Video Production for Streaming
When discussing the best ways to ensure a high-quality streaming broadcast, most of the attention centers on the encoding stage of the overall video production process. But there’s only so much encoding can do when the video that the encoder is ingesting isn’t quite ready for primetime. Here’s a look into what can be done prior to encoding to set the stage for a successful Webcast event.
Eric Manchester, senior live events producer for AOL, has acted as operations lead on more than 1,000 live Webcasts, "ranging from small internal Webcasts to some of the largest live events on the Internet," he says. Through this experience, he’s come to recognize the primary differentiating factor when it comes to producing video for streaming. "There is only one thing I feel is a best practice and a major difference between producing content for streaming vs. other broadcast mediums I have worked in: light levels," he says. "You need a lot more light for streaming than you do for almost anything else."
Steve Mack, author of the Streaming Media Bible and founder of LUX Media, echoes this sentiment, while also warning against those who might not give lighting the attention it’s due. "Most of the places that people film in, although they’re perfectly suitable for human beings, are not that well suited for filming," he says. "While you can do some things in post to fix it up, you really have to get the light right to begin with." This is especially during a live event, Mack notes, where spending time in post is a luxury that Webcast producers don’t have."I would highly advise anyone in a live broadcast situation to bring in external lighting," Mack continues. "If you’re broadcasting a simple talking head, you can accomplish this with a simple three-point lighting system. If you’re broadcasting a much larger presentation where you have a stage, obviously the lighting becomes a little more complex. You need to light the entire stage in a wash. At that point, it’s probably best to consider bringing in an outside lighting consultant."
Steady As It Goes
Lighting continues to be a sensitive area for streaming, but color isn’t the issue that it used to be. "Thankfully the modern codecs that we have available to us are so good that you don’t have to worry about color anymore," says Mack. "Motion, however, is still a very large concern." Video codecs use motion as the primary determinant for deciphering what’s most important in a scene, meaning excess motion during a video production will result in a lower-quality streaming video. "Any unnecessary motion should be avoided," say Mack. "Spending money on a tripod is a very good investment. If you have your camera locked down, you’ll get a higher-quality encode."
Both Mack and Manchester recommend avoiding the common trap of trying to add too much visual flourish to a streaming event. "I have done a number of events where they put a background up with a number of very small logos all over the backdrop, or [someone] wore an outfit with sequins and sparkles all over it," says Manchester. "This is very hard to encode, and when you only have approximately 300k to play with it’s not likely to look very good."
Mack warns producers to avoid crossfades, as they introduce similar problems resulting from excess motion. "I recommend either straight cuts or keeping the crossfades to three to five-frame dissolves," says Mack, instead of the one-second crossfades commonly found in the broadcast world.