Doing a live webcast is a lot like doing live tv. It requires careful advance preparation and the coordination of numerous moving parts. Get it right and you can dazzle a worldwide audience. Get it wrong and … well, you don’t want to get it wrong.
Here are six key areas to think about as you’re preparing for your webcast.
1. High quality source video
You’ve heard the adage, “Garbage in, garbage out” and that’s particularly true of webcasts. The entire production chain should be broadcast-caliber. That includes the camera(s), switcher, encoding station and everything in between. Hopefully it goes without saying that you’ll want an experienced team running that gear.
2. Solid upstream internet connection
Typically, you’ll send an HD stream from the event site. That requires a dedicated internet connection with at least a 5 Mbps upload speed. This is something that must be arranged and tested well in advance of the event. This can often be challenging at venues and you may need to make special arrangements with the party responsible for the internet connection at the venue.
3. Transcoding solution
Once the HD stream reaches the cloud, it must be transcoded into the various derivative streams your audience will need. That may include desktop browsers, tablets and smartphones of numerous flavors. We have a standard set of streams of varying datarate and dimensions that reach the greatest potential audience of viewers. Additionally, we also like to produce a stream that we send to Amazon S3 for storing an archive of the webcast. Finally, we use Zencoder for our transcoding needs.
4. Content delivery network
The streams that your transcoding provider produce now need a way to be distributed to all of the viewers wanting to watch your event. The content delivery network (CDN) provides a stream for each person watching your event. Whether your event has 5 attendees or 5 million, it is the CDN that handles reliably providing a stream for every viewer. We typically divide the task between a couple of streaming services — Akamai and Amazon Web Services, depending upon the devices we want to support for viewing.
5. Player page
The player page is important because it determines the user experience. First and foremost, it must utilize a streaming player that can autosense the device it’s being played on, as well as the amount of bandwidth available to the device, and the select the appropriate stream to play from the CDN. We normally use the JW Player. Your page may also require user registration and can include features like live chat and polling.
Timing is often overlooked, but a live webcast is really a cascade of activities leading up to the live event itself. Ideally, your project manager will begin work two months in advance and schedule the various milestones. Of course that includes advance promotion of the webcast to your target audience. And finally, start the webcast on time!
Whether you work with Allied Pixel or someone else, make sure your partner has the resources and experience to make your live webcast a positive experience for everyone involved.