By Mark Tarbet
The gospel message is powerful…if it can be heard. Streaming is simply the delivery mechanism of the gospel, just as missionaries are. Churches go to great lengths to equip, plan and evaluate their missions’ efforts. So, wouldn’t it make sense to equip our stream to be successful and evaluate how well it is working?
It is far too easy to simply focus on the hardware needed to stream, and completely miss the bigger picture of how well we are doing it. Simply owning the hardware doesn’t ensure you’ll have an audience any more than owning a fast car makes one a contender for the Formula One circuit.
To begin evaluating a stream, it is important to understand the streaming medium and how it is different from a live and in-person experience. The fallacy about streaming is that it extends the live event out to a remote audience. There is a big experiential difference between attending a live service and watching it online.
When someone attends a church service, they walk into an environment that is purpose-made for worship and teaching. Everything around them is focused towards the experience of worship.
But for a viewer at home, there may be kids running around, the dishwasher is running and just being online is loaded with distractions, from ads, messages, email notices, and even other church streams.
Complicating things even more is the fact that the viewer is only allowed to connect with you based on the visuals you provide them with on the stream. It is a significant handicap compared to an in-person experience, where a person chooses how they will connect with the church service.
When watching a stream, the viewer can only react to the sights and sounds that we chose to provide them with. This puts an incredible responsibility on the church to make the video and sound as good as possible. Otherwise, the connection is lost, and the gospel is never heard.
Let’s imagine a typical Sunday service scene where the worship team is on stage singing a familiar song. But let’s view it from two perspectives:
1st Perspective: A single camera that doesn’t move showing a wide shot of the worship team singing.
2nd Perspective: Three cameras shooting a variety of angles of the worship team, gently dissolving between cameras, and an occasional tight shot of the soloist.
Which perspective is probably going to be more interesting to watch? And which one will likely be turned off?
The way to make your stream worth watching is to invest in making the visuals creative and interesting. This is what increases the Production Value of your stream. Your Production Value is what determines how well your stream connects with and retains viewers.
Let’s look at some best practices of Production Value.
Using more than one camera is simply a fundamental requirement to be effective in the visual medium. A single un-changing shot lacks any visual interest for the viewer. Switching between cameras helps keep the visual interesting and allows you to direct the viewer’s attention where it should be. The stream has to lead the viewer since they are remote and can’t. Even limited switching will dramatically improve the visual interest.
In addition to using more than one camera, consider using small Point-Of View (POV) cameras in and around the stage area. These very small and un-manned cameras are virtually invisible but provide you with more creative visuals as they can be mounted on instruments and stage props to create added visual interest.
Nothing impacts the visual more than good lighting. Begin using 2 or 3-point lighting to dramatically improve how people look on camera. Also, make sure the lighting brightness is even across the stage.
Do not use your speaker system mix for streaming. That mix is designed to make speakers in a large acoustical space sound good. Obtain a secondary console to mix for streaming and install it somewhere relatively quiet. Headphones or near-field monitors will help you create a mix suited for laptop speakers, headphones, and sound bars at home.
Always run a test of your stream to a private audience before the actual event. This allows you to evaluate how it looks and sounds and make corrections. These extra few minutes of testing will ensure that you don’t lose viewers to distractions and irritation with your content.
While your encoder may offer wireless connection to your LAN, do not use this – ever. Streamed content eats up lots of bandwidth and most wireless connections struggle to keep up and cause intermittent drops in the stream.
Understand that your stream upload needs 5MB-6MB of bandwidth. Make sure that you have this available and that other data needs do not infringe on this. It is highly recommended that a church use or hire a networking professional to come out and help them configure network devices and recommend changes.
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
The CDN is what connects your stream to remote viewers. There are some very easy to use CDN’s like Facebook and YouTube. You do sacrifice some control and features for this ease of use, but many are successful using those platforms and prefer the “live chat” community they provide. For those with higher demands and control needs, there are companies like Living As One that provide church’s with a private CDN.
You can begin making some changes now that will improve your Production Value by following these best practices. However, many of these changes do require advanced technical skills in production, networking, and streaming. To get help, churches should contact a systems integrator who has experience with streaming design, hardware, and installation.
You can also take advantage of a resource my company recently made available to churches at no cost that covers the best practices mentioned above as well as other streaming topics. We call it the “Streaming 101” Video Series. It is entirely free for churches and can be found at www.ridgeav.com/videos. We design and install systems for churches big and small.
Regardless of where you are in the streaming process, you can take steps today to ensure your stream is indeed worth watching.
Mark Tarbet is the owner and president of Ridge AV located in Austin, Texas. His company designs and installs audio, video, lighting, and control systems for the church market, www.ridgeav.com. He has been working professionally with churches for over 25 years and has served as the video director for over 1,000 church services.