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Streaming Media for Today’s Houses of Worship
By: Chris Knowlton

Streaming media is no longer just an item on a wish list — it's a must-have technology. Engaging audiences regardless of location has now become business-as-usual for houses of worship thanks to the popularity of live streaming and cloud-based delivery.

More than ever, audiences want to control where, when, and how they get their content. Enter today's anytime, anywhere, any-screen world where newer streaming media technologies like network DVR and streaming channels continue to evolve.

Today's Trends
Digital Video Recording (DVR) was made popular by devices such as TiVo, which allows users to record programming for later consumption. The ability to time-shift content in addition to using such trick play features as pause, rewind, and instant replay is now the norm for most television viewers. But, as users take their preferences online, they expect the same features to be available, whether they are watching streaming video, live video, video-on-demand, or a live recording.

Network DVR (nDVR) takes this concept even further by removing the recording equipment from the equation. For the user, gone are the DVR boxes and hard drives, since the entirety of the system rests on the media server.

Second, and perhaps more critical to houses of worship, is that by moving this capacity to the server, live deliveries of sermons can be time-shifted across two or more locations.

Houses of worship can also create public or private channels and stream their content over-the-top (OTT) to media players such as Roku devices, Smart TVs, Android devices, or even Facebook. This allows users to tune into specific channels and watch on-demand programming using the platform of their choice.

Using Streaming Media to Reach More Congregants
Today's audience is on the move. People have different devices at their disposal and they expect content to be available on the medium of their choice. Churches need to take advantage of this trend to reach and retain their multiplatform viewership. 

Taking advantage of cloud computing, the network DVR lets houses of worship stream to almost any device: PCs, tablets, smartphones, and TVs without the need for local storage. This allows for viewers to watch whenever it is convenient for them by using the device of their choice, thus ensuring that congregants remain connected to their church.

On the supply side, nDVR allows the house of worship to reduce issues related to sharing speakers, sermons or other service elements across different geographic locations. Each remote site can use the time-shifting capability to align streamed content to blend with local start times or elements of their service. This eliminates the need to juggle schedules to accommodate a speaker being in two locations in a day, as well as other common challenges related to conventional modes of broadcasting.

In addition, streaming channels can reach a virtually unlimited audience of followers outside of their facilities, which can be a great opportunity for growth. Streaming can also help to keep current congregants engaged, even when they are ill or travelling.

Issues to Consider
Something to keep in mind when implementing nDVR for time-shifted multisite streaming is reliable bandwidth between locations. To ensure high-quality streaming, a consistent bandwidth of 1.5 mbps or higher is recommended.

Also, larger houses of worship might need to scale their server infrastructure to handle increasing demand. Most software-based streaming solutions are designed to scale up to a robust 10 Gbps per sever.

Second, a streaming solution can be vulnerable without the right technical team to run it. If video staff and volunteers do not possess the necessary skill sets or are not comfortable with configuring advanced features of a streaming server, they may wish to contact a systems integrator to help get their streaming project up and running. Most of today's streaming server software companies can provide referrals to preferred systems integrators that can assist with such projects.

With streaming channels, the biggest challenge is not always technical. Rather, it's deciding whether services and other outreach material are suitable for broad public sharing. Some houses of worship prefer to keep their streaming private and share content only with their congregants via login codes.

Another thing to consider is privacy issues. Congregants may wish to exercise their preference or legal right to not appear in video that is being broadcast to the general public. Giving notice to audiences in attendance could be something to consider.

The fact remains that today's streaming media viewers — whether they are watching sports, news, or sermons — expect dynamic interaction with their content. Viewing habits have shifted from the traditional broadcast model to streaming media on portable devices and houses of worship can now easily embrace this opportunity.

With lower costs and new, more accessible technology, both the neighborhood chapel and the megachurch can stay connected with their global congregants.

Chris Knowlton is vice president of product management at Wowza Media Systems, a leading streaming media server software company, www.wowza.com.

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