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6 keys to help you decide the right streaming service for you.

With so many different services available, how do you know which one is the best fit for your requirements? This article will help you choose..

One of the most interesting things that has happened over recent times is an explosion in the number of churches and ministries now engaging with online media. This has been particularly true in live streaming which seems to have grown at a phenomenal speed. That means every church who wants to stream their services need to know how to decide the right streaming service for their needs.

Here, I am going to provide you with the keys to unlock that for your specific situation and give you the tools to make an informed decision based on your needs.
Youtube and Facebook

Many churches start streaming with choosing one platform (like YouTube or Facebook) to stream to, but many then want to expand to multiple platforms so they can reach different audiences. They are now faced with the question of how to stream to multiple locations simultaneously.


How do you stream to multiple locations simultaneously?

A lot of churches got up and running through using free software like OBS (which doubles up as a production set up and a streaming solution), while others chose to stream directly from their switcher (for instance, the Blackmagic ATEM mini pro has the capability to output a stream directly). But these solutions will only let you stream to one location – so if you are looking to expand to multiple platforms what do you do?


Here are some thoughts for you to consider.

One option to consider is buying separate encoders (or computers if you are going the software route) for EACH stream you want to send. There is one really good thing about this route and that is that if ONE stream falls over for whatever reason, you’ll still have the other stream(s) going as they are separated. BUT this is an expensive route as you need more hardware and you also need more upload bandwidth (I recommend you always have DOUBLE what you are looking to stream) i.e. if you are pushing 5 mbps you should have an upload of 10 mbps, so the more streams, the quicker you will gobble up the available bandwidth. Oh, and this is DEDICATED bandwidth, not part of your building’s “general internet”.

One possible solution is VMIX, which is a considerable step up from something like OBS, much more capable from a production standpoint and, in my opinion, also much more user friendly. It’s an “all in one” production system, like OBS claims to be. BUT it can also stream to three locations simultaneously. There are two things to bear in mind here – one is that the more locations you are directly streaming to the more “on site” bandwidth you need. Secondly, you are demanding more of your set up and potentially adding strain on the computer etc that could cause crashes. I have personally had VMIX crash on me during an event and it is incredibly frustrating as unless you have other technology to keep you going (like a router – see this blog for more on that) then EVERYTHING fails if VMIX fails. I therefore always recommend not having one VMIX system do everything – of course that’s not always possible from a budget perspective, but read this article on "What's best for your live streaming? all in one or component systems" before you decide. There are other similar (though in my opinion less capable solutions). For instance people have been using Streamyard or Ecamm to “produce” their streams and these CAN provide solutions for multiple streams as well – but again there are a LOT of eggs in the same basket if you go this route.

Vmix Streamyard Ecamm
Cerevo LiveShell

If you don’t require the “Production” elements that VMIX provides, there are also hardware products on the market that can take in ONE source and stream to multiple locations. LIVE SHELL by CEREVO is one of them. For some, this could be a great solution: however, again, you are putting ALL your eggs in the same basket AND it is dependent on your local internet infrastructure being solid and having plenty of bandwidth.

If you want an alternative solution for your live stream that doesn’t put all your eggs in one basket – or isn’t dependent on your infrastructure, what other options are there?

Over recent years as the “demand” for streaming has grown, the solutions available have expanded too.

One popular option is streaming services that take your ONE stream from source (meaning you only need the bandwidth for a single stream) and then distribute it to multiple end points. There are a large and growing number of solutions available that you can look at and consider.

Here is a list of the more popular options. I know people who use all of these and they have success with them. I don’t put them in any specific order.

Boxcast

Dacast

Resi

Castr

Restream

Vimeo

They all have different price points, are good for different things BUT all should be considered as a potential solution. Some require hardware that may need additional investment so it’s important to look at each option and make sure you are considering like for like when you work out what is best for you.


How do I choose the right live streaming service for my needs?

Whilst I can’t give you advice on what is right for your specific circumstances in this article, here are the SIX KEYS you need to look at carefully when considering which solution to invest in:

  1. The quality of the streaming output. It goes without saying that you want the BEST quality you can get. However, you want to match that with what the platforms you are on can accept. For instance, is there a need to pay extra to be able to stream in 4K resolution IF none of the platforms you are broadcasting on will allow 4K streams? So, look at what you need at your end points and go for the solution that gives you that rather than paying more for things you won’t benefit from.
  2. The quality of the service and the level of support you get. Something to consider is how “critical” would a failure be? Bear in mind that once you go this route ALL your eggs are in their basket so IF it’s “mission critical” that you must be on air no matter what then you possibly need to pay more for a robust service that is less prone to failure. Also, look at the level of support you get – again, what is acceptable to you here? Some of the solution providers offer 24/7 help, others offer office hours support etc. You need to look at what level of support is good for you and ensure this is a key part of your decision making.
  3. All of these services are paid services – none are free. However, make sure you look at ALL the costs involved. They often offer different levels of service at different price points – so research all the plans that are on offer. Some providers may have limits on the number of hours of streaming you can do or the data you can use or other restrictions, so scrutinize all the different options and make sure you choose one that works for all your needs. Most don’t have “hidden” costs but sometimes you have to dig a little to find out what the limitations are.
  4. Talking of limitation, one question to consider is storage of your files. This will depend on the plans but is an important and separate thing to consider when looking at costs. The more content you create the more storage you need. Perhaps going with one of these services could alleviate some of your potential challenges around that, BUT that can come at a hefty cost if you keep content on these services. One other comment on that – read this article on "Binge Worthy Content" where I talk about why you should always make your content easily accessible. I recommend you have a multi layered approach to where you store your files.
  5. One thing that can be a very attractive side benefit of some of these services is they offer you an “on demand” hosting option as well. If it is important to you that your material can be viewed “on demand” then keep that in mind when you are choosing a solution.
  6. The final thing that should guide your decision is anything they offer to make your life easier in other areas. For instance, do they offer you the ability to monitor and respond to chat and comments across the platforms you broadcast to. Interaction should be a high priority for you and some of these solutions MAY offer you creative options which will be very beneficial to you and your team – so it’s worth considering that (and other “extras”) when you weigh up which one to go with. Maybe, long term, you want to build some kind of monetisation into your online video content – so research any such options the providers offer.

If you want to talk through your situation, we offer a free exploratory call to see how we can assist you. Click on the link below to book a time.

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Here is a quick summary infographic of the six questions:

How to choose the right streaming solution


Budget will always be a big constraint and a major consideration in your choice. However, since this is such a fundamental part of your end to end solution, I recommend that budget should not be the deciding factor. Rather, here is the approach I would take:

  • Go through the 6 considerations I have listed above and work out on a scale of 1 – 5 the importance of each.
  • Then order these from MOST important to least important.
  • Then go through each of the services (there are others you can look at if you want to go hunting for them as well) and, starting off with the MOST important items check off which ones they do well. Working through all 6 considerations.
  • At the end of this, you will (most likely) have narrowed down your options to two or maybe three services.
  • Now look at the costs of each and see which fits your budget.

Go for the option that gives you what you need at the best value – not simply the cheapest option.


HOWEVER, one final step.

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

As far as I know, all of the solutions I have listed offer free trials. I suggest you make use of those.

Once you have narrowed down your options as above try EACH of them and use them a few times, get used to how they work, understand any issues around reliability AND make sure you try to access their support. There is nothing worse than not being able to get the help you need when you need it – so make sure you are happy with the support they offer.


Before I finish off, there are two other comments I want to make.

Firstly, remember what’s really important. It’s NOT about which solution gives you the “sexy” option – instead, it’s about which solution can sit best within your eco system and seamlessly deliver the BEST experience to your audience. You need to put yourself into the position of your audience and decide from that perspective. You might end up with a solution that isn’t maybe as “technically advanced” but is reliable, and delivers on all the functionality that’s important to the audience – that’s what you should focus on.

Secondly, remember most of these will offer you a monthly option and (a cheaper) annual option. My recommendation is to start with the monthly option (even if you pay more initially) until you are happy with the service and then once you are, commit to the annual one and get the saving. If you are not happy during the monthly trial period then cancel it and try another one – don’t get locked in until you know you have a solution that works well for you.

I also think you should reassess your needs in this area annually and go through the research process again. Things are constantly changing, new services emerging, quality improving etc. so it really is worth spending time and doing regular research to see which service is offering the things that are important to you at the best value.

I see this being a huge area of growth and innovation over the next few years and I am excited to see what becomes possible. I’m not in any sense an expert on the platforms or the technologies but I do see the potential to reach more people with better quality content through these technologies – and that excites me.

This is important

Another quick final thought – your church website should always be included as one of your streaming locations, and when promoting where people can watch, this should be your primary location. Why? There are numerous reasons for this, but here are two to consider. One, you don't have the same issues that you do with third-party owned platforms, such as copyright issues, content issues, and so on. Two, you are bringing people into YOUR world, making it easier to connect with them and follow up with them via your website, allowing you to build a long-term relationship with them. For more on this read "The benefits of being our own Gatekeepers".

After all, we're looking for participants, not JUST viewers, and the best way to get them is to have them access your content through a platform you control.

I would love to hear your comments on the things that are important to you when it comes to Streaming solutions – what would you add to my list of six?

Categories: : audience, Broadcasting, Foundation, live streaming, Platforms, production, set up, Strategy, Technology

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