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Streaming Media East [7-8 May 2019]
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OTT Leadership Summit [7-8 May 2019]
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Primer: Live-Switched Webcasting

Although it's possible to webcast with a webcam or smartphone and a streaming service provider, a professional live-switched webcast has more in common with a live TV broadcast than it does a kid with a smartphone. This article discusses the roles that must be filled in a live-switched webcast, the various features and types of video switchers, and a lot of the small details that are important considerations in the larger video switching and webcasting workflow.

[This article first appeared as part of Streaming Media's Shoot, Switch, Stream Live Production Field Guide.]

I’m not sure what generation to consider myself a part of. I was born in 1977, and by many accounts I am a late Generation Xer, but Boom Bust & Echo 2000’s David Foot considers me part of the Bust Generation cohort. Others, such as Jason Ryan Dorsey, author of Y-Size Your Business and self-proclaimed “The Gen Y Guy®” (and yes, that is a registered trademark symbol, a sign of the legal state of affairs of his generation), considers me a part of Generation Y, aka the Millennials, the Net Generation, or the Digital Generation.

Being caught in the middle of these generations, I don’t place too much of my personal identity into these broad characterizations, but I do find it interesting from an economic and demographic viewpoint.

From a video perspective, I think the generations’ attention spans are getting shorter with technological developments. The MTV generation of short attention spans and 24/7 media saturation gave way to the user-generated content era of YouTube, Facebook, video on Instagram, and recently Twitter’s Vine, where video can be captured and shared as fast as upload and processing time allow.

But even this isn’t fast enough for viewers who want their content live (and then on demand). The current generation of lifecasters is streaming live—sharing (and oversharing) over the internet, using a range of webcasting services. Their adoption and consumption of this technology has in part helped fuel the demand for professional webcasting services. If kids can connect with their peers and document events using live streaming video, why shouldn’t Fortune 500 companies, governments, conferences, churches, city halls, and even small businesses with a global reach be delivering their messages and their events live to their audience as well?

On a consumer level, webcasting can be as simple as a webcam or smartphone connected to a streaming service provider. However, a professional live-switched webcast has more in common with a live TV broadcast than it does a kid with a smartphone. In this article, I’m going to discuss the roles that must be filled in a live-switched webcast, the various features and types of video switchers, and a lot of the small details that are important considerations in the larger video switching and webcasting workflow.

Technical Director

The TD operates the video switcher, which often entails communicating with the camera operators using intercom systems. In larger productions, a director may be calling the show—such as is the case in larger production control rooms and television studios—but in most mobile live-switch and webcast operations, the TD performs many functions simultaneously.

This job may include any or all of the roles described in the next few sections, but also recording the archive feed, advancing presentation slides, and providing a live video signal for live IMAG.

Audio Engineer

Audio for a live audience generally requires a crew member called an audio engineer, who operates a soundboard. The audio engineer adjusts microphone and other audio source input gain levels and their respective volume output levels to loudspeakers. Multiband equalization, audio delay, and compression are common controls that the audio engineer will adjust in an effort to avoid feedback, echo, and audio that is either too low to hear or so loud that it clips.

Frequently the audio engineer for the live audience will send an audio output to the technical director or a dedicated audio engineer for the webcast. It is important that these two crew members communicate audio needs as they pertain to individual or group audio-channel sends or a mix-down send, and if this/these send(s) are prefade or postfade.

By default, most webcasts or live-switched recordings start with the same master mix-down audio send (although, typically, via an aux out from the soundboard) but add back in audio that would normally be heard unamplified by the live audience and would be undesirable to amplify in the loudspeakers for the live audience, such as applause. The webcast audio engineer sends an audio signal to any or all of the video switcher, the webcast encoder, the video camera(s), and the archive recorder(s), depending on the workflow.