In 1215, at the battle of Runnymede, Britain overcame the absolute monarchy of the Crown of England and forced the signing of the Magna Carta by King John. It was the beginning of constitutional government, and a limited form of democratic rule. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island became the last state to ratify the US Constitution and gave the US a democratic republic. Once again a monarchy had been defeated, and the aristocracy gave way. Democracy, literally rule by the people, became a way of life.
So… just what does this have to do with broadcasting, and more importantly, what does it have to do with the church?
Since the beginning of broadcasting, and especially with the advent of television, an aristocracy of sorts has owned the broadcasting industry. Not always defined by birth, this aristocracy is defined by access to seriously large amounts of money. Amounts like the fifteen to one hundred million dollars or more needed to own one of the on air stations in a given city. Or, the fifty million to 1 billion dollars to own one of the less than 500 or so satellite channels. Until the present day, the idea of a democratic broadcasting marketplace has been an unknown concept.
Now, however, obtaining a primitive broadcasting license involves an IP address, some creativity, and a small amount of money. If you have a DSL connection, that is around $29.00 to $50.00 per month depending on your ISP. You can go to literally any website in the world (as they say in the insurance commercials, some limitations apply), which lets you see other people’s offerings, and even watch their video and audio presentations, in some cases live. But how does that put you into the broadcast arena?
Let’s assume that your church wants to put the Sunday morning service on the Internet as a radio program. You probably already have a DSL connection to the Internet (or even a T-1 or greater). If you have a computer and a sound card, you are almost there. Download the Windows Media Encoder 9 (free) from the Microsoft website.
Now you have all the tools you need at your church to be on the Internet. But how do you make that happen? You can’t simply give people your IP address and have them come to you, you have to have a means of taking that one stream of audio that you can now originate, and make it available for others. In other words, you need to make it possible to “multicast” the stream. How does that happen?
There is an explosion of service providers who have multicast servers using programs like SHOUTcast, Live365 and IceCast. Most of them will lease you server channels for a surprisingly low cost. For less than $50.00 for 20 concurrent listeners or $250.00 for 100 concurrent listeners, you can stream at 128Kb, that’s full CD quality, for an entire month. For 32Kb (that’s dialup speed) you can get the same service for $13 for 20 and $65 for 100 concurrent listeners. For the cost of your Internet connection and this service, you can broadcast to up to 20 people for a month for less than $60.00 (actually $13 since you probably already have the rest of the stuff). All you need now is a button on your website to link to the URL of the streaming server, and you are a broadcaster.
Now, obviously, the above scenario is the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR of the Internet Broadcasting Business. If you want to do video it gets more complicated AND expensive, but still it is amazing what can be done even now (for instance the above 128Kb stream sounds better than almost any local FM radio station you can find, if your original material is that good).
But— here is the real point. Over the next several years, the Internet will continue to expand its ability to carry very large streams of video and audio material. Already, you can stream audio material at quality levels comparable to the reproduction capabilities of most consumer’s stereo systems. Video images, which are many times larger files, are still in the “OK” quality range. Good for computer imaging, and if you have a T-1 size link, OK on a 3’ or so LCD or Plasma screen. They are not, however, nearly good enough for your 20’ wide I-mag screen, if you are a large church. However, there are several events just around the corner that are going to change that.
The first of the events is already underway. MPEG-4 is being integrated into many platforms such as Windows MediaPlayer-10 and Quicktime (actually, it began with them) and several others. This standard provides for the transmission of DVD quality High Definition video program material in real time. Essentially, the format for sending high quality video over the Internet is already in use.
The next event is the already underway— the development of Internet-2. This is basically the fast lane for the Internet freeway. Still being built, mostly between university and corporate development labs, it is designed to allow very large file streams and very large data files to flow around the existing Internet without encountering the congestion of everyday traffic. Most likely, once on line, it will be possible to send a stream of data which will be routed to the fast lane if the right identifiers precede the information packet. It will probably cost more to have an Internet connection that allows you access to the Internat-2, but as with all things computer, those costs will be amazingly low, and falling rapidly after introduction.
The third element is the continuing ability to carry greater and greater amounts of information over the Internet because of the expansion of facilities. For years, city after city has added fiber optic capacity, to the point that a great percentage of that fiber is actually dark right now. As the backbone that connects cities together expands, data rates and wideband accessibility will get better. Already the cable companies, phone companies and others are negotiating with Hollywood to get access to their vast library of films to release over the Internet as Video On Demand (VOD) becomes operational. This drive to essentially make the Internet the communication highway for everything (even your telephone calls) will not slow down.
So, just what does this have to do with broadcasting, and more importantly, what does it have to do with the church?
Basically, everything. We are in the outreach business. Historically that was done first by going to people along the road and telling them the Good News. Later we found that inviting people to come to us and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ worked in a culture where people were leaving the farms and congregating in the cities. Today, once again, this time through technology, we can go to them, in their homes or even to their cell phones and share that same unchanging message.
Today might not be the time for your church to make this move, but over the next five to ten years the migration to outreach through technology will play an increasing role in the church. Sooner or later you will be taking this seriously and making it a part of your ministry. For $13.00 a month you can begin the process. The process of meeting the world of the 21st century at the present day democratic common ground— the Internet.