Tips & Tricks For Producing & Managing Live Webcasts Without Failure
On a recent StreamingMedia.com webinar about live streaming, David Kirk at Epiphan gave out some really good information during his presentation on No Fail Live Video Best Practices. I asked him to summarize his best tips and to answer some of the most popular questions we received. Whether you’re tasked with getting your CEO’s message to the company, or the president’s message to the country, use these suggestions to ensure a smooth live streaming event.
Prepare for input problems: Although everyone expects their video inputs to be available during their live stream, sometimes they are lost. Whether a laptop with slides loses power or the camera’s cable comes loose, it’s best to be ready for these problems-waiting-to-happen rather than be caught unprepared. The best approach is two pronged: have a branded, custom no signal image that automatically appears when signal is lost; and have secondary video layouts ready to switch to when a signal is lost.
A custom no signal image that includes branding from the current event gives remote viewers the sense that you know there is an issue and are working to resolve it, while also maintaining the graphical style and flow for the event. When you see this no signal image appear in your stream (because you’re monitoring it – see the tip below!), be sure to switch immediately to another layout that doesn’t include the signal. For example if the problem is with a laptop showing slides and you were streaming a picture in picture that included the laptop and a camera on the presenter, switch as soon as possible to a layout that has only the presenter, or a different picture in picture has the presenter and the local audience, or something else. You get the idea. Next, use your local confidence monitors to determine when the problem input is resolved and switch back to your original layout.
Test and test again: For live events on location, get the most of your time before the show by making sure you test your gear offsite before the show and again on-site before the show. Start by creating configuration presets or changeable settings that let you test your expected inputs, create the layouts and add event branding before you go. If you have them, enter your CDN settings and test that everything works before you leave. Also create (or request from your client) pre and post show content that you can show in the stream before and after the event. For best results, use video with audio as your pre-show content.
When packing for the event, bring extra laptops or devices that provide the same outputs (HDMI, SDI, VGA, etc) you’re planning to use in your live layouts. This way, when you arrive at the event, you can plug in these devices for testing even if the main cameras or presenter laptop feeds aren’t available. If your pre-show video content includes audio, use this to test your whole setup, end-to-end including through the CDN. If you’re not using a video for pre-show content, test audio by adding music to the static pre-show image. (Note, when streaming to some services, like YouTube, music with copy protection can cause your audio to be muted for copy-protection reasons.) Don’t forget to also test audio coming from laptops (remember, some presentations include audio) or any other device that might feed you audio during the stream.
Fail-safe networking solution: Network and CDN failures during a live stream are a real possibility. Depending on the hardware you have available, make use of mobile tethering, back up CDN stream or even multiple CDNs to make sure a disruption in networking doesn’t affect your ability to get your content to the cloud. For remote locations and high priority events that absolutely need to be broadcast live, consider primary or backup networking with cellular bonding solutions that combine the throughput from multiple service providers to create a fat pipe to the cloud. If any one of these providers has a problem, these solutions automatically compensate by reshaping the traffic over the remaining providers.
Monitor end to end: For streaming your event, choose hardware that lets you monitor video and audio quality being captured to make sure you’re streaming exactly what you expect. But don’t stop there. Make sure you also have a computer connected as a client to your CDN or streaming server to view end-to-end content and quality. Keep an eye on both these places for your custom no signal image, audio issues, or other problems and adjust accordingly.
Where possible, simplify your setup: Reduce gear needed and possible points of failure by using all-in-one gear that accomplishes both recording and streaming to eliminate points of failure with multiple splitters and long mazes of cables. Simplify your event by having only the exact number of pre-configured layouts you need for live streaming. Too many layouts means it’s easy to make a mistake, so be sure to delete any that aren’t needed or that were used for testing and don’t have the right inputs or branding. If supported by your encoder, make a single-camera production appear more dynamic by using hardware cropping to crop a wide camera view to a more personal close-up that you can switch to on the fly.
Indeed, no two live streaming experiences will be the same, but using these tips you can make them have a uniformly pleasing outcome.
Watch the full No Fail Live Streaming presentation here.