After what seems like years (it was only actually a couple of months) I have brought live streaming our traditional worship services from idea to reality. You are welcome to check out our stream on Sunday mornings at 9:30 (central). Just go to theu.org/watch-live.
If you are a church thinking about live streaming services, here is how I would have done things if I had to do it all over again. These are all things I did but some of them I did in the wrong order. I am not sure this is the right order, but just think about all this stuff before you get started.
1. Count the costs. Live streaming is not very expensive compared to just a couple of years ago. But, there are some costs to consider. Costs may include new or upgraded video and/or audio equipment, hardware and software to encode your streaming signal, a monthly fee for hosting the stream and staff, outsourced, or volunteer labor to set everything up and keep it running. The venue we started with already had a camera, a Mac running ProPresenter and a switcher. So the total cost for us was about $600 for a new Mac Mini, about $250 for a BlackMagic Intensity Shuttle to get the signal into the Mac, $400 for the live stream software )we went with Telestream’s Wirecast software), around $100 a month for hosting, and about another $100 for adapters and cables.
Your setup could cost a lot less. You may already have a computer that can do the encoding. There are free options for software and there are less expensive cards for the video signal. Your setup could cost way more if you go with higher grade stuff or need to start from scratch.
2. Assess your current equipment. If your church already has a video feed of some sort (i.e. a live feed on screen or a feed that goes to an overflow room) find out exactly how it works. You are going to need to know what sort of video and audio outputs you have. This may be the output from your camera, your switcher, your audio mixing board or some collection of these. If your equipment is older, you may be outputting at RGB-HV or component or composite. If it is newer, you may have an HDMI or DVI output. You are going to need to know what you have so you can get the right equipment to encode your stream. This part ended up being the longest and hardest part for me. Because our system is older and has been upgraded and patched together many, many times, I had to basically take the entire system apart to figure out how it worked. One of the trickiest hiccups I hit was simply running audio from our soundboard downstairs up to the room upstairs where the video equipment is. Fortunately we found an old unused line that still worked or we would have been running a lot of cable through the walls.
If you are starting from scratch, things may be a little more expensive, but sometimes it is easier to start from scratch. You will need to think about a couple of things including your current budget and what else you hope your system will need to do in the future. If you don’t have any plans to add screens in your venue or stream to an overflow room or have a seperate video feed for anything else in the future, you have less to plan for. With budget in mind, you need to think about how complex you want this to be now and in the future. Will your stream feature one camera or more? Do you currently project announcements or lyrics on a screen? And, if so, will you want those to be a part of your live stream?
3. Find a great company to work with. I went with churchstreaming.tv. There are three main reasons: First of all the price was right. Second, a Roku channel is part of the package. (More on that later.) Third, their support is excellent. If you already have experience with live streaming, you probably aren’t really reading this post. If you don’t, the folks at churchstreaming.tv will help you with every aspect – from what equipment and software to buy, all the way to remoting in to your computer to set everything up. I highly recommend not buying a single component until you choose the company. Not every piece of hardware or software works well with every host and your provider can save you time and money getting everything together.
4. Realize something is probably going to go wrong. I hope, if you choose to live stream a worship service that everything works perfectly the first time out. But think about what you are doing: taking an audio and visual signal, converting it, compressing it, sending it far away through a network of interconnected computers, routers and switches and then having it downloaded in real time to any variety of different platforms running a even bigger variety of different software applications, drivers, anti-virus software, firewalls, etc. I am amazing this sort of thing works at all. My suggestion, two words, soft launch. Getting it running and try it for a couple weeks. Tell some people about it who will be willing to be your guinea pigs. If you have trouble you won’t be apologizing to a ton of people. Just working out the bugs. People like to help.
There is a lot of good stuff on the web to help you out. There are a lot of people out there who know a lot more than me. Just some stuff to consider if you are just getting started.