Grant Whitehead from Online Corps (a ministry of The Salvation Army USA Western Territory) recently published a video entitled “Church Live Webcast 101 How To“. It covers the essentials for live streaming church events, including all the information you need to successfully run a church webcast. It talks not only about the technical requirements, but also service requirements, programming considerations and legal requirements.

The video is so good, that while it was running I took a series of notes. Here is my summary of those notes, interspersed with some of my own thoughts from doing my own church video production.

If you are looking to webcast your church service or church special events, these pointers will get you started. The good news: it’s possible to get started for less than $2000, or even less if you already have some equipment.

Church Webcast Service Requirements

These are the basic requirements you need to do an online webcast:

Power

Without power, you can’t stream any content to the internet. Ensure you have adequate power for the equipment you are running, and get a UPS to protect yourself against any short term outages or surges. Losing power to key equipment for even a short period of time will kill the streaming connection, and require you start everything back up from scratch.

Consider purchasing a UPS from a brand such as APC or Eaton. I personally have purchased a 1000VA UPS from Jaycar. It is an “online UPS”, meaning the power is always running through the batteries. This not only adds an extra layer of protection against power surges, but also removes any switching time. This UPS has saved my back a few times, particularly one event where I was on generator power which had to be reset several times during setup and rehearsals. Just be aware of the audible alarm a UPS typically has – a beeping can get annoying during a service.

Video Streaming Bandwidth

You will need a minimum of 2Mbps upstream. This is the absolute minimum. You can use a website such as speedtest.net to check your speeds, although remember that consistent speeds are key when doing streaming.

Wired connections such as a ADSL, cable or fibre are preferable although you can consider using 4G LTE if an adequate cable connection is not available. A device such as the Dovado Pro or Cradlepoint MBR95 will allow you to connect your 4G USB modem into a network, and also give you automatic failover options.

Coming from a radio broadcast background myself, I’ve had a bit of experience using mobile connections at outside broadcast events. Be careful, because when you get a large number of people together they will start chewing up the bandwidth on the mobile phone tower. Each one only has limited capacity, so you may get lower bandwidth or no bandwidth at all. Even getting a 96Kbps stream up can be a struggle sometimes. This is why wired connections are ideal. Please go out of your way to find one.

Church Video Streaming Platform

The four main players in this area are:

  • YouTube
  • UStream
  • ChurchStreaming.tv
  • LiveStream.com

YouTube is probably the most accessible platform for users, but it’s not open to everyone. You need to have a certain amount of subscribers and have an account in good standing before you can apply to be a “partner” and commence streaming. There is an option for Not-for-profit groups such as The Salvation Army to bypass these requirements, but you still need to go through an application process. YouTube, in my opinion, is great because it had adaptive bandwidth and a widely supported range of players. You will be hard pressed to find a user who can’t stream a YouTube video on their computer.

UStream is good, but be aware of their ads. They may not always be appropriately timed or appropriate in content. There are paid plans to remove the ads, which are worth a look. I have used UStream before, and found it to be quite good especially when you don’t have much bandwidth at a venue.

ChurchStreaming.tv is notable because they allow automated streaming from an ordinary IP-enabled webcam. They also have a Roku app, which allows for easy access to your content (live and archived).

LiveStream.com is one of the more popular platforms, and have attractive pricing. OnlineCorps recommend this. Be careful with the free plans, as they require users to login to watch and also delete archived content after thirty days. I personally have found their streaming to be very bandwidth thirsty and not particularly compatible with lower bandwidth connections found in Australia.

Please do some testing and see which platform works best for you.

Church Webcast Equipment Requirements

What are the minimum requirements for live church webcasting? You need quality audio, a camera, and an encoder. Everything else is optional.

Audio Setup

Remember: people forgive bad video, but won’t forgive bad audio. This means you should put audio quality above video quality. How do you achieve this?

Start with a small, dedicated audio mixer for the video audio feed. Here’s what to connect to this mixer when you are starting off:

  • A stereo split from your main front of house audio console.
  • A stereo pair of room microphones, to capture the atmosphere of the room (the congregation, the natural sound of the room, etc.). These mice can be placed at the back of the room. Consider mics such as the Rode NT5. I have a pair. They have great bang for your buck.
  • Some quality headphones, to monitor the mix.

Consider adding audio processing, such as a compressor/limiter to ensure the levels are more consistent.

If you have outgrown this setup, then consider running an entirely different audio mix. You can achieve this by using a separate audio console, and connecting a split of every input from stage into this console. Someone can operate it from a quiet room, and ensure it sounds awesome for the church webcast. David Stagl from Northpoint Community Church has an excellent article about mixing for broadcast.

Cameras

Cameras are getting much better, and much cheaper. Here are some options:

  • A Canon Vixia M500 is an example of a full HD camera, with HDMI outputs which could be connected directly to your streaming encoder. It costs roughly US$600
  • The Samsung SNV-6084R is an IP-based remote controlled PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) dome camera. It’s also about US$600, but is only IP enabled (you can’t get an uncompressed HDMI or SDI feed like the others)
  • My favourite: The Canon XA25. This is the real deal. It is a prosumer camera, complete with 20x Optical Zoom, dual SD Cards, HD-SDI outputs and XLR inputs. It costs roughly US$2500. (P.S. I am personally very interested in this camera, and have been wanting to buy one since I discovered it late last year)
  • The Sony EVI-HD1 is another PTZ camera, but this time with HD-SDI output. At US$2000, it’s well worth looking at especially given the space you can save and the lack of volunteers you would need to run the cameras.

Streaming Encoder

How do you actually get your live camera onto the internet? One option is to purchase a LiveStream Broadcaster. This little red box will connect to a HDMI feed and a USB 4G modem and stream directly to your LiveStream account without the need for a PC. This can simplify things, especially in smaller setups. A word of caution: double check this unit is compatible with your USB modem, especially in Australia.

The next step up is a Blackmagic Design Intensity Extreme or UltraStudio Mini Recorder. These will allow you to connect a SDI or HDMI feed into your computer via Thunderbolt (USB options are available). This allows you to use software such as LiveStream for Producers or Flash Media Live Encoder.

Church Video Switcher

Up until now, we have mostly been discussing a single camera scenario. What happens if you want to switch multiple cameras and perhaps overlay some lyrics? You need a video production switcher. The option I always default to is the Blackmagic Design ATEM range of switchers. These are professional production-grade switchers, and selecting one is a whole other topic. For one thing, these switchers don’t have built in scalers so you need to ensure you understand the video formats you will be working with.

Long story short, you can use these to switch multiple cameras and output that to your the streaming encoder. Most models of the ATEM support at least one auxiliary out, giving you the option to send different sources to different screens and streams.

The OnlineCorps Setup

Here’s the gear you would find in the main rack on a typical OnlineCorps event:

  • UPS (capable of running their equipment for 20 minutes)
  • TriCaster 855 Video Switcher
  • Patch Bay
  • 16×16 Blackmagic Design VideoHub SDI Router
  • 4×4 SDI Router
  • 4x Mac Minis in 2x Sonnet Rack Mac Mini case
  • KVM switch for the Mac Minis
  • Keyboard draw
  • Power Distribution
  • Dual HD Monitors
  • Soundcraft SI Compact 16 Digital Audio Console
  • Cradlepoint 3G/4G Modem with Ethernet failover (possibly the COR IBR600)
  • 24 Port Ethernet Switch

Programming Considerations

It’s important to think of your online audience. Here’s some tips:

  • Consider if the online audience can hear everything happening in the service. Items such as dramas will need microphones
  • Think of your online stream as a one-on-one experience. Speak to people directly and don’t make them feel left out because they aren’t at the venue.
  • Be mindful of segments such as altar calls, and ensure the people at home have a way to respond.
  • Services often have gaps which feel normal when at a venue, but can feel awkward online (e.g. some walking from the back of the hall to the front)

Legal Considerations

Privacy

The key consideration is privacy. Someone walking into a church mightn’t want to see themselves on the internet. There are also special rules about putting children on the internet – you might need to get release forms signed for this.

Consider telling people if they don’t want to be on camera, there is a specific place you can sit.

Church Webcast Music Clearance and Copyright

The other legal consideration for church webcasting is copyright clearance. CCLI has a streaming license which will cover performances of their catalog of songs. Playing pre-recorded music isn’t generally covered, so be careful of that. In Australia, you may be able to get an APRA License to cover usage of pre-recorded music.

When dealing with legal issues such as these it’s important to get your own legal advice. Please don’t take this information here as legal advice – it’s only a pointer to get you going in the right direction.

Conclusion

That’s it. Check out OnlineCorps to see what they are doing. Also, this is a topic I’m hoping to write a lot more about in the future so keep checking back and perhaps consider signing up to my email newsletter. In the mean time, you may also be interested in my tips for directing live video.

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I'm Anthony Eden, and I'm a IT Professional, Broadcast Technician, Software Developer, and Solutions Engineer. I've been working in broadcast media since 2008, and developing software and websites for just as long. Right now, I provide freelance services through Media Realm - in particular, to the media and not-for-profit industries.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_eden