Live streams are one of the most engaging formats for video. Not only does your audience want to be involved in an event, but you can improve engagement by allowing for interactivity. That being said, producing a live streaming video can be extraordinarily complex. Not only do you need to make sure that the event itself goes without a hitch, but you need to make sure that your hardware and software is reliable.
1. Always Test Your Setup Pre-Event
Not only should your setup be tested pre-event, but it should also be tested completely every time a change is made. Those who are new to live streaming will often make the same mistake: changing a setting or two just before the event and failing to test it out thoroughly. This can lead to completely unpredictable results. In live video production, every component and setting is working together in order to produce the desired result. Even something small being changed could have drastic consequences.
Every test should be as close to the real stream as possible. Otherwise there could be factors and components that were left out. In order to run a proper test, you should create a complete description of what will occur during the event and run through as much of it as possible. For some live events — such as one off events — it may not be possible to rehearse a complete take. Nevertheless, the stream should still be tested on location and as accurately as possible.
In addition to the streaming itself, you should test the quality of the stream to your audience. You should also test the quality of any recordings that you are saving; the quality of saved recordings often differs from the stream itself.
2. Get a Video Switcher
A video switcher makes live streaming more dynamic and lively. In fact, it’s easily one of the most recognizable attributes of a professional video production rather than an amateur video stream. A video switcher will quickly switch between different video feeds. Not only does this give the audience a better perspective of the event, but it also livens up the recording and makes it more exciting.
Video switchers need to be connected directly to your video equipment — so the hardware has to be networked properly in order to work. The switcher can also be programmed, timed, or simply manually triggered; it’s important to setup your event properly to take advantage of the switches.
3. Begin Your Event Early
Rather than starting the event exactly on time, it’s best to begin streaming early on. You should always test out your setup at least five to ten minutes before the live broadcast, as there may be issues that you might not have anticipated. Starting the stream early on will give you time to sort out any technical difficulties. This will also give you some time to ease into the environment before the broadcast goes live.
The content of your early stream doesn’t need to be particularly compelling; in fact, you can even begin your stream with a placeholder placard that has information about what is yet to come. The important thing is that you begin transmitting and recording your stream and that everything works live.
4. Invest in a Hardware Encoder
In live streaming video, there are both hardware encoders and software encoders. Though both are frequently used, hardware encoders tend to be faster and more reliable. Investing in a solid hardware encoder will often provide a better quality of video later on — in addition to making it easier to stream. A hardware encoder will encode your video and your stream as it is being recorded on the device itself. Software encoders will take raw files and then encode them, often losing some information and quality in the process.
In general, software encoders tend to be far less expensive than hardware encoders; in fact, they can even be free. For those who are operating on a budget, however, a software encoder may be enough.
5. Always Have a Contingency Plan
Anything can happen — especially live. It’s important to always have a plan B when it comes to a live stream. This may include pre-recorded materials, technical issue placards, or even switching to another stream entirely. Contingency plans should cover not only the complete failure of the stream but also more minor things that can go wrong — such as audio issues that occur when live.
Planning for problems becomes easier with experience. Through experience, you will be able to identify risk factors right away. For some live events, the event itself may even be problematic. The event could be delayed or there could be weather issues. Either way, you will need to have a secondary strategy for entertaining your viewers.
6. Set Up Your End Slate
At the very end of your broadcast, an end slate will be displayed. The end slate gives important information regarding you, your business, or your live stream. How can customers contact you? What should they do next? Is there any other content they should review?
Many streams simply cut to black once their stream is over. This doesn’t take advantage of valuable video real estate. In most video players, the very end of the video will be displayed as a freeze frame once the video is over. It’s the perfect time to reach out to your audience and send a call to action, such as to “like” or to “subscribe.”
7. Determine Your Stream’s Encoding and Distribution
Most streams are going to be distributed on certain platforms. Before your live stream begins, you should determine the quality requirements and standard encoding that the platform uses. Otherwise you may not be able to stream through the platform — or the stream may be very poor quality. Most streams will encode in standard video formats, but it’s the quality selection that will become important. The higher quality the stream is the better it will appear, but the more resources will be necessary.
8. Consider Closed Captions
Will your stream be closed captioned? If you expect a large audience, closed captioning may be necessary. Otherwise you may risk alienating a significant portion of your audience. Closed captioning can be hired through a variety of services. When completed live, it usually won’t be perfect — but it doesn’t have to be. Closed captioning is usually a fast and loose approximation of what is being said. Not only does it help the hearing impaired, but it is also frequently used by those who need to watch videos quietly.
9. Pay Attention to Your Internet Access
Your internet access is going to be incredibly important throughout the process of live streaming. If your internet access is slow or intermittent, your stream will be too. Many individuals overlook their internet access because their internet access is more than suitable for their personal needs. But even a commercial internet line can have issues with high definition streaming. Not only should you stress test your company’s internet connection, but you should also make sure that you have a fallback plan — such as a secondary data connection. Often these connections can be directly connected to your stream, so that if one drops the other will take its place.
10. Don’t Get Too Attached to the Process
There are many processes that are used throughout live streaming video production. It’s very easy to get caught up in duplicating a specific process — or to get too attached to the process that you’re used to. When live streaming, you often need to be agile and be able to change and pivot as needed. By freeing yourself from the process itself (and instead focusing on the results), you can streamline your operations and improve upon the quality of your stream.
Ultimately, a solid live streaming video production relies upon preparedness. Not only do you need to have your technology in place, but you also need to have a complete process from start to finish. Every aspect of your video production should be tested and refined, and you should be aware of anything that can possibly go wrong. Of course, this is often easier said than done. Businesses that don’t already specialize in video production may want to consider a professional video production company. Professional video companies are able to create live video streams from start to finish. Using their experience, expertise, and equipment, a professional video company is able to ensure that the event is captured perfectly from beginning to end.
Article by Joe Forte, co-owner and producer at D-Mak Productions, a professional production company based in Phoenix, Arizona.