By Rob Desilets
If you are planning to live stream your church services there are many important factors to consider when evaluating a service provider.
Support Response Time
Whether your viewers are across the globe, at home sick, or on vacation, they will rely on your live stream to be on time and perfect each week. Pricing and features do not matter if your stream is down and no one is immediately available to help you troubleshoot and get your stream back online quickly.
There are a lot of moving parts with live streaming – all of which can fail at any time. The stream starts at your computer or hardware encoder, then over the Internet to the service provider’s data center and ultimately arrives at your viewers’ device. When selecting a provider, verify they have technical support staff that have training with your streaming software or encoder, networking, and web development (for embedding). Confirm they respond quickly – especially on Wednesday night, Saturday, Sunday and Holidays such as Easter and Christmas. During the trial period open a support ticket before or during a live broadcast and start your stopwatch. If you don’t get a response within 5 minutes cross them off the list. Assuming you do get a fast response, verify they can remote in to your computer using commercial support software and properly diagnose the problem. You will have many other tasks during a live broadcast and need to make sure someone from the service provider is ready the moment you need them.
Flat-rate Unlimited Streaming
Live streaming is based on transferring video and audio data (also referred to as bandwidth) from your church to the streaming provider and then from their systems to your viewers. The quantity of data transferred is based on the number of viewers watching and the quality of the stream being distributed. For example, a high definition stream will transfer more data than a mobile stream. Some providers will charge you based on the monthly data transferred (usually per Gigabyte). Others will charge you based on viewer hours (1 viewer watching for 1 hour = 1 viewer hour). This model can get very expensive because as your regular viewership grows so will your bill each month. Choose a provider that has a flat-rate unlimited streaming plan. This will guarantee you pay the same amount each month regardless how many viewers you have. Inclement weather, special events, and a growing online community will all increase your viewership – which is a good thing – but it should not increase your bill.
Full Functionality Trial
Every streaming provider should provide at least a 30 day full functionality free trial. If you need more than 30 days they should extend the trial period as long as you need to thoroughly complete your evaluation. It’s important that the trial period is full functionality so you can properly test all of the features you plan to use in production. The trial should include embedding an advertisement free player in your own web site and app, rapid-response technical support, and unlimited bandwidth. During the trial period some providers will only allow a certain amount of bandwidth and trigger advertisements when exceeded. Others will not allow embedding in your web site, offer limited or no technical support, and restrict features. If any of these are true with your provider, cross them off the list.
The trial should also include complimentary setup with knowledgeable technicians who can remote in to your streaming computer and help you get the broadcast software or device configured and tested. They should also assist in embedding the player on your web site and answer all of your questions. When the setup is complete you should be 100% confident in your first production live stream.
Someone is paying for the resources your live stream is using – if it’s not you it’s an advertiser. Most, if not all, of the free streaming services online will place advertisements before, during, and after your broadcast. You have no control of the timing or content of these advertisements and much of the content is very inappropriate for church broadcasts. Choose a streaming provider that has absolutely no advertising. It’s better to not stream at all than to stream a series of inappropriate advertisements – it’s a sure way to drive viewers away.
Embedding is a term that describes putting another company’s web component/widget on your web site. Example widgets are a countdown timer, a live stream or archive player, or an online donation button. Many of your viewers will watch your live broadcast from a web browser on their computer or mobile device. It’s important that they are viewing the live stream on your church web page and not a 3rd party web page. Once they leave your page you have no control over what they are seeing (advertisements, spyware, etc). If the provider you are evaluating does not provide you the ability to embed an advertisement-free player in your own web site they should be crossed off the list. Some providers will have a low cost service plan but only until you move to the more expensive (and non-refundable) plan will you get to embed the player on your web site. The player should be embeddable with all price plans.
Viewable on All Devices
Your live stream and archives should be viewable from a computer (PC or Mac), mobile device (iPhone/iPad/Android), custom app, and set-top devices such as Roku. Your viewer’s device should be auto detected and the live stream started automatically. In addition, your provider should support adaptive bitrate streaming. Adaptive bitrate streaming is a technology where you broadcast your live stream in varying qualities and your viewer’s device will automatically detect the best stream quality based on their network speed – giving them the best viewing experience without any pauses or buffering.
No Contracts / No Commitments
A live streaming provider should earn your business each and every month. A company should not require you to sign a contract or offer discounted pricing only if you agree to a certain time commitment. You should be able to cancel anytime without any penalty.
Advances in computer hardware, software, and networks all push live streaming technology forward. As these technologies advance your live streaming provider should be rolling out new features that allow your church to stay on the leading edge. Perform an annual comparison between your current streaming provider and other providers in the market to make sure they are staying competitive with respect to features, pricing, and support. Switching streaming providers is as easy as reconfiguring the broadcast software and swapping out the embed player.
Live streaming enables elderly, deployed military, college students, vacationers, and potential new members to stay connected. If you select the correct provider live streaming will be easy to set up and your weekly streaming experience will be pleasant for you and your viewers.
When selecting a provider make sure they have the following features at a minimum: unlimited bandwidth and viewers, adaptive bitrate streaming, live and archive player embedding, custom Roku channel, no advertising, no contacts or commitments, viewing on all devices, automatic archiving, mobile app integration, advanced analytics, Vimeo and YouTube integration, offline video loops and simulated live broadcasts, multi-campus DVR, podcasting and most importantly outstanding support and customer service.
About the Author
Rob Desilets has over 20 years of experience in software development and is one of the founding partners of churchstreaming.tv which provides affordable live streaming solutions to churches of all sizes with a focus on outstanding customer service. He is well versed in many programming languages, operating systems, and streaming technologies including the Wowza Streaming Engine. Rob holds a bachelor of science in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
When Rob is not tinkering with computers he can be found in freefall above the earth as he is an avid skydiver with over 1500 jumps and has participated in many state formation skydiving records. To see some videos check out his web site at skydiving.photography.