Events have exploded beyond the stage with live streaming. From company announcements, to press conferences and award ceremonies, most events today have two audiences: the one in the room, and the one behind their screens.
For organizers, the expanded reach is a dream come true, as are the insights from live stream analytics. But live streaming also requires a new attention to detail: even the Super Bowl and Apple keynotes have fallen victim to seemingly minor mistakes, amplified by the real-time nature of streaming.
To make sure live streams go off without a hitch, organizers should follow this checklist to ensure a secure connection, reliable equipment and high stream quality. If you are looking more for assistance on which gear to get, though, check out our Video Studio Recommendations white paper.
Get a dedicated line (and have a back-up plan)
A dedicated high-speed connection for uploading is a must for any mission-critical live stream. Keep in mind that a connection which is merely sufficient to check email or load web pages is likely not good enough for streaming.
“One of the most common points of failure is when you share bandwidth with multiple people,” says Jenna Burnett, customer success manager at IBM Cloud Video. “Just like using a cell phone in a heavily congested area, there’s always a chance for inconsistency when you don’t know who else is concurrently on your network.”
In fact, cellular (3G or LTE) networks are some of the most unreliable—and a WiFi network can also be spotty and prone to fluctuation. Having an ethernet connection is the most reliable way to set up this dedicated line. If there’s no corporate network to use or IT department to contact, users should check with an Internet Service Provider to purchase a plan that has the bandwidth for streaming. A good rule of thumb is for the bitrate of your stream to use no more than 50% of your available upload bandwidth capacity on a dedicated line. For example, if the result you get from a speed test shows that you have 2Mbps of upload speed available, your combined audio and video bitrate should not exceed 1Mbps.
That said, if something happens to your ethernet connection, it can be helpful to turn to other readily-available options. “There are cameras that can aggregate signals from 4G modems, so if your line goes down, you should be able to distribute through 4G,” says Jan Ozer, streaming consultant and author of the book Producing Streaming Video for Multiple Screen Delivery.
Don’t lose sleep over HD (but don’t skimp on platforms)
Streaming in HD-quality depends on upload speed. To stream in HD, you’ll want at least 3-8Mbps upload speed available. Still, an upload speed of 4 megabits per second, which a low-end DSL connection might comfortably achieve, might not work for the high-definition 1080p resolution that’s increasingly common in modern TVs. Ozer says few viewers need 1080p, though. That slower DSL speed will work for 720p, a resolution that’s plenty sharp for computer screens. If you find that your stream frequently rebuffers, pauses, or disconnects, try using a lower bitrate and resolution on your encoder.
Many popular encoders on the market use variable bitrate encoding, meaning that when the bitrate is set, it’s just a target. Depending on the level of motion in the video and the keyframe interval, the actual encoded bitrate of the stream will go higher and lower than that target—one of the reasons having adequate bandwidth headroom is important. The more high-motion content in a video, the higher bitrate to achieve a quality stream. If your available bandwidth is limited, you should reduce both your resolution and your bitrate accordingly.
Free platforms like YouTube Live or Facebook Live suffer from quality issues and lack technical support. When something goes wrong, you’re on your own. Paid services, on the other hand, offer support teams, customization and advanced analytics.
Test all equipment beforehand (and work with a service provider)
Newcomers to streaming or video production should stick to familiar equipment that gets the job done. While basic compatibility is important, for example making sure you have an RTMP (real time messaging protocol) based encoder if your platform requires it, another consideration is just making sure the equipment works. This includes weeding out faulty equipment and also understanding if a piece of gear will achieve the needed result.
So be sure to test the equipment beforehand to ensure it works in the needed way. And don’t try to integrate into every other corporate system you have in place out of the gate. Choose one go-to portal destination for viewers and make sure you have an option that works on mobile devices. Other preparation tips are obvious but no less critical: Watch the stream from different devices; test microphones, cameras and other equipment; use a free resource like speedtest.net to check bandwidth.
To get the details right, it’s best to recruit a pro. Video production services can handle the nitty-gritty, from the lighting to encoding. Professionals can also help pull off more complicated streaming scenarios. “Capabilities like multi-camera streaming are where you want someone on the ground who understands how to do it,” says IBM Cloud Video’s Burnett.
A live stream is a major opportunity for companies to make an impression. While the video’s content may be top-notch, a flicker in the live stream screen could impact the audience’s perception of the event. For example, while Facebook Live makes streaming easy, the quality can suffer and there’s no technical support in the event of the inevitable hiccup. Scalability might also be an issue, being able to deliver to large viewerships. This can be both audiences that are massive in size, or just those with a strong congestion in specific locations. Check with your provider to address your specific needs. Look for those with a strong reputation and check to see if a CDN (Content Delivery Network) is utilized as well. Those that have sophisticated approaches, with built-in fall backs and multi-CDN delivery, will stand out as well. To learn more about how IBM Cloud Video tackles this, and some things to look for in your provider, please read our Live Video Delivery System Built for Scalability white paper.