Church Video Broadcasting on a Shoestring Budget
This may come as a surprise, but getting our church’s services broadcast on the Internet was neither difficult nor expensive. Our church didn’t have a budget for video broadcasting, but it was something I really wanted to see happen; we’ve got several people in church who can’t come to the services because of their failing health, and I imagined the joy it would bring them to be able to watch the services live from their own home.
Now, a fair warning: this is less a start-up guide for getting your church service on the Internet and more a chronicling of how we did it. Hopefully, you can find something here that helps.
First of all, here’s what I used to get started:
- Video camera with good optical zoom a Firewire port out
- Computer with high speed internet and a Firewire port in
- Firewire cable
- Video wall mount
- Ustream.tv account
- Decent sound board (optional)
- Audio cable (optional)
- Church website (optional)
I started with the camera. Several years ago, I bought a Canon ZR45MC for personal use—I think I bought it online for around $250 (they’re going for around $90 used on Amazon at the time I wrote this article). After a trip to the Grand Canyon, the tape mechanism gave up the ghost and I could no longer eject tapes. Fixing it would have cost almost as much as I paid for it, so I resigned it and bought a Flip.
However, I discovered that it made a really nice webcam (just be sure to turn off the demo mode!). I plugged the Firewire port on the camera into the Firewire port on the computer and I was able to record some fairly high quality video. However, I already had a decent webcam, so I thought I’d put it to good use at church.
We had high speed internet at the church, but by the time the wireless signal made it to the sound room in the back of the church, it wasn’t even enough to check email, let alone broadcast video. So I ran some CAT5 cable to our sound room and got things set up.
Bonus tip: We installed DropBox in the sound room and we’re sharing the sound room folder with all of the church staff. Now the secretary can save Sunday’s Powerpoint in that folder (on her machine) and because it syncs automatically between all shares, Pastor and I can review it (on our machines). Then any changes we make get automatically synced to her machine as well as the machine in the sound room. Good bye, USB sticks!
I initially tried using the camera on a tripod, but inevitably I was getting the backs of people’s heads. So I went to Amazon and searched for “video camera wall mounts” and found a suitable wall-mount for under $20 that did the job. Obviously, your set up might be different than ours, but I mounted the camera on the back wall of our church and ran the Firewire cable down the wall and into the computer in the sound room.
I noticed that the sound recorded from the video camera was picking up a lot of echo and muddying up the audio. Fortunately, we have a decent sound system and the Canon has a “mic in” stereo jack; so I split the final mix audio signal that was going out to the recorder and ran it to the camera. That gave us a clean, well-mixed signal to the camera to ensure that people watching the broadcast could hear everything that people in the sanctuary were hearing. (If you do start broadcasting, don’t forget about the microphones or else the people at home will be frustrated that they can’t hear what’s going on!)
Next, I jumped over to Ustream.tv and set up an account. Ustream was a perfect fit for us because we could get our feet wet with their free account but upgrade if it really took off. In other words, if we got big enough to require a paid account, it would be easier to justify the cost. The only drawback is that you’ll have ads on your video stream; fortunately, they’re somewhat relevant (we’ve seen local convenience stores or Christian business advertised). If you want to remove them, it’s a bit pricey (100 Ad-Free Viewer Hours for $99/month) but at least there’s the option as you grow. There are some other options out there, so feel free to explore.
After setting up the Ustream account—uploading broadcast descriptions and customizing the look and feel of the stream—I grabbed the embed code and put in our church site. Now, if someone wants to watch our service live, they can visit our OVC live broadcast page and watch the service on our church’s site. I haven’t put them to use on our site yet, but I believe Ustream also provides other tools you can integrate on your site: an “on air now” button to let your users know when the service is live; a social stream where users can chat about the service in progress; the ability to record broadcasts and play them back when your live broadcast isn’t airing. Lots of neat options your can play with without needing to spend money up front.
Finally, we had to put together some guidelines for broadcast. If the people in your sound room are tech savvy, it shouldn’t be too difficult—Ustream makes broadcasting pretty painless. But it’s definitely requires a different way of thinking and if you want to make it meaningful for the people watching, everyone involved will have to keep in mind that people are watching. It’s probably even worth while to have someone monitoring the remote stream (or at least get feedback frequently from people joining regularly at home) to be sure that what’s getting broadcast is a fair representation of the service.
As I mentioned earlier, this has been a learning process for me so I wanted to share it for the benefit of others. So if you’ve learned something else that I’ve missed, I would certainly welcome ideas and questions in the comments!