Adventures in Livestreaming: Chapter 1

An occasional series in which I fumble my way the world of live-event coverage. I screw up so you don’t have to. 

My golden nugget of fried gold from HighEdWeb 2011 was this, courtesy of rockstar niceguy and caffeine connoiseur Seth O’Dell: If you are not livestreaming your events, you do not care about your community. All it takes is one person, one laptop, and one camera.

With those words ringing like a Buddhist sutra in my ears, I’ve set about trying to bring real-time event coverage to our campus this year. My immodest goal: make livestreaming of guest speakers, panels, and performances an expectation and not an exception. When someone hears that an event is *not* going to be livestreamed, I want them to be disappointed.

So far this year, I’ve livestreamed two events and have three more coming up. Each time I’m learning something new, something I think I’ll do differently the next time around. Let’s start at the beginning:

Livestreaming Rule #1:
The Cake Is A Lie (well, at least a fib)

Seth is an inspiration and a giant amongst mortals, but his “One person, one laptop, one camera” philosophy is akin to the coach in Bull Durham saying, “You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.” He ain’t lying, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

The very first event I livestreamed did in fact involve one person (me), one laptop (and old MacBook Pro I use as a Safari test machine) and one camera (an even older Sony Handycam of the kind your dad took on vacation to Washington’s Crossing in 2002).

And it did in fact work. The event was a hastily convened ceremony for our YellowJackets a cappella ensemble who were being presented with a key to the city. It was in a huge room with bad acoustics and there was no podium mic or sound system. I just used the built-in mic on the camera to pick up the sound in the room. We ended up with 48 viewers for a webcast that was only promoted about a half an hour before it began with a homepage, Facebook, and Twitter posting.

So as a proof of concept, I’d call this one a success. With lots of research and several test runs, even a clueless neophyte like me was able to pull off a live webcast that did not crash and burn midway through. One-person-one-laptop-one-camera does work. However, both the person, the laptop, and the camera in this scenario left something to be desired. As a result, the final product did leave lots of room for improvement on both the technical quality side (especially audio), the skills side (especially me) and on the promotional side.

Things can only get better from here — stay tuned for our next exciting episode!

–lori

PS — for those interested, here are some of the specifics on the equipment used on this event.

EVENT: YellowJackets Key To the City

  • Platform: Livestream; used their Livestream Studio Web-based interface
  • Camera: Sony Handycam DCR-HC90 (don’t think they make ‘em anymore)
  • Mic: Camera built-in
  • Laptop: Macbook Pro (late 2006 model; this caused a last minute scramble to find a Firewire 800 to Firewire 400 adapter for the laptop’s older Firewire input)
  • Tripod

5 comments

  1. Nick Allain says:

    Hey Goddess,

    I work for Brown and took them from 0 to hero with live streaming. I’m still evolving it (and it will continue to evolve for years after I’m gone – whenever that is). They started off similarly (macbook, firewire, single camera). In fact, that setup still gets used in one scenario, albiet with better audio.

    Because it’s a part of the media production division there are a lot more resources to work with as far as cameras, mics, and general equipment. All our equipment is now SD so the most recent goal for me has been to replace the 1 laptop 1 camera setup with something HD and a bit more robust (yet just as portable). I picked a Dell laptop running Windows 7 that has an Expresscard 34/54 slot and a Matrox MXO2 LE. That matrox gives the laptop the ability to take a single HD SDI (from our professional cameras or camera switcher), Component, Composite, or HDMI and stream it using Flash Live Media Encoder (We use a live streaming CDN called Edgecast and a JWPlayer embed on our livestreaming page rather than something like Livestream so we don’t have any ads).

    For important events where we can’t risk the stream going down, we have a more beastly rig. It consists of a Tricaster TCXD300 “production studio in a box” with built in switching/streaming. It can also capture the presentation off any laptop that is on the same network and has the tricaster network video plugin installed on it.

    My suggestion would be to focus on audio quality first. I prefer using the Sennheiser EW-G3 product line since it always seems to work well. The key is pinning mics on everyone or buying a wireless boundary mic to stick near the panel. After that, I’d focus on video quality.

  2. LoriPA says:

    Thanks for all the specifics, Nick! It sounds like you are doing great stuff at Brown. I definitely agree that bad audio is much worse in livestreaming that subpar video, and am working on that first. My ultimate goal is to get to a point where we can offer a “self-serve” service for departments to make it very easy for more people to do this more often. That’s a long ways off, though. The learning curve is pretty steep, but I still think it’s well worth the time invested.

    • Nick Allain says:

      No problem. I figure if 10% of it helps you, the other 90% might help someone who’s googling. It’s awesome that you’re even trying to do it. It’s still pretty cutting edge.

      Since the CDN we use allows me to set up “keys”, I can load the settings into Flash Media Encoder before the event. I’ve had a lot of success with that because I can say to one of our student workers, “Boot the laptop, run the application, check your video source and audio source, then hit Start” without really having to get into the details of how to set everything else up. It’s definitely not ready for someone to come and pick up, but it only takes about 10 minutes to get students trained on how to getting it working- which might be your next step depending on how you proceed.

  3. Seth says:

    Lori,

    First off, LOVE the Bull Durham reference!

    I really appreciate this post. As you know all to well, while I preach the simplicity, it takes a more integrated approach to really make the live event pop. I so deeply appreciate you taking this on and venturing into a space far to many just dismiss because it’s not in their job description.

    You’re doing a great thing by working to connect your global community with campus-based content. I applaud it. That said, keep blogging! Call me out when you think I gloss over a key struggle point, help pull me down from my idealistic cloud and back to the reality that yes this can be done, but it’s not exactly a walk in the park.

    And remember, you’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes.

    • LoriPA says:

      Thanks, Seth! Maybe once I livestream 20 events in the show, I can do whatever I want and people will think I’m colorful.

      And while I make fun, I do totally agree with your “simplicity first” approach. I think too often we think about all the technology complexities first (and not without reason; it’s easy to get burned if you haven’t thought things through) and it can paralyze us into non-action. Better to just give it a whirl, see how it goes, and make small improvements as you go than to worry about perfection out of the gate.

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