Category Archives: Webcasting

How to do a live webcast

A portion of FBC's Vimeo channel.
A portion of FBC’s Vimeo channel.

Video on the web is the hottest thing in media today. According to YouTube’s own accounting,

  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
  • Over 4 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube
  • 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

Live video streaming is becoming more accessible with the introduction of new technologies, devices and hosts.

At Richmond’s First Baptist Church, we’ve been doing a live stream of our Sunday morning worship services for years. In October 2011 we started a live, interactive Sunday school webcast. We call it the WebClass Bible Study.feature-webclass3

Since we appear to be on the “bleeding edge” with this concept, I’ve been getting a lot of calls about why and how we do it.

Why do we do it?

Three of the reasons people show up at a church building on Sunday morning are to worship God, study the Bible, and connect with other people. For those who can’t show up in person, the webcast of the worship service gives them a way to participate from another location. The WebClass provides a way for them to participate in a Bible study. And, in a limited way, it provides a way to interact with the teacher and other class members.

It is a way to push out the walls of the physical building and make these church activities accessible to more people… some of whom will never set foot in any church building.

How do we do it?

If you want technical details, go here.

webworship-banner-bigWe have a page on our website with a video window and related materials for each week’s worship service and Bible study. When the webcast is “live” a big banner appears on our website home page, directing users to the webcast page.

We try to make the webcast easily accessible. There’s no registration required. Users just go to the page and click on the play button.

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 2.16.47 PMOn the web page, there are two tabs: one for the worship service and another for the Bible study.

On the worship tab, there’s a copy of the Sunday bulletin, a place for comments, and, of course, a link for anyone who wants to make an online offering or contribution.

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 2.17.06 PMOn the WebClass tab, there are resources for the current week’s study, a bio of the current teacher, and a link to previous classes.

We archive all of the sessions and resource material so if you miss a week, you can go back and catch up. And let’s say you have a small group in your home and you’re looking for a unit of study on, say, 1 Thessalonians. You could go to our archives and find an excellent unit of six sessions led by Bible scholar Dr. Mike Harton.Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 2.21.36 PM

The WebClass is a coordinated effort by the Ministry of Christian Formation, led by Steve Booth, and the Ministry of Communication, led by me. Steve takes care of the content. I take care of the technology.

The two curriculum resources we use are found at FaithElement.com and NurturingFaith.net. Contact Steve for more details about the curriculum.

Early each week, the teacher publishes the study material. We post that material on the website for anyone who wants to do some advance preparation.

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 2.32.44 PMWhen the WebClass is live, there’s a place on the web page to enter a comment or question. The comments go to an email inbox, which one of our crew members monitors during the class. She displays the message on a monitor and one of the onsite class members reads it aloud. That usually prompts responses from the teacher and other onsite and online participants.

The teacher uses an iPad for visual support. Sometimes it is a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation with a class outline. Other times it is a photograph, illustration or map. Using the iPad, the teacher may draw on the map or make notes as participants make comments. Everything on the iPad displays on a big TV monitor in the classroom.

Often, the teacher will use video clips to illustrate a point. Those clips are displayed on the video monitor, too.

feature-webclass1There are two cameras in the classroom. One focuses primarily on the teacher and the monitor. The other captures the onsite participants.

The director selects the appropriate camera, the video clip, or the iPad using a video switcher.

The audio technician controls the lapel microphone for the teacher and the overhead shotgun microphones, which pick up the comments from onsite participants.

Who participates?

A core group of 8-10 folks make up the onsite class.

There are several members of our congregation who travel several months a year. On Sundays, they are able to connect via the webcast and get a little taste of home from the road.

On a recent Sunday, one of the regular online participants who lives near Richmond asked about another regular participant who lives in southwest Virginia. She hadn’t heard any comments from him in recent weeks. She wondered if he was OK. Think about it. They’ve never met, and neither of them has ever set foot in the church building. The only connection they have is by hearing each other’s comments and questions during the WebClass. But a sense of community has developed over the months. So the handful of people in the classroom and the couple of dozen online participants feel connected to each other.

Not long after we started the WebClass Bible Study, we heard from a lady in Oklahoma who was hospitalized, awaiting an organ transplant. She participated in the WebClass via her iPad from her hospital bed every Sunday morning. It was the only way she could participate in worship and Bible study. I’m sad to say that she died earlier this year. And all the WebClass participants, both onsite and online, grieved with her family.

We’re finding the live webcast an effective way to remove the walls of the church and let folks participate wherever or whatever their location or situation.

Here’s an article by Steve Booth in First Things First on how the WebClass provides a “safe place for people to ask honest questions about a biblical text.”

Here’s an article about the WebClass by Robert Dilday of The Religious Herald.

Read all the technical details about the webcast.

The toys that make the webcast work

I’m listing the specific models we use. But there are many other choices on the market. If you want to know why we chose these specific devices, give me a call or an email and I’ll be happy to tell you about our decisions.

My good friends Bill and Alex Martin at Digital Video Group were invaluable in helping us put all these toys together.

For the worship service, we have an HD production system built around five Sony HDC-1400 cameras and a Panasonic AV-HS450N production switcher. We record the worship services and edit them to air on WRIC-TV8 on a one-week delayed basis.

We send the “line cut” from the production switcher and the live mixed audio (from a Yamaha DM2000 digital mixer) to an Ensemble Designs Brighteye BE71 Embedder. That device “muxes” the audio and video and spits out an HD-SDI signal, which goes to a simple 4×1 switcher.

That switcher, a Kramer 6241HDxl, is used to select which “feed” we’re sending out to the webcast: either the main feed for the worship service, or the studio feed for the WebClass.

In the WebClass studio, we have a separate, self-contained production system.

The heart of the system is a Panasonic AG-HMX100 production switcher. This is where all the video and audio signals come together. It also combines the audio and video signals. The output of this device goes to one of the inputs of the Kramer switcher mentioned above.

We have two cameras, both of them from Panasonic. But there are lots of choices on the market.

For the playback of the video clips, we use a Panasonic P2 deck: the AG-HPG10P. But there are options. The video switcher has HDMI, DVI, SDI and composite inputs, so you have a wide range of choices. Be aware that there are legal as well as technical restrictions on the use of copyrighted material. And some devices have a built-in firewall in the form of High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).

We use a lavalier mic for the teacher and four shotgun mics mounted in the ceiling to cover the onsite participants. The audio technician mixes these sources, along with the output of the P2 deck, using an 8-channel Mackie mixer. The output of this mixer goes to the aux input of the Panasonic switcher.

The teacher uses an iPad for visual support. The iPad connects wirelessly via Airplay to an Apple TV box. The HDMI output of the Apple TV box goes to an HDMI distribution amplifier. That device sends the display to both the in-class TV monitor and to the Panasonic switcher.

Now, back to that Kramer switcher I mentioned earlier…

The output of the Kramer switcher goes to a Viewcast Osprey 700e-HD capture card mounted in one of the PCI slots of a computer. On that computer, we run the free Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder which creates a flash movie in real time. Actually, we create two movies – a high-bandwidth version for computer users and a lower bandwidth version for those who connect via mobile devices. Those movies are streamed out via our Comcast Business Class internet connection to our live streaming host – Truthcasting.com. Truthcasting works some magic to produce live streams that can be viewed on every kind of device, from computers to iPhones.

Pretty simple, huh?

Live Webcast Confession

I’m going to offer some ideas about how to promote your live webcast. But first, a confession.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out as planned.

At Richmond’s First Baptist Church, we’ve been streaming our Sunday morning worship services live for a couple of years. For the most part, it has gone well. In fact, for the last nine months or so, since we’ve switched to the Wowza server at Amazon Web Services for our streaming host, it has been rock-solid reliable.

So we figured, “OK, it’s time to ramp up promotion a bit.” So on a Sunday morning, we placed this item in our Sunday bulletin:

Invite someone to worship with you … right
now! While you’re waiting for the service to begin,
send a text message, a tweet, or a Facebook post
from your smartphone and invite a friend… or all
your friends… to join you for worship via the live
webcast. Invite them to go to Live.FBCRichmond.org
and join us for the next hour.

Great idea, right?

Just to give it a little extra push, we asked our Associate Pastor for Invitation, Ralph Starling, to mention it at the beginning of the worship service. He did a great job. He pulled out his smartphone and asked everyone in the room to do the same. He asked everyone to send an email, tweet or update their Facebook status to invite their friends to worship with them through the webcast. He took the time do send an email himself. It appeared many others did so, too.

And the, wouldn’t you know it? Right then and there, at 11:03 Sunday morning… the webcast crashed! I was watching in horror as it happened. At first 30 or 40 participants were connected. And then a few more. And then – crash – down to 0.

We went into crisis management mode and began the troubleshooting. Could it be that so many people responded that it overloaded the server? Not likely.

Automatic Updates 'Restart Required' in Window...
Automatic Updates ‘Restart Required’ in Windows XP SP1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It didn’t take long to find the problem. The Windows computer we were using to encode and stream the service decided that it was time for an update. And when its time for a Windows Update, everything else takes a back seat… including our webcast.

Two-plus years without any problem. And then, at the moment we step up publicity on it, the webcast crashes. How embarrassing.

Well, obviously we have corrected the problem (which, of course, we should have done two years ago. It is a wonder it hadn’t happened before.).

There are several lessons in this. Let me mention just three.

First, disable all unnecessary programs running on the computer you’re using for encoding.

Second, have a well-thought-out troubleshooting protocol worked out in advance, so if (no, make it “when”) there’s a problem during the webcast, you know where to start and what to do.

And third, most importantly, maintain your sense of humor.

More promotional ideas and technical tips to come. Stay tuned…