10 Tips for Producing the Perfect Live Stream

So your assignment is to live stream an event and it needs to be perfect.  No small feat for even the most experienced producers!  Not even the giants of tech consider this a side project.  Our company has had to usher several clients through the process. With so much to consider, what are the guaranteed ways to make it perfect?

Here we will list our tips for you to consider when producing your event.  After all, perfection clearly means a beautiful video stream that you can hear well, but it also means your audience can find the stream, engage with its content, and potentially share it with their friends or coworkers.

  1. Fast upload speeds.  Every live stream needs to be uploaded to a streaming provider and the bitrate of the video should be greater than 2000 KBps.  The minimum recommended upload speed for this bit rate is a dedicated 5 MBps and that is pretty slow.  Ideally, you’ll have access to 10 – 15 MBps upload speeds or higher.  Make sure to do a speed test and keep your eye on the minimum speed available from the connection you will use.  Not only your video will be uploaded.  Background tasks, unpredictable traffic, and dips in performance shouldn’t interfere with your stream so give yourself a safety net.
  2. Beautiful Lighting. It takes training to see light how a camera does.  Our eyes make so many micro adjustments every second, that without consciously considering the lighting in a space, we assume it is natural and useable.  Unfortunately, cameras aren’t nearly as advanced as our eyes, but our audience will only see a stream through a camera lens.  Casual decisions like “just use a wide shot with the projector screen,” or “let’s keep these beautiful windows in the background” will ruin the overall look of a video stream.  Make sure to keep your presenters and content properly exposed and white balanced.  Hire an expert to scout the location and advise on proper ways to light a scene.
    An example of fantastic lighting for a live stream presentation; even, soft, balanced color, contrasting well with a simple but engaging backdrop.
  3. Pleasing and balanced sound. It has been said that in film and video, half of what we see comes from what we hear.  If you have ever muted a horror film or a martial arts sequence, you’ll notice that nothing is frightening and the fighting is clearly staged.  That is because we need the audio cue to know a fist landed a punch, or the creepy music to inform us something terrible is about to happen.  Most live streams aren’t horror or action sequences, but the same fundamentals apply to watching people speak and present demonstrations.  If a soft spoken presenter doesn’t come through on the stream, an audience will just assume something is technically wrong.  Keep a close eye on the audio levels throughout the stream.  Video playback from presentations usually drowns out a quiet presenter unless an expert audio technician is constantly adjusting levels and using compression.
  4. High quality cameras.  This isn’t as important as lighting, and audio, but it is a critical piece of the puzzle.  Cheap cameras may offer 4K resolution these days, but their sensors and internal compression may create excessive digital noise in the picture.  This noise, or grain, is most apparent in under exposed areas of the image, and creates a burden on your encoders and video bitrate.  The constantly changing image in areas of high noise leave the encoder thinking it needs to update that part of the frame.   Instead of compressing the image and borrowing information between frames, it updates the image in places that probably aren’t as relevant as the content.  Again, lighting plays a big role in this, but high quality cameras use sensors which reduce the noise grain, and prevent this problem even in the dark.
  5. Rehearsal time! In our busy schedules and tight budgets, we seldom have the luxury of practicing a stream before the event, but if any rehearsal is possible, take the opportunity.  Audiences viewing a video stream have high expectations about transitions between presenters or segments.  Keep the cues tight and smooth.  Avoid impromptu performances and audience interaction off camera or out of the stage lighting.  Presenters walking around in the crowd may be fun for the live audience, but the audience online can’t see or hear what is happening.  It is worth troubleshooting these casual elements and bringing them back on stage, or making a camera operator aware.
  6. Create a link early and share it.  It doesn’t take much effort to click on a link, so get that link in front of as many people as possible.  If you’re playing the social game, Facebook will notify all your friends that you are live but that is only the beginning.  Private streams need to be shared as well, and everyone has a different method of planning their engagement.  You should email a link with a password, put it in a calendar event, and remind people periodically before the stream starts.  Unfortunately, Facebook makes it very difficult to create a link in advance of a couple hours, but other providers like YouTube and Ustream make this pretty easy.  Once everyone is reminded and knows where to find the link, then anyone can help themselves to watching when they are ready.  If there are issues while watching, make sure the viewer has a reasonable internet connection, and can troubleshoot by using other browsers or refreshing the page.  It is odd how some folks will complain something doesn’t work before attempting to fix it, but that is the nature of the beast and something to be prepared for.
  7. Custom video and image content.  The demands of a live experience are very different than video.  Watching sports in a stadium, you have constant access to stats on the Jumbotron and then you just look at the players you want to see.  Watching sports at home, we are spoon fed closeups, stats, fancy transitions, and even on screen displays of key play information.  An equivalent for a live stream would be animated lower thirds for each speaker, picture in picture video of slide decks with presenters, and even scrolling information about schedules, and quotes.  Television news and sports are probably the pinnacle of complex orchestrated live streams.  They use millions of dollars in equipment and crew to make that happen.  Without access to those tools, we do the best we can with custom assets created in advance of the stream, and again, rehearsed.
  8. Chat and Interaction. What makes live streaming so cool is the fact that it really is happening live somewhere else in the world.  Those people, those topics, and that crowd are all really sitting and talking in that room, right now!  I have seen the magic first hand when a CEO in California can connect with an entire team in India.  They can ask questions quickly enough to actually exchange jokes, and build morale.  It is that reason alone that live streaming is worth the money spent for companies.  Use a streaming provider that allows people to ask questions and have someone on site watching the chat and keeping track of the questions asked.  When it comes time for Q and A, the viewer will feel involved and rewarded when they hear their questioned asked online.  Keep in mind that there is a big difference between streaming and video conferencing.  Video conferencing is a direct computer to computer connection which has very little lag time.  Video streaming means a stream is pushed out to a server and that server redistributes it to anyone that asks for it.  This process adds 10 to 30 seconds of delay.  Make sure people are able to chat and ask questions along the way instead of stopping for Q & A and waiting up to a minute for someone to type a question in.
  9. Choosing the appropriate streaming provider.  In another article, I broke down the benefits and perks of the most popular streaming providers.  Really the two categories for most live streams are private channels and public events.  Private channels are for company meetings where an AV company can start and stop streaming between sessions or days.  The audience will always know where to look for the stream.  Public events are really for the social channels like YouTube and Facebook.  An AV company will need to make sure everything is working before going live because once they are live, they can’t stop until the event is over.  YouTube and Facebook will take care of the notification process for you, and your content should be public appropriate and properly branded.  I think this is a good time to mention that Facebook and YouTube will automatically shut down your stream if you transmit copyright protected content, especially audio.  There is little to know customer service for these pages, so good luck figuring out why it went down.
  10. The right crew with the right gear. As the price tag gets bigger, keep in mind you want this to be a perfect live stream.  The audio technician, camera operators, lighting technicians, each member of the crew will be focused on their task as the event is happening.  Think of streaming as a department in itself which needs its own technician.  That way if network issues or streaming problems occur, there is someone at the ready to troubleshoot and solve the problem. The live camera switching can’t stop because that will botch the recording.  Only a dedicated encoding technician can manage the streaming department.  Finding the best AV company is a challenge in itself, and I have written an article on this subject alone.  Professionals are always learning on the job, and positive, can do attitudes always rule.  Stress can spread like wild fire so prioritize the items in this list and let the pros handle the hard work.  Certain equipment just needs to be on set.  We know what the right gear for the task is so please give us a call!
The technical director, graphics switcher, and video technician stand by during rehearsals for Slack at SF Jazz.

Hopefully this information was useful for you and you are now equipped to tackle that perfect live stream.  It really is a blend of perfect staging and video production combined with internet savvy technology.  The future is bright for live streaming and the companies that participate.  Even if you can’t make it perfect, you’ll impress and reap the benefits of streaming the more you use it.  As always, feel free to reach out to Repertoire Productions for any and all of these tips.  We have thousands of streams under our belt now, and we love pushing the envelope of what is possible.

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