Live Internet Broadcasting 101: When to Go Live and How

Chuck Ebbets with Everett Alexander on Sunday 11/19 @ TEDxHuntsville

While the technologies behind live Internet broadcasts have become more powerful and reliable, there is always risk involved in flipping the “go live” button. I’ve seen wires cut by backhoes, servers go dark, cameras fall over, elecricity outages and a variety of lighting and audio issues that have killed a live webcast. For years I’ve recommended recording the event to tape/disc – then doing a little editing if necessary – and broadcasting “as live” from the recording. Lots of free and pay-as-you-go tools to do this and you should be able to turn it around quickly.

But what if there is a really good reason to broadcast live – like, “right now” live? There are many reasons to stream live, some of which I list below. If you’re thinking about broadcasting a live event, here are a few things to consider and think about. If you hire a person or firm to handle the webcast, they normally take care of a majority of this list.

  1. You’ll need a streaming service. There are free services such as UStream and Livestream, and more advanced fee-based services such as ON24, OnStream and KIT digital. These services typically give you a player to embed on your website, and the account information you’ll need to stream. If stats are important, do the research before choosing a service. Some offer more robust stats and viewer information that others.
  2. A streaming computer/server. Whether you use a webcam or a four camera switched production, you’ll connect the audio and video feed to a computer running software that sends the stream out over the Internet. For high-end productions, the computer/server should have an advanced video capture card with HDMI and/or HD-SDI inputs. For lower end productions a firewire or USB connection can suffice.
  3. An understanding of the network connection you’ll be using is critical. I typically use to test the connection on site. Its more of an art than a science, but the idea is to make sure the connection can handle the amount of throughput you’ll need to push the stream(s) up TO the Internet. Keep in mind the download speeds are often 10-20x the upload speeds. The upload speed you’ll need will depend on several factors: the audio and video bitrates; the nature of the content (talking heads need less throughput than sporting events); competing factors (if everyone in the audience can jump on the same network you could be in trouble); and the video codec(s) being used (some are more efficient than others).
  4. An understanding of the viewer profile is very helpful. Will some have great Internet connections, and some not-so-great? Do you need to support iPhones and iPads, or just laptops and desktops? Are there any firewall issues (such as at banks and in schools) where a stream might not get through? Really understanding the audience profile – including how many folks will watch – can be critical in delivering consistent quality.

Again, there are a variety of reasons to broadcast live over the Internet. Here are a few that i’ve seen actually work well, serve the purpose well, and generally have a measurable positive impact.

  • Corporate communications: Emerging company information that many want to know about at the same time
    • earnings calls
    • product launches
    • all hands calls
    • awards ceremonies
    • regional broadcasts
  • One-time events: productions with large regional or national interest
    • political debates
    • benefit concerts
    • film festivals
    • auctions
  • Immediate feedback: Live panel discussions w/ online feedback and social interaction
    • sports recaps
    • disaster relief
    • expert and thought leader topical discussion
  • Exisitng audience: Local Sporting Events & Entertainment
    • horse shows
    • Peewee football championship
    • High school play

Many live events can be valuable to an advertiser who may want to sponsor the webcast. Sponsors can be supported in a variety of ways.

  • logo on backdrop
  • logo as watermark on video
  • lower third graphic
  • pre-roll video advertisement
  • On-air endorsement
  • branded webpage hosting the webcast

The Buckhead Theatre before TEDxPeachtree 2012

The Buckhead Theatre before TEDxPeachtree 2012

For me the art of the live webcast is a challenge in project management and risk mitigation, along with the thrill of performing under fire. There is a sense of victory, of celebration, each time an Internet broadcast goes as planned. Luckily the failures have led to the success – the “I’ll never do that again” syndrome. I have three pages of “gotchyas” I review when planning any webcast, much like a pilot goes through his list before takeoff. There is no room for failure, though often as luck has it there are things beyond anyone’s control.

Posted by Chuck Ebbets   @   21 November 2012

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