How to Maximize Reach with Multistreaming Solutions
To maximize the exposure and reach of your streams, it’s often very beneficial to send them to multiple sites at the same time. While we may not think of YouTube and Facebook the same way we think of CDNs, they serve similar purposes, as I’ll discuss in this article. The key differences are that YouTube and Facebook come pre-populated with thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of viewers, and they offer ways that people can subscribe for notifications when your show is coming up and when it goes live. If you have active community engagement, then you can count on the audience being aware that you’ve published new content.
But if you want to maximize your reach without overtaxing your gear, you can utilize some cloud technologies to send your one upload to multiple destinations. It’s important to understand that while some solutions, like vMix, TriCaster, or Wirecast, have the capability to send multiple streams to multiple CDNs from your location, you will need both a beefy computer system and a lot of upload bandwidth to ensure the reliability of each of those streams from your system to each of the various CDNs you want to leverage.
Alternatively, cloud solutions offer the ability to accept a single good stream and then send that to multiple destinations, perhaps even with transcoding. But why would transcoding be important? Why can’t we just send the stream that the CDN wants to see? Two reasons come to mind. First, different CDNs can handle different resolutions and qualities, so while you can push 1080p60 or even 4K to YouTube, you’re probably better off with a 720p30 stream to Facebook. Although YouTube is fine with a Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) push, Facebook wants secure RTMPs. You can manually set each of these from your device or let the cloud service provide the different feeds.
Second, if you’re pushing your feed from a remote location over cellular, being able to cut the data rate almost in half and utilize HEVC can make your connection better able to get through a potentially crowded or saturated cellular tower. Plus, it will lower the amount of data you are using to send your feed to the cloud. Then, cloud services can convert your HEVC to the H.264 that the CDNs want to see and send that to multiple CDNs. So instead of two 10Mbps streams, you can send a single 5Mbps stream and cut your cellular data use by 75%.
If you’re covering, say, all-day sporting events and are doing it every weekend, leveraging HEVC, cloud conversion, and cloud distribution can save you a lot of money, while delivering great image quality to multiple destinations on a regular basis. That’s the key to developing an audience: Deliver something good that they can count on, and they will come back for more.
If you’re a regular reader of Streaming Media, you know there are dozens of CDNs and streaming services to get your broadcast in front of your viewers. As I mentioned, some of them come with built-in audiences, like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch. Others are designed so you have more control over who gets to see the video. They also better enable you to control the viewing experience, including the ability to white-label the entire viewing page and even create paywalls and integrate copy protection. But those types of services are not the focus of this article.
I’ve previously written about some iOS solutions for live-streaming production, such as Teradek’s Live:Air, which has been renamed Airmix. What hasn’t changed is the software’s ability to connect directly to Teradek’s own cloud services, called Core. In Core (Figure 1, below), you can restream a single feed to wherever you want it to go. Core also has a couple of other tricks.
Figure 1. Teradek's Core 2.0. Click the image to see it at full size.
First, Core is capable of accepting a remote camera, and that camera is visible in Airmix as a source. You can easily cover an event with cameras miles apart; each camera shows up in Airmix, and you can then switch between them just as if they were local.
Second, Core is also able to do bonding. This is when a single source is chopped up and sent across multiple connections to the internet. Teradek’s VidiU Go hardware can do this. Core then receives the packets, which are very often out of order because of the different paths they take. It then reassembles the packets in the right order and sends your program on to the next step. Couple this with Core’s ability to also handle HEVC, and it’s a nice, well-rounded hub for mobile production.
Other services, like Castr (Figure 2, below) and Restream (Figure 3, below Figure 2) really home in on the restreaming part of the process, accepting a single feed to the cloud and then sending it to one, two, or even five or more destinations.
Figure 2. Streaming to multiple sites with Castr. Click the image to see it at full size.
Figure 3. Multistreaming with Restream. Click the image to see it at full size.
Another feature I like about involving an intermediary service such as this is the set of statistics you get on your upload. You get to see your stream’s health before it goes to YouTube or Facebook, as well as viewers’ comments that the feed is choppy—because someone always comments. You can look at the data that is being received in the cloud and see that it’s solid, with no dropped frames. Because it’s already in the cloud, you can be confident that this is what the other streaming services are receiving.
Recently, I streamed a benefit music concert, and Facebook took issue with some of the recorded music that was played in between the live bands’ performances. We would check our upload feed and find an alert that Facebook had stopped the stream. We immediately re-initialized that connection to keep things going. Having this happen in the cloud, as opposed to on the device we were using for the live switch and upload, meant the person switching the show didn’t have to even think about it, and someone else could manage what Facebook was doing on another computer. The crew member monitoring your Facebook or YouTube feed doesn’t even have to be at the event because cloud services can be managed from anywhere.
Not only can cloud services send one stream to multiple places, but they can also accept a stream and not send it anywhere. This allows you to check your connection to the internet before you need to go live and be sure that everything is working and your connection to the cloud is good. The worst feeling is needing to go live at 2 p.m., pushing the button on your device to start streaming at 2 p.m., and seeing that it doesn’t appear on the receiving end, with no time left to fix it.
Another little-known benefit of cloud services’ ability to accept a stream and not send it is specific to YouTube. Say you have an event set up in YouTube, and you have the client-provided “viewer” link embedded in various pages. If you test your connection and it goes through YouTube, the moment you stop that test, the embed code for that video is fixed and used up. YouTube automatically creates a new embed code every time you push a test through an event’s RTMP. To avoid a whole lot of last-minute website updating, using a service in between and not activating the output lets you test your internet connection without causing any ripples down the line.