Streaming media is video, audio, or text sent over the Internet and displayed by the viewer upon arrival or accessed later as a saved file. With live streaming media, a Web user does not have to wait to download a large file before seeing the video or hearing the sound. Instead, the media is sent in a continuous stream and is played as it arrives. When streaming media is stored and made available via a Web site, the viewer can play back and view the video at their convenience.
How Can Streaming Video Benefit My Ministry?
Internet streaming offers churches the opportunity to engage live with parishioners and potential members throughout the entire world. With Internet streaming, you can broadcast services and educational events to ill parishioners or the hearing impaired. Sermons can be broadcast to students or military personnel that are far from home. Streaming can also be used to expand your church beyond its physical walls by making your message available to potential members anywhere in the world.
How It’s Done
Video streaming can be done with equipment that you most likely already have, such as cameras, mixers, and lighting equipment used to make tapes or DVDs. The capabilities of this equipment are simply being extended to live streaming and Internet playback.
Once you have the video and audio production equipment in place- cameras, mics, mixers, and lighting equipment- the next step is to determine if this is a Live event, a VOD (Video-On-Demand) event, or both. If it is a Live event, whatever the camera sees is encoded and sent out to viewers in real time. If it is a VOD event, you have an opportunity to record the event and edit/encode your streaming production video on a PC workstation. The editing program can be relatively simple, such as Windows MovieMaker, or a commercial editing suite such as Adobe’s Elements or Premier. Although it is best to use digital video equipment for quality results, this is not absolutely necessary.
Putting live video on the Internet requires a media encoder, which encodes audio and video into a digital stream that can be sent over the Internet. This process has two main objectives. The first is to compress the size of your video and audio files to make live Internet video delivery feasible. The second is to save your video files in a format that can be archived and played back at a later date. The goal of compression is to reduce the size of the file while keeping your image quality high. You can handle this process yourself, but there are also companies that will place the encoder at your church and manage your content for you.
For live events, the compressed live video stream is sent to specialized streaming media servers designed specifically for the audio/video-streaming task. This system, which delivers the video to the parishioner, must be efficient, fast, and flexible to provide a quality user experience. The streaming system has been designed specifically to actively send your video to a web page where your audience can access it live or on-demand from a saved file.
The size of your congregation will play a big role in how you’ll distribute your video content on the Internet. If you have a small congregation, your existing Internet Service Provider, the company who already hosts your Web page, can host and help manage your live and on-demand video. If you have a broader congregation, you’ll need to partner with a Content Delivery network or CDN. A CDN will distribute your digital stream, making it available for storage and playback, or live streaming. There are several content delivery service providers offering high bandwidth connectivity to the Internet. Note that these CDN’s operate behind your existing Web site provider; the viewer clicks on links appearing on your site even though the content is actually delivered by CDN servers located worldwide. These providers simplify the process by providing one account to which you can upload most audio and video formats, including RealMedia™, Windows Media™, QuickTime™ and, for audio-only applications, MP3. Your content can also be delivered as a podcast, allowing your parishioners to access video via their handheld devices.
There are many advantages to utilizing a semi-portable encoder. For one, they are simple to use, operating much like a VCR, but outputting directly to the Internet instead of a tape. Another reason is that not every church function takes place inside an actual church. These encoders can broadcast anywhere there is an Internet signal and can be battery operated – some can even run off the outlet in a car – making them ideal for church functions such as community outreach projects and church picnics. By adding a wireless interface, these encoders can broadcast live events anywhere there is a Wi-Fi signal.
A Few Final Tips
• A good Internet connection is vital to streaming. It needs to have very high bandwidth, such as a DSL connection. It is possible to do audio-only streaming via a dial-up connection, but that is the extent of its capabilities.
• As in any broadcast, attention needs to be paid to production values. Proper lighting and placement will make for a better viewing experience.
• The broadcast can be as simple or as advanced as you like. It can be done with a simple handheld, or multiple high-end cameras shooting from different angles.
• The cleaner (higher quality) the input is, the more effectively you can compress it for Internet delivery. While analog equipment, such as VHS or 8mm/Hi8-DV video cameras, can serve as your input, digital equipment (digital cameras, DVD players) should be used to create new content where possible.