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The 9 Starter Questions to Answer Before Creating a Live Stream
Creating a live stream for an event has gotten easier, but doing it right still requires advanced planning. Here's a roadmap for the first-timers.
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In May, a former web developer contacted me about the possibility of helping his company produce a live stream for a conference that was less than 3 weeks away. Like many prospective clients, he was hoping to find an off-the-shelf turnkey system to fulfill his business and technical requirements. Another similarity was the lack of any written form of said requirements—such information had to be gathered by me during two phone calls.

Whether you are a service provider or an organization looking for someone to support live streaming for your event, it is useful to have a framework for planning. What are realistic expectations for first-time live stream producers? How can such expectations be fulfilled in a timely manner? I’ve compiled a list of considerations for organizations looking to add live streaming to event productions:

1. Preparation time: The timeline will depend on how large the team will be and how complex the plan is, but clients typically get events in the planning pipeline 3–4 months ahead.

2. Number of simultaneous event streams: Specify how many live streams will be produced during the event. If you have more than one speaker presenting at a time, will each presentation be livestreamed? Many organizations opt to livestream only the larger sessions, and archive the recordings of the presentations in smaller sessions. High-quality video and audio are still required for both deliverables.

3. A/V production: Determine which vendor (or department within your organization) will be responsible for on-site audio and video gear. Most larger live event producers already hire A/V companies for standard setup of projectors and screens, wired/wireless microphones, stage lighting, computer(s) for slide presentations, and gear to record audio and presentation material. Not all events will employ camera operators, but if you’re looking for live direction of speaker/presentation material, be sure to specify it in your requirements, as additional staff and gear will be necessary. Also, be sure to confirm that the venue you are using for the event doesn’t require you to use its resources and staff for such production tasks.

4. Onsite live streaming tech: Determine which party will be responsible for taking the output from the A/V production to your preferred live streaming CDN or your own streaming server(s). Many A/V production services still do not offer live streaming support, and if they do, it’s likely a considerable line item in their quote. Onsite live streaming tech will require a dedicated internet connection from the venue, and a smart vendor will also bring 3G/ 4G/LTE mobile connectivity as a backup. The streaming tech will need to accommodate the video signal being provided by the A/V production, such as an SDI or HDMI master feed.

5. Live streaming deployment: Identify how you will take the live stream and provide it to your audience. Will you use an IBM Cloud Video (formerly Ustream), Livestream, Akamai, or something similar? Will you also want to deploy to a platform such as Facebook Live or YouTube Live? Maybe you want to create your own live streaming experience for your website(s) or mobile apps and want to build a custom pipeline using server technology such as Wowza Streaming Engine, Red5, or NGINX on Amazon AWS or another cloud platform. Determine if you will need the streaming deployment vendor to transcode multiple bitrates for each live stream (aka adaptive streaming).

6. Monetization and DRM: If you need a paywall in front of your viewing experience, identify the vendor or platform responsible for collecting payment and securing the content for paid subscribers. Will you need to integrate an existing user management system from your site(s) and/or mobile app(s) with the payment platform? How will the payment gateway be linked to the server deployment you’ve chosen? Will you require—and are you willing to pay for— the integration of digital rights management (DRM) encryption for the live stream?

7. Player requirements: Clarify all features you’re looking to add to your online video experience. Will you be using adaptive streaming? Will you need network DVR functionality to allow subscribers to rewind to past portions of the live event? Also, live captioning in one or more languages is available from vendors, but the captions will need to be integrated within the server and/or player deployment.

8. Archive: Will you manage the process of taking recorded masters from your vendor(s) and providing them to your subscribers after the event, or will you need a vendor to provide that service as well?

9. Repetition: Forecast the likelihood of needing to have the setup you design repeated for future events, and inform selected vendors that you’ll want to replicate the same requirements for future use. Vendors may not be willing to give you all the details of their workflows, as such information may be guarded trade secrets, but any customizations you’re paying to integrate should be documented and provided by your vendors.

Answering these starter questions with stakeholders in your organization and providing them to your prospective vendor(s) will go a long way to receiving accurate costs or projections. Don’t hesitate to ask for discussion time with sales representatives to review these topics. Even with careful advance planning and an experienced team, new challenges and unforeseen issues often arise. Rather than be disheartened by this “moving target” of standards for live streaming, I try to embrace the challenges and feel good about my value as a problem-solver in these situations. Where there is trouble, there is work for experienced vendors to pull the pieces together.

[This article appears in the July/August 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Your First Foray Into Live Streaming?"]

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