Technological advancements are best served up as something recognizable. The new revolutionary ideas are made real when the ones doing the work can easily adapt to the “new way”. A thousand years ago, broadcasting to as many people as possible was learning how to speak louder to a crowd. Radio extended our voice and then television added pictures.
All through advancements in broadcasting, one thing remained the same: broadcasting is linear – one thing at a time. We have all been compelled in the past to tune in or show up at a certain time or we would miss it. But something happened a few years ago. People discovered the VCR. Programming on tape gave us a taste of freedom, and in the hustle and bustle of modern life we could have our programming when we wanted it.
However, broadcasting was still stuck in a linear, serial mode while people were demanding parallel. Broadcasters began to repeat programming at regular intervals such as news shows at every half-hour. Multiple cable channels showing the same movie starting a half-hour apart was a good attempt. But then came the Internet.
The Internet allows world-wide communication. No matter what time it is where you are, at any given moment it’s prime time for someone. And 24 hours a day it’s prime time somewhere. Even when you are asleep in the wee hours of the morning, someone wants to hear and see what you have to offer.
The Internet is a method of transmitting information and data on the fly, whether it is audio, pictures or email. Simulcasting a radio station’s signal seems obvious at first glance, but that overlooks the potential of its power. The Internet’s strength is that it is the perfect platform to deliver “on demand” programming which is what people really want. Going “on demand” means less hoops to jump through, and less production and distribution expense. There is always a place for live event broadcasting, but to make a program, class or sermon available at a moments notice is extremely desirable to all.
Live webcasting requires equipment on your end to encode your signal into the format that can be transmitted over the Internet. Then you need to send that encoded program to a service that will allow multiple listeners to “tune in” simultaneously. To do that, you would have to employ a special communications line such as ISDN or better. Once you get the “signal” to the communications company, there would be more costs involved to distribute your “signal”, so a large audience can “tune in”. As you can see, there are many hoops to jump through and costs incurred.
“On demand” broadcasting on the Internet merely requires your existing computer and web site. The main requirement is inexpensive (and in many cases free) software for your computer so you can encode your program into the proper format to broadcast (or webcast) it on the Internet. This format is known as “streaming”. In the case of an audio program it is referred to as “streaming audio”.
The encoding software on your computer creates a media file which you then upload to where your web page is located in the same way you would upload pictures and other elements of a web page. On your web page, you create a link (hyperlink) to that media file in the same way you would make a link to another web page. When a listener clicks on that link, the media file begins to download (stream) to their computer and it is converted into audio from a player program (such as Real Audio player or Microsoft Media Player). So there are no more hoops or costs incurred by you other than your existing web site hosting service.
In a real world situation, a pastor can record the Sunday sermon and then have it encoded into a streaming audio media file after the church service. The media file is then uploaded to where the web site is hosted and a link is created on the page such as “click to hear this week’s sermon”. A visitor in the next state or on the other side of the planet can enjoy the message at any time.
Next Sunday, the process is repeated and visitors continue to visit week to week to hear the sermon whenever they are ready to hear it. Another aspect is that new sermons can be added to each week and the other sermons can become archives so there is much more content for visitors to choose from.
The Internet is bringing exciting things to our every day lives. New ways of broadcasting and reaching larger and wider audiences is one of its greatest aspects. In the case of ministry, it is truly helping us to go into the whole world to preach the Gospel.