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