Live Streaming Trends & Predictions

Live Streaming Trends & Predictions

We don’t have a crystal ball here at Stretch (or maybe we do… in storage somewhere?), but what we do have is a keen understanding of the live streaming industry. All of us are passionate about our trade and make it our business to keep a finger on the pulse, so to speak. Knowing what might be coming around the bend helps us serve our clients better, and drives our business forward. (Plus, we admit it—we just can’t get enough.)

Based on our observations of live streaming trends already in the making, here are our musings about what we think is coming down the pike.

Live Streaming Trends & Predictions

First, we think the live streaming process will become more standardized.

The soaring popularity for live streaming as of late is a testament to the fact that there are certain things that are just better to watch live: that wedding you couldn’t afford to fly to, that sporting event that sold out before you could get a ticket, and that business conference you wished you could go to but couldn’t find the time. As a result, live streaming can’t be ignored. People are starting to expect it, and they want it to look flawless—like video on demand (VOD).

Not live streaming yet? Prepare your organization for the future with this extensive guide to live streaming—it includes everything you need to know to get started!

But compared to VOD, live streaming is harder to pull off correctly. It will never be as easy as VOD, and while it might never reach the same level of simplicity, there’s plenty of room for improvement. With both demand and expectations skyrocketing, this is where we’ll be seeing huge progress in the near future. As more companies enter the live streaming space, their research and work will help set the standard for best practices that make live streaming easier. This leads us to our second prediction….

Live streaming providers will turn to middleware solutions to make live streaming production easier.

End users want excellent live streaming video quality—period. To make that happen, companies will have to look to outside vendors and solutions for help.

We expect that big companies experimenting with live streaming will realize they need to be just as agile as small companies, which means that sometimes they will have to step outside the box and partner with a small company, or take advantage of alternative solutions (like open source software) that help them solve a specific problem.

Similarly, small companies hoping to compete in the same space as larger companies may need to partner with larger players who can help reduce their workflow. Why create something new on your own when someone else’s solution will do the trick? Streaming provider Wowza, for instance, offers organizations the ability to deploy its streaming engine using servers built by Amazon. We’ll see more of this sharing economy as companies of all sizes realize they don’t need to build everything themselves if someone has already done it well. Partnerships like these will propel live streaming forward.

As live streaming progresses technically, other issues will become more important. This leads us to our third prediction…

Live streaming providers will increasingly put more emphasis on differentiating features.  

History repeats itself. VOD has advanced to the point where a video on its own is no longer enough—there has to be some additional value-add. The same will happen eventually with live streaming as it becomes more commonplace. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are all entering the live streaming space, and people will inevitably demand more. Simply providing a live streaming solution won’t be sufficient in the future, so providers will have to be creative to stand out from the pack.

For instance, it’s great if you can see this event or that game, but it won’t be long before you start wanting relevant information alongside the live stream. Examples of this and other differentiating features that are already on the live streaming horizon:

We’re curious to know about the live streaming trends you’re seeing, and where you think live streaming is headed! Leave us a message in the comments below.

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4 Excellent Web Hosting Options For Churches

4 Excellent Web Hosting Options For Churches

The do-it-yourself trend is great for an awful lot of things—planning a wedding, redoing your bathroom, or making an eight-prop copter with safety issues—but not so much for creating a professional-looking, reliable website (unless you’re already an expert, in which case please go right ahead).

Your website says a lot about your church. If you haven’t made it a priority, chances are it’s not attracting new members, and it may even be reflecting negatively on your organization. That doesn’t have to be the case! Now it’s easier than ever to have a polished and informative site that will make a positive first impression on visitors—with a minimal investment of time, thoughtfulness, and even resources.

There are a ton of church web hosting options available, but not all are a good fit for your unique needs. So if you’re just starting a website or wanting to upgrade, below are the tops on our list of the best (and most affordable) church website hosting options around and the criteria that landed them there.

4 Of The Best Church Web Hosting Options

Our top picks are below, but first, here’s why we chose them:

  • They passed the “eye test.” Their own websites look professional and include a portfolio of sample sites they’ve built, designed, and hosted. We clicked off of a site within three seconds if it didn’t give the initial impression of being clean, professional, and attractive.
  • They emphasize support. Customer support is mentioned prominently and passionately on their websites. If the site goes down or you can’t figure out how to update content, they won’t make you wait around for help.
  • They design responsive websites. They’ll make sure your site looks good on both mobile and desktop.
  • They make online giving easy. Plenty of hosts offer the option for online giving, but these hosts go the extra mile to make the user experience extraordinary.
  • They make it easy to live stream. The hosts below don’t try to do it themselves (good call—it’s not their area of expertise), but they do frequently partner with live streaming providers to give you what you need.

Haven’t thought about live streaming your church services yet? Find out why you should be—and how to get started—with this free guide to church live streaming.

And our top four church web hosting options are…

1. Clover Sites

According to Clover Sites, every church is unique, so every church website should be unique. They only do custom designs (no templates), so your website will be reflective of your individual church. You’ll get all the tools you need to manage and update your website, and making edits is easy with drag-and-drop tools and real-time previews. A neat feature here is the use of parallax scrolling, a new (and awesome!) web technology that, when used correctly, can really make a site stand out. They are also happy to work with third-party live streaming providers.

2. Ekklesia 360

Ekklesia 360 is a little pricier than the others on this list, but they also have the richest features. A particular bonus is their powerful database tool, ChMS, which allows you to create customized member lists and track interactions with your congregants. They also make it easy to integrate third-party live streaming services into your website. And don’t worry about getting things up and running—they have a team solely dedicated to onboarding new clients and getting your site off the ground.

3. Ministry Designs

Ministry Designs gives you all the tools you need to design a great site, including a broad selection of attractive templates—no tech expertise necessary. Or, you can enlist the help of their experts to build a custom design exclusively for your church. A drag-and-drop website builder makes it easy to update the site yourself, and they also offer Parallax scrolling technology as well as custom add-ons like database configuration and e-commerce options. The initial setup fee is $1,000; after that, it’s $20 per month. One of the coolest things about Ministry Designs: Each of their team members has extensive background in church ministry, so they get it.

4. ChurchDev

Like Ministry Designs, ChurchDev also offers a wide range of beautifully designed templates. They offer to customize any template with whatever features you need; you can also order a new custom design for an additional fee. Unique features include the Prayer Wall, which connects congregants with prayer requests, and a secure church member directory. All of their offerings are included in the standard price—there are no add-on fees or services. Live streaming is supported in all designs, with the help of a third-party provider. They’re also big on support: The average response time to inquiries is less than an hour.

At Stretch, we’re happy to partner with your church web host to help you get the most out of your new website. Live streaming your church services has a number of benefits, and we can get you started, even if you have a small budget and a small staff. Together with your new website, you’ll soon be reaching more people—and making more of an impact—than ever before. 

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Before You Set Up A Live Stream On Your Website, Read This

Before You Set Up A Live Stream On Your Website, Read This

It’s five minutes to go time and you’re all set up to start live streaming on your website—your cameras are strategically placed, your encoder is ready to go, and your internet connection is clocking in at warp speed. You’ve directed all your viewers to your organization’s site, where any minute now the live feed will begin streaming into hundreds of computers (you hope). You’re feeling pretty confident that your level of preparedness is about to pay off nicely and that your viewers will be impressed.

This scenario sounds great, but is the resulting live stream getting the attention it deserves? The user experience is just as important as the production, and unless you’re paying it equal attention, you may be shortchanging your audience. Even a well-produced live stream is only as good as its viewing platform.

Before You Set Up A Live Stream On Your Website…

It’s tempting to want to embed your live streaming video on your own website—we know! Directing viewers to a familiar place and keeping everything under one roof, so to speak, definitely has some advantages. There’s no confusion about where to watch, and you have complete control over the stream and where it appears.

Want to streamline your production process? This live streaming checklist includes every step needed to produce a top-notch broadcast.

There are also some caveats, however. If you plan on using your website as the viewing “portal,” here’s what you should know before you commit:

  • A live stream on your website can get “lost” among the site’s other content, living alongside the rest of the information on the site like a sidebar. In other words, the live stream is clearly not the star of the show.
  • It’s challenging to make sure every viewer can watch given the multitude of devices your audience will undoubtedly be using. If your site isn’t equipped to deliver the video in a variety of device-appropriate formats, you may leave some viewers out in the cold.
  • Unless you have analytics tracking already configured on your website, you’ll have no way of knowing how many users came to watch your stream. Some video players may provide some level of viewer data, but many will not.  
  • If you want to have people pay to watch an event, it’s difficult to put the content behind a paywall.

Advantages Of A Custom Live Stream Portal

Rather than streaming that live video on your own website, distribute your feed through a special domain-branded web address. A live streaming provider can create a portal specifically for your organization’s live feed, with an appearance that matches your existing website. There are several advantages to a portal, including:

1. Built-in analytics. Your live streaming provider can build in analytics so you’ll know how many people are watching and what devices they’re watching from.

2. Cross-platform compatibility. No matter what device a viewer is using, the portal delivers the proper stream, every time.

3. Paywall options. If you want the option of people paying to watch an event, a portal makes it easy to construct a paywall.

4. An all-in-one experience. You won’t lose out on your organization’s branding surrounding the live stream because the portal is designed especially for you. You can also supply the viewers with ancillary data such as live statistics (for sporting events) and slides or notes for sermons and other types of presentations.

Live-Stream-Portal

5. Social media integration. Viewers can easily interact via Twitter, which may not be possible if you stream on your own website.

At Stretch, we take pride in building every client a custom branded, all-in-oneportal, because we feel that the user experience is paramount. We create a custom landing page with a unique URL that houses all your content. That URL becomes your organization’s digital content destination going forward. Users can easily find links to each event and you can link to your portal from your website and other distribution channels. In fact, it becomes the familiar place you want it to be without some of the things that take away from the overall experience, like ads and surrounding “noise.”

What A Live Streaming Provider Can Do For You

Not all portals are created equal—every live streaming provider handles the viewing experience differently. Make sure you ask prospective providers about the user experience they offer; you’ll be able to tell how much they value it based on their answers.

Beyond that, a live streaming provider should be working hard on your behalf throughout the streaming process. All you have to do is capture the video live. The best providers offer support and assistance with setup, help connecting to the internet, constant monitoring of the feed, and troubleshooting during the entire event. Most importantly—fans should be able to contact the provider directly if they’re having trouble viewing.

We specialize in providing memorable experiences for your fans—and for you. If you have a custom portal in mind and would like to talk more about how to live stream your video over the internet, drop us a line.


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Essential Equipment: The Checklist for Church Live Streaming

Essential Equipment: The Checklist for Church Live Streaming

Our conversations with church leaders usually reveal the following thoughts:   

“I don’t have the staff to live stream.”

“I don’t know enough about tech to set up a live broadcast.”

“Isn’t live streaming expensive?”

These are all valid concerns. But they don’t have to stand in the way of your goal to connect with more people. Whether you’re an established church in a fixed location or a young church on the move each week, live streaming is a realistic and attainable strategy for growth. We won’t deny that it will require some initial effort, dedication, and investment (it’s worth it, trust us), but a growing number of churches are finding that what was once considered an endeavor suited only for the technology-inclined  is now well within reach.

To get the ball rolling, we’ve put together a checklist of live streaming equipment for your church. Actually, it’s two lists—so choose the one that better fits your church’s current setup and needs. Whichever one you choose, you’ll have the makings of a video system that gets the job done.

Portable Churches—A Live Streaming Equipment Checklist

Portable churches, or “pop-up” churches, move around from week to week and need a mobile live-streaming strategy. School cafeterias, local theaters, and even coffee shops may all serve as meeting places depending on the day. With the right video production equipment, live streaming can be an effective, low-cost outreach tool that can help broaden your impact and support your community.

Download this free guide for detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to start live streaming your church services today!

If you’re interested in live streaming your services, the technology is readily available and simple to use. Below is a list of the equipment you’ll need to get started building a video system for your church. This collection can be easily packed up and moved around, so it’s perfect for churches on the move.

1. A single camera.

A consumer-level video camera like this one is fine for church services. You don’t need to spend $3,000 here; instead, spend $400 or $500 to get a fully functional camcorder that gets the job done and is easy to use. You may be attracted to a model with lots of bells and whistles (if so, go for it!), but all you really need is the camera’s basic functionality to get the broadcast out on the web.

2. A tripod.

It might seem like a pair of fairly steady hands would be sufficient, but that telltale, oh-so-slight shake is what distinguishes an amateur broadcast from a serious one. Buy a tripod and don’t think about it again. This one is lightweight and comes with a carrying case.

3. An encoding device.

To convert your video input into a digital format for playback on various devices, you’ll need an encoding device. For this you have two options: either a hardware encoder or a computer with a software encoder. Opinions vary greatly as to which option is better—and it depends on your needs, as well—but either one will do the trick. With the software option, you’ll also need a capture device—an adapter that goes between the camera and the computer so they can talk to each other.

4. High-speed internet.

Internet access can sometimes be a challenge for mobile churches, but it’s a necessity for live streaming. Options include an ethernet connection, Wi-Fi, a 4G network, or a MiFi device, depending on the venue.

For mobile churches—or even for permanent churches without the time, manpower, or finances to be super technical—this list covers the basic video production equipment needed for a simple, straightforward broadcast.

Brick-&-Mortar Churches—A Live Streaming Equipment Checklist

If your church has a permanent meeting location, you may be in a different situation. Many “brick-and-mortar” churches already have extensive audio equipment and possibly even some in-house video recording equipment as well. If this sounds like your situation, use the following equipment checklist to build a church video system that lends itself to permanent installation and delivers a top-quality live stream.

1. A single professional-level camera or multiple professional-level cameras.

Consider investing in a professional-level camera (or cameras) for a more polished-looking stream. And although a single camera would be sufficient, why not up your game with multiple cameras? Mounted IP cameras (internet protocol cameras) could serve double duty as not only live streaming devices but also security cameras set to record 24/7. Also, one person can control multiple IP cameras simultaneously, making it easy to zoom in and out and pan any camera from a central location. Our recommendations include this traditional professional-level video camera and this one that allows for local or remote operation.

2. Hardware-based video switching and encoding units.

We recommend a hardware encoder for brick-and-mortars. A TriCaster is the most common hardware option for churches that use multiple cameras. Another choice is Sony’s Anycast, which is a simple touch-screen unit that’s easy for a novice to learn fairly quickly but requires a lot of infrastructure to run properly. Both the TriCaster and the Anycast can be installed permanently in a control room.

3. A way to integrate in-house audio.

Good-quality sound is critical for a professional-quality live stream. If you already have a mixer or speaker system, you’ll need a way to bring that into the feed. A mixer like this gives you control over volume and tone.

4. A way to integrate in-house graphics into your broadcast.

You’ll also need software to incorporate passages, hymns, or anything else typically shown on a projector. There are various ways to do that depending on your platform, whether it’s hardware or software. For clients using Wirecast, we usually recommend using Desktop Presenter.

5. An internet connection.

Before You Get Started…

That’s all the live streaming equipment you’ll need to get your church up and running. If you’re still feeling less-than-confident about the buying process, we encourage you to work with someone who can guide you through it. Whether it’s with us here at Stretch or someone else, a knowledgeable, objective third party may be all you need to start off on the right foot.

If you’d like to get some honest advice about the video production equipment your specific church needs for live streaming, we’d love to talk. We’ll consider your budget and your goals and figure out a way to make your plan a reality.

It’s our feeling that investing in your equipment is synonymous with investing in your church. You’ll be glad you did.


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The Complete List Of Ways To Increase Church Attendance

The Complete List Of Ways To Increase Church Attendance

“Full attenders”—people who attend church every week religiously (pardon the pun; it’s an old joke, but we can’t resist)—are becoming a rare breed. According to a Pew Research Center study, attending church once or twice a month is becoming more typical, and a good portion of people report that they seldom or rarely attend services throughout the course of a year.

But these numbers are nothing new. Over the past few years, there’s been no shortage of ideas about how to reverse this trend and an equally large number of ideas about why it’s happening. (The good news is that there seem to be a variety of reasons for the drop, at least some of which can be addressed.)

To cut through the clutter, we’ve rounded up what we think are some of the best thoughts about ways to increase church attendance and put them together in one nice, neat blog post.

5 Actionable Ways To Increase Church Attendance

1. Focus on the big picture, not the numbers.  

This pastor from Open Network brings up a good point: The focus on numbers—for example, increasing attendance by 24% year over year or growing the organization by 10%—may be getting in the way of achieving the real goal, which is to invite more people to benefit from your message. To get into this mindset, he encourages church leaders like you to switch places with your congregants occasionally (literally sitting in the seats of your church) and reflecting on why people attend in the first place—and on what brought you there as well. What actions can you take that will help others feel the same? As Pastor Charlie LaTurno says, “We don’t have seats, we have opportunities.”

2. When you’re happy and you know it, tweet.

Okay, we admit it—this one appeals to us because we’re techies. But so are many of the folks you’re trying to reach, which is why it has the potential to be so effective. As Southeastern Seminary’s Chuck Lawless notes, genuine excitement can be infectious. Strategically use social media (that includes Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among others) by finding out what platforms your target audience are already using and focus your efforts there. Ideas for building anticipation about upcoming services include posting pictures of sermon notes, screenshots of videos in progress, or snippets of the band rehearsing. Look to Josh Blankenship for tips on how to avoid social media blunders.

3. Mobilize your volunteers.

Carey Nieuwhof of Connexus Church says that engagement is the key to growth. In his view, having a church filled with members who sit in the back row and come to “get fed” once weekly is what leads to disengagement. He advises leaders to “stop trying to attract people and start trying to engage people,” which is a natural way to increase church attendance. Passionate volunteers are also likely to inspire and motivate others, effectively inviting them to join the cause. To make the mission more tangible, consider connecting your sermons directly with volunteer opportunities, giving people a chance to put into practice what they’ve just learned rather than simply walk away. The experience could be so impactful that people will look forward to coming back.

4. Add value to the community.

Echurch rightly points out that the more your church is viewed as an integral part of the community, the more inclined people will be to associate themselves with it. Know what makes your community unique and find ways to reflect that in your mission. Get involved in community events, even if it’s just opening the church doors to give people a place to take a break or use the restroom or offering the parking lot for public use. Here’s another way to make it less about you and more about the community: Mark Alves of Churchmojo.com suggests transforming your ministries fair into a community expo and inviting outside groups to participate. Highlight a wide variety of community organizations (like tutors, food assistance centers, and homeless shelters) in addition to those your church is associated with, and you may be surprised how many community-minded people will be interested in the church as a result.

5. Expand your reach with live streaming.

As we mentioned in this post, it may be time to reconsider your definition of “attendance.” Live streaming makes it possible for people to attend your services without showing up physically, increasing the chances that more people will participate. In turn, live streaming offers a whole host of benefits that are likely to lead to greater physical attendance in the long run—including an increase in engagement levels, an enhanced sense of community, and a sense of gratitude for the flexibility that your church provides.

It’s natural for participation to have ups and downs based on what’s happening in people’s lives at any given time. So think bigger than that. When it comes to increasing your church’s attendance numbers, be focused on your mission. Be relevant. Be reflective of your community. Attendance will follow. 


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Live Streaming Software: The 8 Features You Should Consider

Live Streaming Software: The 8 Features You Should Consider

Live streaming video generally requires either a dedicated hardware encoder or a computer that runs a software encoding program. But my guess is that you’re considering live streaming software for one primary reason: You need mobility!

Consider, for example, that you’re live streaming a tournament. In this case, you’d be inhibited by a hardware solution. Such a setup might require multiple monitors, a lot of wiring, and a big hardware encoding unit to lug around. But if you’re streaming via encoding software—which generally assumes that you’ll be using a laptop—your setup and tear-down are going to be as simple as opening and shutting your MacBook Pro (and packing and unpacking a minimal amount of cabling and a camera). 

Now, before you run out and select the first live streaming software option you find, keep in mind where you hope to get to in the next 6-12 months with your live streaming capability. If your goal is to get to a multi-source, sophisticated live stream once you get the hang of things, we strongly suggest selecting a live streaming software option that isn’t limited. You may be wary of buying the Mercedes right when you turn 16 (so to speak), but there are some big advantages to planning ahead! Not the least of which are having the option to grow in your live streaming capabilities as you are comfortable with them and not having to purchase and learn a new system at that time. Case in point, we highly suggest you make an investment where your software encoder is concerned.

“OK, I understand! But… how do I pick the right one?”

Good question! We’re glad you asked. While many live streaming software solutions have hundreds of features, there are a few features that you’re definitely going to want—and a few more features that would be ideal to have but aren’t completely necessary (depending on your situation). We’ve listed these eight features out below.

Check out these lists of must-have equipment for live streaming and steps you need to take before, during, and after your event.

8 Live Streaming Software Features You Should Consider

The Critical Features

1. The ability to stream and record simultaneously.

You’ll want to be sure to have a system that allows you to make a local copy of the recording while you’re live streaming. Your service provider may also be recording, but as you’ve probably learned, things can go wrong. (Not all the time, of course—but enough that you should always be prepared!) We recommend playing it safe and ensuring your live video streaming software has this feature.

2. The ability to switch between video sources.

A built-in switcher allows you to shift between, say, a live-recorded program and a pre-recorded commercial or between multiple camera feeds. This is an important feature to have if you want to eventually add more bells and whistles to your broadcast.

3. The ability to send to multiple destinations.

If you want to send your live stream to multiple platforms at one time, this is a critical feature. For example, some of our clients use us as a live streaming platform and simultaneously send their stream to SnappyTV. This platform is used for social sharing and allows their highlights to be playable on a Twitter timeline.

4. A built-in graphics editing system.

Many competitive live streaming software options offer the ability to add lower-third graphics or scrolling messages at the bottom of the live stream. Even if the graphic options are as basic as can be, this is still a nice feature and a time-saver if you don’t have the time (or ability) to create the graphics in Photoshop.

The Ideal-But-Not-Necessary Features

  5. A built-in audio mixer.

A built-in audio mixer allows you to adjust the volume on each source individually as they’re brought into your live stream. This is great if the feed that should be at 25% volume is at 80% and vice versa with its counterpart.

6. Social media integration.

Imagine you’re live streaming a baseball game and you have an athletics account on Twitter you’d like to tap into. If your encoder offers social media integration, you could display certain tweets on the air with the click of a button—or instruct fans to submit questions to the halftime show using a particular hashtag. You can see how this feature could make the live stream a lot of fun for viewers! vMix (a software encoding option we’ll discuss below) also offers the ability to integrate with Instagram—so if you wanted to display 15 fan pictures in real time, you could.

7. The ability to replay in real time.

Of course, not everyone needs the ability to do instant replay. For example, you probably don’t need to replay a portion of your live-streamed church service. (If you do, please send us a link. That sounds like fun!) But in the sports realm, this is a handy feature.

Keep in mind that any replay function in live streaming software is going to be very simplistic and not incredibly “instant.” This is not a dedicated replay system. But it’s nice to have regardless, in case something major happens and you want to quickly relive the moment in real time.

8. The ability to color correct your video sources.

If you don’t have time to white balance your video sources together perfectly before you go live, a color correction functionality would allow you to adjust the feeds so they look similar in the color space.

A Quick Word Of Advice

While searching for good video streaming software, you may come across some new cutting-edge features—like the ability to stream in 4K. But keep in mind that right now, only about 5% of your audience is going to be able to see (and thus appreciate) a 4,096-by-2,160-pixel display. So just remember that until certain features become standardized, you probably shouldn’t plan on purchasing them.

Video Streaming Software Options You Might Consider

  • Wirecast: This software allows you to add production-quality effects to your broadcast, like lower-third graphics, multiple camera shots, and more. The price for Wirecast starts at $495 for the studio version and goes up to $995 for the professional version (which we recommend). Depending on the version you select, you’ll gain all of the necessary features or all of the features we’ve discussed in total.
  • vMix: This is an alternative to Wirecast with similar features. vMix offers a free version of its encoder and five paid options ranging from $60 to $1,200. The higher the tier, the more features you can expect.
  • Production Truck: Created by Blue Frame Technology, Production Truck is a sports-specific live streaming software option. The standard version is $239 per year and the pro version is $479 per year. Again, if you want the features we’ve discussed above, you’ll want the pro version.

FMLE (Flash Media Live Encoder) (a free encoder from Adobe) and Wowza Gocoder (a free encoder created specifically for tablet or smartphone video sources) don’t deliver the features we’ve discussed here,  even lacking some of the critical features. These are both for very simple live streams that use one source. If you’re doing something simple, they’re great options—but just be aware that you won’t be able to do much with them in the future.

Research, research, research.

As with any new piece of equipment or software, research is going to be key. Most video streaming software options have free demos available, and we highly recommend using those demos to see if a software encoder really fits the bill for you.

If you have any questions about which software option is best for you, drop us a line! We’d love to see how we can help.


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Will People Stop Coming To Church If You Offer Live Streaming?

Will People Stop Coming To Church If You Offer Live Streaming?

You’ve been a pastor (or otherwise engaged with a church body) for several years now, and you know your congregation inside and out. Things are going well, but you understand that in order for the church to continue to be successful, you need to keep moving forward. You’ve thought about the idea of live streaming your church services, but not everyone is on board. You’re all wondering:

Will people stop coming to church if you offer live streaming?

You’re right to reflect on this. It’s certainly a valid question, and you’re not the only one thinking about it. We currently work with a number of churches that live stream their services, and most went through a similar thought process before taking the leap.  

The fact is, some people might stop coming to church. But churches that use live streaming successfully have found that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different, and, in many ways, very good! As the change leader for your church, isn’t that what you’re looking for—positive changes to sustain your church community well into the future?

If you do start live streaming, it’s realistic to expect changes in physical attendance. But pastors who are currently live streaming their church services tell us they’ve seen other kinds of changes as well. Take a look at the list below and see what resonates with you. The effects of live streaming might not be exactly what you expect.

Looking for a progressive way to reach more people with your message? Find out everything you need to know about church live streaming.

The Surprising Effects Of Church Live Streaming

Attendance may potentially increase.

Wait, we just said that people might stop coming to church, right? Right. But in today’s world, we need to reframe our concept of “attendance.” Live streaming makes it possible for people to attend church services either physically or virtually, lessening the impact of the physical limitations of your building and increasing the potential audience size overall. Let’s be real: Not everyone will leave their homes to attend church every Sunday morning, but they might be inclined to watch the service from the comfort of their living room. In addition, live streaming leaves a wide-open door for potential new members who may be initially reluctant or anxious to attend in-person.

Engagement levels increase.

Sunday service lasts for an hour, but live streaming provides content that’s available 24/7. An archived history of your broadcasts or sermons is a wonderful resource for parishioners who, for example, feel a connection with a particular pastor and want to see more of his or her services any day of the week. Other parishioners may be looking for guidance or inspiration and can search the archives for sermons on particular topics whenever they choose.

More participation options are welcomed.

Mothers with young children, individuals who are traveling, people who are ill, and those who prefer to worship privately are just a few of the congregants who will appreciate having the opportunity to participate in the service without having to go to a church building. Making things easier for them makes your church more attractive.

Volunteer opportunities expand.

Live streaming your church service comes with a new set of responsibilities, many of which will be eagerly snapped up by tech-savvy youth. Boosting your tech profile also makes you more attractive to this group, who will see the church as forward-thinking and not stuck in the past.

Sense of community is enhanced.

No more is it just about who lives nearby; church attendees may live anywhere! Depending on how you set it up, live streaming your church services may allow viewers to see where others are watching from, and in some cases, also be able to chat with one another. Such options strengthen human connections—and therefore the foundation of your church.

Connect More With Church Live Streaming

All this is to say that, while physical attendance may be impacted as a result of live streaming, the change might not be what you’d expect. In fact, in most situations, virtual attendance often fosters a desire to participate in person, leading to a better physical turnout at Sunday services!

And remember, being willing to adapt to change is key to survival. Your message doesn’t need to be flexible, but the way you deliver it does. Stick with it, and you’ll ultimately see the change you’ve been hoping for. 


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What’s In Your Camera Bag? The Live Streaming Equipment You’ll Want & Need

What's In Your Camera Bag? The Live Streaming Equipment You’ll Want & Need

 

“Am I getting the most bang for my buck with this equipment?”

As a live streaming platform, we hear this question all the time. Everyone wants to make sure they’re getting the most out of what they’ve budgeted for their live broadcast equipment. And we take pride in helping our clients know where to splurge and where to save.

But if you’re beginning to fill up your camera bag, you may not even be to a place where you’re comparing cameras and converters—you may simply want to know what live streaming equipment you need to have and what equipment would be nice to have. Below, we’ve outlined both necessary and optional live broadcast equipment to ensure you have what you need when it’s time to record.

The Live Streaming Equipment You’ll Want & Need

Necessary Equipment

Video Source

Before you can broadcast your event, you need to select the right video source. There are several good options:

  • A single camera on a tripod, which is the most common option.
  • A tablet or smartphone, which may be used if you’re just getting started or you’re streaming a video without a physical location for your event.
  • Multiple sources and multiple cameras, for events that require several camera angles or incorporate graphics, lower thirds, score bugs or other additional items for an enhanced user experience.

Check out the must-have equipment for live streaming and steps you need to take before, during, and after your event.

Encoding Device

Video encoding is the process of converting a video input into a digital format for playback on various devices. To encode and stream your live video, you can use either a dedicated hardware encoder or a computer that runs a software encoding program.

Capture Device

In most cases, you’ll need a capture device—a small, affordable adapter that converts the video into a digital format that’s recognized by the computer.

High-Speed Internet Connection

You must also have a strong internet connection to get your live stream online. There are three options for connecting to the internet: Wi-Fi, Ethernet (hardwired internet), or MiFi (cellular internet).

Optional Equipment

Backup Equipment

As you know, equipment can—and does—break. And it typically breaks at the worst possible time! Having backups of all of your equipment is ideal but not feasible for most companies. HDMI, Thunderbolt, and USB 3.0 cables aren’t extremely expensive, so having backups of the ones you need is a great idea. If your budget permits, consider purchasing a secondary computer and secondary camera. They don’t have to be as high quality as your primary equipment, but you’ll be thrilled to have them on-hand if, for instance, someone trips over a camera cable and breaks something an hour before your event.

HD Camera

Having an HD camera (as opposed to an older, SD camera) increases the quality of your broadcast. Keep in mind that most consumer cameras built after 2010 are going to be HD-capable.

Signal Amplifier

Depending on the distance between your video source and your encoder, you may want an amplifier to boost your video signal. This will help you avoid signal loss or degradation that can occur with lengthy cable runs.

Audio Equipment

Incorporating an audio mixer allows you to include one or more broadcasters and play pre-recorded commercials or interviews. It also gives you more precise control over your audio levels.

In Summary

We’re a little biased—but we believe a streaming platform provider should be so much more than just that. They should advocate for their clients and provide top-of-the-line support—and this includes equipment recommendations! If you’re still searching for that mystical, awesomely helpful provider, give us a shout!

Keep in mind that once you purchase your live broadcast equipment, you’ll need a workflow in place to keep you organized before a live stream. Our free live streaming checklist lists all the things you’ll need to remember before your event. Download it now—for free! 


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A Live Streaming Checklist You Shouldn’t Be Without

A Live Streaming Checklist You Shouldn’t Be Without

The stories you are about to hear are true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The morning of the big event, Joe started up his computer and was surprised when it kicked off an automatic update. He wasn’t particularly concerned until three hours later—when he discovered the update was still in progress. With a crowd now gathering at Joe’s church and less than 30 minutes until the beginning of the service, he knew he was in trouble. He didn’t have a backup computer with encoding software, and he didn’t know how to bail out of the update. He had no idea what his options were at this point, so at twenty minutes and counting, he simply crossed his fingers…

Max headed out to the ball field to set up the night before an important game. He’d heard all the stories about the importance of extra equipment, so he had backups for his backups, and he was confident everything would go off without a hitch. Cameras in the field, computers in the press box, and a heavy-duty cable (which had set him back several thousand dollars) were all ready for the big game. But when everything was finally rigged up, he discovered that the signal strength of one of the cameras wasn’t even close to covering the necessary distance—and at that point, it was the middle of the night, which meant he had less than eight hours to come up with a solution…

In our business, we hear stories like these all the time.

Download a complete production checklist that includes tasks for before, during, and after every live-streamed event.  

You may have had your fill of scary tales by this time of year, but at Stretch, live streaming mishaps and horror stories happen all year long. We’ve heard it all—everything from equipment that acts up, to computers catching inconvenient viruses, to cables that cut out inexplicably.

Let’s face it: You can never prevent bad things from happening. Things will go wrong. Scout’s honor. And we’re of the same mind as the Boy Scouts, too, when it comes to their motto: Be prepared. For everything.

That’s what will set your broadcast apart from the legions of mediocre live streams out there—your preparedness. And the key to preparedness, we’ve found, is the pre-production checklist.

3 Live Streaming Pre-production Checklist Items

The Stretch Internet preparedness badge (if we had one!) would emphasize readiness. Just as coaches conduct targeted practice sessions, strategic analysis, and more during the week before a big game, it’s imperative to set yourself up for success. This part of the process (it’s not optional, trust us!) starts several days before the event. That way, there’s plenty of time for testing and revising your plan—and a lot less stress.

Here are three essential tasks to complete in the days leading up to a live streaming event:

  1. Ensure that your streaming computer, software, and other applications are up to date. This includes your encoder, your drivers, your firmware, and any other equipment you’ll be using. One word of caution: Before you update, check with your streaming provider first. There may be compatibility issues that would make an update counterproductive.
  2. Physically set up and check all of your equipment. Specifically, confirm that:
    • The resolution on your camera is optimized based on your setup.
    • The streaming encoder is configured to send out the highest quality video possible.
    • The output is set up properly to send to the right location.
    • The stream ID or channel name is titled properly and corresponds with your scheduled event.
  3. Ensure you have an archive or a recording set up to save your video file in case a backup is needed. If there are any issues with the live stream, having a backup will give you peace of mind and allow you to upload your file after the event. Stretch and some other streaming providers automatically archive your live stream, but it’s considered best practice to record locally as well—just in case.

Download Now: An Extensive Live Streaming Checklist

To find out what other steps are on the production checklist (including five more pre-event tasks, day-of tasks, and tasks to complete after the event) and some technology essentials, check out this extensive guide that focuses solely on preparing you for a winning broadcast. Don’t underestimate the importance of preparation! It’s not just for fanatic planners—it’s for anyone who wants to get it right the first time. Download this free checklist and set yourself up for live streaming success.


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What Is A Video Encoder? An Introduction To 8 Technology Options

What Is A Video Encoder? An Introduction To 8 Technology Options

Remember that Willy Wonka scene where the chocolate bar time travels from one side of the room to another after being broken apart? Well, that’s the basic (and gloriously oversimplified) function of a video encoder!

Video encoding generally refers to the process of converting a video input into digital format for playback on various devices. In other words, it’s the process of digitizing video and sending it somewhere online, like to a content delivery network (CDN) or a live streaming provider.

To encode and stream video, you can use either a dedicated hardware encoder or a computer that runs a software encoding program. We’ll explore some of our favorite software and hardware live video encoders below and walk through a few considerations before you purchase.

Software Vs. Hardware Live Media Encoders

Software Encoders

Software encoders run on your laptop or desktop computer. But because your computer isn’t necessarily made for receiving video and audio from other sources, you may have to use a capture device—a small, affordable adapter that converts the video output into a digital format that’s recognized by the computer.

Keep in mind that the prices for the following software options vary greatly, and that price can be impacted depending on the video streaming provider you decide to go with.

  • FMLE (Flash Media Live Encoder): This is a free encoder you can get online from Adobe. It’s very simple to use: You connect your capture device, choose your capture device from within the software, configure your output settings, hit start, and you’re done.
  • Wowza Gocoder: This free encoder was created specifically for encoding video from a tablet or smartphone—so if you choose one of those devices for your live stream, this is the perfect app.
  • Wirecast: This software allows you to add production-quality effects to your broadcast, like lower third graphics, multiple camera shots, and more. The price for Wirecast starts at $495 for the studio version and goes up to $995 for the professional version (which we recommend).
  • vMix: This is an alternative to Wirecast with similar features. vMix offers a free version of its encoder and five paid options ranging from $60 to $1,200.

Hardware Encoders

Hardware encoders are separate, dedicated devices made for video streaming, with all camera connectivity built right into it. This type of encoder uses its own internals to send the video to its destination.

  • Teradek VidiU: This is a very simple option, ideal for a single-camera setup. There are no frills here—you simply plug the HDMI cable in, connect it to the internet, configure your destination (where you are sending your stream), and hit start. The price for the VidiU is $699.
  • TriCaster: This is the most common hardware option for churches that utilize multiple cameras for live streaming. It allows you to show multiple video sources, gives you the option to show those watching the live stream something different than what’s being shown to those on-campus, and more. The cost of a TriCaster can vary significantly based on your needs and the model you choose, but will range from $5,000 to over $25,000.
  • Sony Anycast: This is a simple-to-use, install-based touchscreen unit. It has a great user interface, but takes a lot of infrastructure to run properly. The price for Anycast is $16,475.
  • LiveStream HD550 Video Switcher: This is a portable encoding unit that enables you to stream from multiple cameras and sources with ease. This makes it a great choice for churches without a permanent location. The price for LiveStream HD550 Video Switcher is $7,999.

Choosing A Video Encoder: 4 Pieces Of Advice

  1. If you’re a one-man-show or you’re just getting started with live streaming, we suggest the Teradek VidiU hardware or FMLE software. The Teradek VidiU is more expensive—around $600-$700—while FMLE is free. That being said, FMLE requires the use of a computer that meets basic requirements to handle live streaming—so as we mentioned previously, you’ll need to ensure your computer can meet those requirements.
  1. Choose an encoder that will work as your live streams become more sophisticated. If you’re choosing your first-ever live encoder—and are just beginning the live streaming process—it may be tempting to pick the easiest option. But we strongly suggest selecting an encoder that will still be useful to you a year or two down the line when you add more bells and whistles. In other words, consider where you want to be with your live stream in a few years, and select an encoder that will meet those future requirements. We rarely talk to individuals who are OK with their live stream being simple and straightforward forever. Most of the time, they want to increase sophistication down the road. If you fit into that second category, look at your encoder as an investment in future live streaming capabilities.
  1. Remember that your live encoder—like your video stream—can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Googling “the best video encoder” is sure to overwhelm you with thousands of opinions on how certain video encoders handle bitrate, color grading, signal noise, light grading, and much more. If you keep this in mind, you should be able to cut through the noise and focus on the elements that matter most to you. 
  1. Find the right partner to guide and assist you through the live streaming process. This is critical! The guy at your neighborhood electronics store may have a bigger sale in mind—not your company’s needs. And your buddy who just started live streaming may have completely different wants and needs than you do. So what you need is someone who knows live streaming (and live video encoders!) inside and out. If you haven’t found this resource yet, let’s talk! At Stretch Internet, we stream more than 60,000 live events each year with an emphasis on providing outstanding support and memorable experiences. 


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