming service, or Web host the organization might engage.

Alex Dobrushin is chief marketing officer at Wowza Media Systems, a streaming media server software company, www.wowzamedia.com.  

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