When producing a live streaming event most of the emphasis is on the content, and rightfully so. It is critical to have a well thought out program that captivates your online audience. Many good articles have been written with tips on how to get the most from your live event. However, the technical aspect of live streaming is equally important. If something goes wrong with the live stream your online audience will be rudely distracted from your program. It is safe to say that the live streaming process should be transparent. No one should think about it if it’s working properly. So as the event producer it is your job to make sure that your live streaming team is not only well versed in good production skills but is also prepared to handle all contingencies. Live streaming reliability is essential to prevent the embarrassment and reputational damage that occurs when the live stream looks bad or simply stops working.
I’m not suggesting that you need to become a techno-geek about this but having an appreciation for the underlying technology and network architecture will help you vet the webcasting team that you entrust with your project. Below is a diagram that we just put together that shows how a typical live stream webcast works:
The three main phases of a live stream are Acquisition, Transmission, and Distribution. The Acquisition phase involves the audio & video team who produce the broadcast at the venue and send the signal to the Transmission engineer. This person is responsible for converting the broadcast video into an internet data stream using a device called an encoder. From there they have to get the signal to the internet using a router with a solid high speed internet connection. At this point the signal has gone up into the cloud for distribution using a streaming server, web server, Content Distribution Network, then finally passing the signal to the end user’s local Internet Service Provider.
Hopefully the diagram provides an intuitive understanding of the many processes necessary to get the job done. Obviously we are glossing over the details which are important as well. The goal here is to identify all of the working components in order to understand what happens if something malfunctions. How do we reduce the risk? How do we quickly recover? We have a more indepth article about this entitled, “The Live Streaming Process – What Can Go Wrong?.” You should check it out if you want to dive a little deeper into the subject of live streaming reliability.
Let’s take a look at some of the typical failure points:
It’s beyond the scope of this article to specify solutions for each risk individually but suffice it to say that it is possible to be prepared in advance to handle all of these contingencies. At Webcast & Beyond we have developed a four point failsafe strategy to address all of these issues. They are:
1. Internet back-up
2. Network redundancy
3. Hardware redundancy
4. Onsite engineering support.
Each area incorporates additional equipment and specific procedures to mitigate the problems as they arise. The takeaway here is to have the right mindset. If you have an internal webcast team make sure they develop a failsafe plan of their own, otherwise the day will come when your live stream goes down at a critical moment and you won’t have the means to recover.
What we have discussed so far is that portion of the live streaming process where we have some measure of control. We select the equipment, the crew, the internet uplink, and the streaming service. We also set up the landing page and program the encoder. But what we can’t really control is what happens when we hand off the stream to the end user. This begins when our stream hits the end user’s ISP and continues on through their local network finally arriving at their viewing device. For this we have a self-help troubleshooting guide which you can view here: How to Fix Video Streaming Problems.