Streaming video over the Internet has sounded wonderful to many church media ministers since the concept first emerged. What better way to spread the word across the globe, or to the shut-in down the street?
Until recently, though, costs and sheer complexity have limited the real usefulness of this tool. Now, Shane Long of Waveguide Consulting, Atlanta, says 90 percent of the churches the firm serves have decided they want to do webcasting, but are mulling over what to stream and how to do it. “Most churches are just figuring out what they want to do,” he says. “Are they talking live streaming or archival review of a service? One- or two-way communication? If it is live streaming, who is the demographic?”
A basic distinction, Long says, is whether the church intends to distribute video over its own inhouse network or over the Internet. That decision, in turn, drives the choice between MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video formats.
In the view of Mike Savic, vice president of marketing at VBrick Systems, Wallingford, Conn., the format decision is, for the moment, swinging strongly to MPEG-4. “We are seeing a lot of interest in MPEG-4 for web streaming,” Savic says.
Even though some churches opt for the higher-quality MPEG-2 to distribute video across their own campuses using their dedicated networks, the promise of reaching out through the Internet is proving very attractive. “This market is growing very quickly. The biggest factor right now is ubiquitous broadband connectivity to homes,” Savic says.
That is, the more people add DSL or cable modem Internet access at home, the more easily they can receive and view streamed video -- and the more they want it. The much lower bandwidth demands of MPEG-4 mean a decent web-quality image can be delivered to desktops fairly easily over these fast connections.
It’s not without challenges for churches, though. Savic notes that “the key is the calculation of how many people are going to tune in at one time.” If each MPEG-4 data stream demands 200kb of bandwidth, having as few as 10 simultaneous viewers means the church must have a 2Mb Internet connection.
Churches seeking a large web audience often opt to contract with a reflector service. In such an arrangement, the church uploads its content only once, to the reflector’s server, and lets that vendor provide the mass connectivity.
Savic says churches may need an IT consultant at the launch of their webcasting venture to help cope with firewall issues and other concerns in actually getting their signal distributed. Those problems, he adds, are usually easy to solve.
Long adds another caveat: “A commitment to ongoing technology improvements should be implemented. Our technology acceptance threshold is variable.”
As future improvements become available, then commonplace, “the bar will be raised and everyone will have to ante up,” Long says.