Broadcasting Ministry Help?

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Good afternoon, I am a member of Midland United Methodist Church in Midland GA. We are a SMALL church with a lot of folk that are constantly out of town to include myself or some of our older members that are not able to come as often, as well as some of our members that are now in other countries serving in our Military and our Wonderful Nation. I would like to be able to watch our sermon on Sunday's as well as give them the opportunity to watch as well even though they are not able to attend in person. I'm asking for help to find out what kind of Technology do we need to be looking to invest in? I'm looking for a complete system, Audio and video w/ streaming capabilities in real time. If you have any ideas or links that would help me out in my search that would be wonderful. Please provide links as to wear I will be able to locate the technology.

 V/R
Christopher Rogers
Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.

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Hi Christopher. A key decision will be whether you want to make the webcast public or private. If public, then you'll need a webcasting license for all your music, and you'll need to ensure you are legally allowed to broadcast video of the people/leaders in your congregation (I think this can be sometimes done with a blanket-notification (e.g. in the bulletin) but privacy laws vary and so you'll need to confirm the laws in your region - I'm not a lawyer). Google it and you'll find some other good articles like this.

Password-protecting the webcast so it's only available to members (who can't physically attend the service) would, I assume, change some of the above and make it much simpler. But that would need to be confirmed.

If so, then you could look at doing it as a Google Hangout (can have up to 10 people) or Skype or similar services. But instead of using the built-in laptop webcam, of course you'd need to use a good quality external camera/mic that can zoom all the way to the front podium. I've used $100 external USB cameras that might do the trick, but it depends on how far away the camera would be. Do some online shopping for USB cameras/webcams and I'm sure you can find something with a good optical zoom.

Hope this helps, at least somewhat. I've used these technologies, but not in a church context so maybe some others can chime in who have experience with it in a church service context.

Christopher,

I work for a streaming technology provider and would be happy to answer any questions and give you some direction.  The most cost effective technology we have found to do what you are talking about is NewTek TriCaster.  This device would take a feed from up to 4 live cameras simultaneously and would also take an audio feed from your existing house audio system.  You would only need one operator if you use fixed shots or if you use robotic cameras.  Streaming capability is built in, and all you would need is an account with a Content Delivery Network to replicate your stream to viewers all over the world plus an internet connection with at least 2 megabit outgoing bandwidth for medium quality or 10 megabit outgoing bandwidth for high definition. The numbers I am quoting are based on doing a multi-bitrate feed that will work for all viewers no matter how fast or slow their broadband connection speed is.  Slower connections are fed a lower quality feed, and faster connections get high quality automatically.  This does not require any management or understanding of the process on your end as the Content Delivery Network or CDN takes care of this.

A really good CDN to use is Livestream since they have direct integration with the TriCaster system as the encoder and they provide a simple and robust interface to set up your broadcast events.  They also have flat rate pricing, meaning that you don't have to guess at how much bandwidth you might use or pay for additional viewers.  Livestream has a free plan that let's you get started on a trial basis, and you can move up to one of three different paid plans as you decide what features you need.  Paid yearly plans start at $499, which works out to about $50/month, and they offer unlimited duration (24/7 if needed), unlimited viewers, unlimited archive storage for video on demand, and unlimited bandwidth.  You can find more information about Livestream yearly plans here.

There are other ways to do this that might cost less, but you lose critical features that are really important for the final product.  For example, if you start with a device that only provides a single bitrate then you have to choose a target bitrate that works across the board for all of the people watching.  Since you might have some people watching with slow connections, you would have to settle on a streaming quality that is very low, and even people with faster connections would be stuck watching at that low quality.  The alternative is to turn the quality and the bitrate up to a point where the quality looks acceptable, but then some viewers will not be able to watch the stream at all, or they will experience frequent dropouts or buffering.  This is a low quality viewer experience, and I would not recommend a single bitrate solution to anyone.

Another factor is that you could start with a single camera and no video switcher.  This makes operation of the system simpler, but it also provides a lower quality viewer experience since you have to set the camera to a wide viewing angle where you can see the whole stage, but you lose the ability to make out faces and expressions.  You could have a camera operator attempt to follow the action and still provide close-ups, but this can be distracting if you have a very animated pastor that walks around a lot, plus you cannot get reactions and crowd shots at the same time.  Using a device such as TriCaster allows you to take multiple camera angles at the same time and mix the output into a produced feed that looks as smooth and as slick as anything you see on television.  You can have titles and graphics, you can integrate an existing feed from presentation software that may be currently driving your projector, and you can get close-ups, reaction shots and wide angle views to mix into the live stream at will.  You could start with a basic TriCaster 40 in the $5,000 price range, but the TriCaster 460 system I linked above is a much more robust solution that will have the longevity to serve your congregation into the future.

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