Adrenaline Garage Blog

5 Essential Tools to Promote Your Live Webcast with Facebook

Posted by Jeff Harper on Tue, Dec 7, 2010 @ 09:12 AM

How to use Facebook to promote your live webcastAside from distributing your webcast through relevant community sites, no other website has the ability to drive as much traffic as Facebook.  With 25% of all pageviews in the US and 500 million registered users, no other website comes close to providing the same reach.  In addition, with a mature set of social media tools, no other website is as well suited to target your potential viewers.

We've found that simply creating an event or page is not enough.  Just a like a webcast player, your Facebook page needs to be active, seeking out your potential viewers and drawing them in with quality, compelling content that is designed to be shared and interacted with.  We've compiled a few of the most successful techniques to get you started with promoting your event and live stream.

Create a Facebook Page

Facebook pages are Facebook's official means for a brand to connect with its fans.  The primary benefit of a page is that once it has been "liked" by a fan, any content the brand posts has a chance of appearing in the fan's feed--essentially the home page for each user in Facebook.  The advantage of this method compared to a traditional website is that a Facebook page doesn't require your fans to visit your site to discover new content.  It's content finds them.

The goal of an event's page should be to cultivate a large passionate fan following.  Like any good website, that means creating compelling content.  Doing so increases the likelihood that your fans will participate in your event and even assist with the marketing.  However, growing your fan base takes time.  To do this, ideally, an event should create a Facebook page months before and maintain it with quality content year round. As the event draws near, these fans will become your "street team" and share your content with other people likely to have an interest in your event.

Tip: Content that inspires interaction is more likely to be seen and shared.  Be creative with your content and find ways of involving your fan base.  For example, rather than having a first-come, first serve registration, ask athletes to upload videos of themselves.  Then, invite your users to comment.  Base (some) invitations to your open event on the posted videos. It's an easy way to create content and encourage interaction.

Create a Facebook Event

Create a facebook event for your live broadcastWhile Facebook provides you access to your fans' streams, it is sometimes challenging to rise above the noise. While there are ways to increase the likeliness of your content appearing in a user's feed (which we will get to), there is no guarantee.  Unfortunately, due to concerns about spam, Facebook does not give you access to your fans' email addresses.

However, there is one way to promote your event that does get attention and creates significant interaction.  Facebook has a built-in application called Facebook Events.  Due to the nature of your organization, this is a natural tool.  When you set this up, it can automatically send an email to each of your fans.  As you can customize the content of the invitation, this is a great way to reach them.  Unless a fan indicates that they won't be attending, they continue to get email updates as more content is posted on the event's page.  As a result, this method tends to create significant response and interaction.

Tip:  If you make your event "public" you allow other people to invite their friends to your event.  As a result, their network becomes included with yours and receives all the updates.  Encourage your athletes and fans to invite their friends to your event to expand your reach.

Create Quality Content

Facebook uses a secret algorithm to determine whether or not a piece of content will be displayed in the user's feed.  It attempts to measure relevance and quality and ranks each piece of content accordingly.  As the relevance and quality increases, the piece of content will appear in more feeds.

The primary way the algorithm determines this is by measuring clicks, comments and sharing.  Improving your content's rank requires creating content that inspires interaction.  If your content is of low quality, then it won't be seen by as many users.

Tip: The Facebook algorithm will increase the rank of a piece of content if it includes tags.  To maximize the rank of your content, be sure to tag any names or pages within your post.

Create a Welcome Page

One of the weaknesses of the default Facebook page is that it's hard to get the most important content from your event up front and center.  As you publish content on your wall, older content gets pushed lower and lower and the info page doesn't allow any custom fields.

A landing page is a great place to host your live webcast player

However, Facebook allows you to create a custom landing page.  It's a great way to tell potential viewers what your event is all about.  It also makes important information, such as times and locations, easily accessible.  Your webcast player is one piece of content that you'll want to make easily discoverable.  As such, this is a perfect location to post the player.

Tip:  As we've mentioned, it's important to get as many fans as possible.  Don't forget to include a call to action on your welcome page that encourages new users to "like" your page.

There are a lot of great sites to find inspiration for your Facebook landing page.

Use Facebook Social Plug-ins

As you can see, there are a lot of advantages to using Facebook.  However, Facebook functionality is not strictly limited within the confines of Facebook.com.  Facebook makes it easy to integrate their functionality on your website.  With just a few lines of HTML code, you can easily allow users on your website to share your content with their friends on Facebook.  It's a great way to broadcast your user's activities to their friends and drive more traffic to your site.

Try it out:

Tip: Make sure that you include a "Share" button next to your webcast player.  This is a great way for your viewers to alert their friends when the broadcast is live.

What ideas do you have to promote your live webcast through Facebook?

Topics: Webcast Tips, Webcast Promotion, Webcast Marketing

Exploring the Colorado River with Travis Parker

Posted by Jeff Harper on Fri, Nov 26, 2010 @ 21:11 PM

This spring, Senior Producer at Fuel TV, Brian Olliver asked me to help him shoot a TV show with Travis Parker.  This was the result.  I never realized how good the riding could be on desert peaks.  I'm definitely planning a trip back to Mt. Charleston next time they have a good snow year.

Topics: TV Production

5 ways a live internet broadcast is more effective than TV

Posted by Jeff Harper on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 @ 09:11 AM

In the past, the only way to maximize a sporting event’s audience was TV.  As a result of it’s near ubiquity in every household, TV allowed events to transcend the venue and reach a national audience.  If an event wanted to attract large non-endemic sponsors, like Jeep, Visa or Honda, TV coverage was essential. 

TV vs. live internet broadcastsUnfortunately, TV's expense is overwhelming.  As production and ditstribution is paid for by the events, almost none could afford live coverage and only the largest could produce a tape delayed show.

In recent years, the proliferation of high speed internet connections and dramatically cheaper production equipment has given rise to another option--live online broadcasts.  But the question remains, is a live webcast better than purchasing TV time?

Although Adrenaline Garage has produced a number of TV shows, we thought we'd outline five ways that we think a live stream of your event is more effective than tape-delayed TV.  

It's More Cost Effective

In years past, broadcast standard production meant very high production costs for even unimpressive live shows.  Once the event was produced, distribution options were less than ideal.  Events could either pay large sums to buy time on a national network or create deals with a patchwork of minor networks across the country.

Today, even large productions, such as the X Games, are using smaller, more cost effective production equipment.  Internet streaming is much cheaper and convenient than purchasing air time.

Lower costs allow organizers to re-invest in their events by providing larger prize purses and better courses, which in turn creates more interest in the event.

It's More Compelling.

Events have a very short shelf life, and are most valuable while they are occurring.  Once the results are known, the desire of your audience to see every run is sharply reduced.  Your audience will only want to see highlights rather than each individual run.

During the event, there is a desire to see everything and not miss a second, as the outcome is uncertain and almost anything could happen.  No one wants to miss the touchdown, home run or never before landed trick.  This dramatically increases audience engagement and advertising opportunities.

In addition, internet distribution permits interactivity in a way that TV could never accomodate.  Emailing the announcers, chatting with fans from around the world and voting on the best trick are just a couple ways that events have successfully involved their viewers and increased the engagement.

It's Better Targeted.

In the age of instant communication, "tape-delay" is a dirty word for the most passionate fans.  For them, a tape delayed TV production means that while they would like to see the event live, they are forced to read about it online after the fact.  When the event finally airs, they pay little attention to the TV broadcast because they already know the results and have seen the best moments on YouTube or Vimeo.

Coincidentally, the core audience--the ones not tuning in--are the ones of most interest to the sponsors.  These viewers have the most invested in your event, are the most likely to be a part of the target demographic and most likely to respond to your sponsor advertising--unless, of course, you're trying to reach Sunday afternoon couch potatoes.

It Has a Larger Potential Audience.

The very nature of webcasting increases the size of your audience.  TV requires that your audience have access to a TV and the right channel.  On the internet, virtually no walls exist.  Viewers without access to FuelTV, ESPN 7 or in another country still have access to your production.

With the proliferation of connected devices, your audience doesn’t need to be in a location with a TV and can view it virtually anywhere.

It's More Exclusive and Therefore has More Value.

YouTube has destroyed TV exclusivity.  It's so easy for any viewer at your event to film and distribute--or event stream live--the best moments, long before your TV show airs.  As we've mentioned, this only decreases the value of your production to adverstisers as you no longer have a monopoly on the content.

During an event, the live broadcast has exclusivity.  If your fans want full coverage, your live webcast is the only source.  Even if people stream the event from their cell phones, their live coverage will never compare to the quality of the live webcast.  A live webcast is the best way to preserve and enhance the value of your event for sponsors.

What do you think are the various strengths and weaknesses of TV and live webcasts?

Topics: Webcast Sponsorship, Live Webcast Solutions

How many viewers can watch an HD webcast production?

Posted by Jeff Harper on Sat, Oct 2, 2010 @ 09:10 AM

HD Webcast ProductionThere has been an enormous boom in high definition webcasts, especially amongst the largest action sports events.  The Maloof Money Cup, US Open of Surfing, The Ride Shakedown, US Snowboarding Grand Prix and a number of action sports events have each chosen to do HD webcasts over the past year.

Just as the phrase "16mm Production" used to be an indicator of a top notch action sports videos, "Live HD Webcast" has become the shorthand that's synonymous with the best live online productions.  As "webcast" can mean many things, appending "HD" to the description of an live stream has allowed events to differentiate themselves from the incredible number of mediocre one camera productions on Ustream.

Before someone jumps on the HD Webcast bandwagon, I think it's appropriate to ask, how many people are actually able to see an HD webcast at it's highest quality?  Is HD worth it if only a few people can actually see it?  At what threshold does it make sense?

Methodology

What does it mean to be HD Webcast ready?  As we set out to answer this, we had to nail this down.  Here is how we define HD readiness:

  1. An internet connection with sufficient bandwidth to stream full resolution (720 x 1280) HD video.
  2. A computer screen with enough resolution to display the full image and not scale it down.

Without either one of these, the event and viewer would be better off with a lower resolution image.  In the first case, buffering will make it impossible for the viewer to watch the HD video. In the second case, there wouldn't be any noticeable difference between an HD video and one with lower resolution.  Thus, it's just a waste of streaming bandwidth.

To determining how many viewers are HD ready, we looked at our analytics reports from 90,000 users in the months of July and August, 2010.  Our hope was to find a sweet spot, a resolution that accommodates the real world monitor resolution and bandwidth of your event's viewers.  Here's what we've found:

Screen shot 2010 09 17 at 11.49.20 PM
  • About 50% of US connections are capable of handling a 720p stream.
  • 25-35% of connections outside the US are 720p ready.
  • 73% of monitors are 720p capable
  • Only 8% of monitors are 1080p capable
  • 40% of US viewers were fully 720p HD webcast ready, meaning they had sufficient connection speed and were watching on a monitor able to take advantage of HD resolution. 
  • Internationally, less than 20% of viewers are fully HD webcast ready.

Deciding on a resolution

Looking at the data, if you only have one stream available, HD is not a good option.  However, since user bandwidth is the major limiting factor, using adaptive bit rate streaming creates a number of possibilities.

Adaptive Streaming works by "detecting a user's bandwidth and CPU capacity in real time and adjusting the quality of a video stream accordingly. It requires the use of an encoder which can encode a single source video at multiple bit rates. The player client switches between streaming the different encodings depending on available resources. The result: very little buffering, fast start time and a good experience for both high-end and low-end connections."[1]

The main advantage here is that you don't have to completely compromise quality for compatibility.  Adaptive bit rate streaming allows you to encode HD streams for high end connections and other streams for connections with less capacity. 

Ideally, more streams of varying bit rates would be better.  However, the number of streams is limited by the capacity of your encoder and the upload bandwidth available.  Not having one or both means poor stream quality for your viewers.  You'll want to select resolutions that provide the best user experience for the largest number of viewers within the resources you have available.

Conclusion

1080p encoding is definitely not worth it.  The number of people who have 1080 ready monitors and connections is too small to justify the expense.

720p might be worth it.  To sufficiently accommodate users, you'll need either a very powerful encoder or multiple encoders as well a sufficient upload bandwidth.  In this case we would suggest encoding two HD streams and several sub-SD streams.

For events without those assets, based on the real world capabilities of viewers, sub-true HD is a very good middle ground that ensures most people will be able to take advantage of a high quality webcast.

What other considerations in webcast production would you like to know about?

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_bit_rate

Topics: HD Webcast Production

What Sponsors Want (from a Live Webcast)

Posted by Jeff Harper on Wed, Sep 29, 2010 @ 17:09 PM

I recently read an interesting post on Chris Brogan's blog entitled What Sponsors Want.  The post was pretty relevant, even if it was not all that specific, to live events and webcast productions.  The three main points are:

  1. Sponsors want your audience.
  2. Your audience wants good content.
  3. You have to make good on both.

Since his post was short on the specifics, I thought we would expand on how it's possible to incorporate these ideas into your next live event and increase your event's value for your audience and sponsors.

Live events shape the sport

Sponsors Want Your Audience

Live events shape the sport.  Nowhere else in sport does so much happen in such a short time, so conveniently, live, in front of so many people.  From elevating unknown athletes from the depths of obscurity to the pinnacle of fame or watching a veteran redeem themselves from an injury, illness or disappointing past, live events are where it happens.  A live broadcast enables your audience, your sponsors' customers, for whom these stories have the most meaning, to be a part of it, as it happens, irrespective of their location.

For advertisers wanting to reach that audience, live events are understandably irresistible.  Who wouldn't want to capitalize on their product being integral to the story?

While you don't have control over what the story will be, you do have control over how many people will see it.  Promoting your live broadcast is certainly one required element.  In webcasting, however, nothing seems to work better than an agnostic approach to webcast distribution.  Agnostic webcast distribution means not selling the exclusive distribution rights to one outlet, rather providing your content to as many relevant community websites as possible.  We've been able to increase audiences as much as 3000% using this approach. 

Although it is tempting to take up front money for exclusive distribution, we think providing greater value for all your sponsors through the largest possible audience is more rewarding in the end.  Hey, even Red Bull is doing it.

Your Audience Wants Good Content

"Content is King" and I refuse to believe anything else.  The problem with that statement is that creating good content is really really hard work.  The fact that the outcome of a live event is impossible to predict makes it that much more difficult.

How do you quantify good content?  That's a difficult, but important question.  After all, how can you determine value if you can't measure it?  In a marketplace with so many content options, we think one metric stands above all others, the length of time the event was watched.  Time is the valuable commodity your audience exchanges for your content.  The more time your viewers give, the more valuable your content.

While you can't control the outcome of your event, there are a number of things you do have control over to make your content more valuable.  In our experience, live chat, amazing visuals, insightful announcers, good storytelling, interaction between your viewers and the event and a number of other elements, all increase the time your viewers watch.  The key is making your audience so engaged, they'll watch all the way to the end.

However, in webcasting, nothing ruins the value of your content faster than buffering, stuttering and craptactular streaming.  No matter how awesome the riding, how incredible your camera work, how mind blowing your graphics, how insightful your commentary, it doesn't matter if no one can see it.

You have to make good on both

You need to give your sponsors access, but you need protect your audience from your sponsor's access ruining the quality of your content.

However we don't believe that advertising and content quality is necessarily mutually exclusive.  Our opinion is that the best way to serve both masters is by making your sponsors and audience engagement relevant.  Any ad campaign in which viewers have sought out advertising has been successful at this.

While this is certainly challenging, it is possible to enhance the experience for your audience while providing access.  The result is that you create a powerful connection between your viewers and your sponsors while enhancing the value of your content.

That sounds like a sponsor's dream to me.

What ways can you incorporate your sponsors so that they enhance the experience for your audience? 

Topics: Webcast Tips, Webcast Sponsorship

Firsthand Tom Wallisch now available here

Posted by Jeff Harper on Sat, Sep 25, 2010 @ 16:09 PM

As many of you know, we produced a Firsthand featuring professional skier Tom Wallisch last winter. Recently, it released on Fuel TV.  For those of you who don't have the channel as part of your cable package or are too cheap to buy it on iTunes, we've posted it here.

Enjoy!

Topics: TV Production, Firsthand

What you need to know about HD webcast production

Posted by Jeff Harper on Wed, Sep 22, 2010 @ 01:09 AM

What does HD webcast mean?Sometimes it seems like electronics manufacturers want us to be confused. Buying a TV, or choosing a video production system for a webcast for that matter, means deth a relentless onslaught of bizarre technical terms and numbers, all of which you'd never need to know in every day life and will never think about again.  I think the worst part, however, starts just after you begin to understand what it all means.  Suddenly, you become part of a debate over what's better, which one is "True" and who's just out to get your cash.

It's enough to wish for the days of radio.  Oh wait, there was that whole AM/FM thing. 

Here's the bad news.  Webcasting is no different and HD webcasts are especially confusing.  We think it's time to define the HD webcast.  Rather than enter the debate about what is a "True HD Webcast," which is a stupid esoteric argument that doesn't do anything to help you, we're going explain some different options and the trade-offs associated with each.

What makes HD different is resolution. 

TV formats are defined by vertical resolution.  Vertical resolution is the number of pixels along the vertical axis of a video image.  The standard vertical resolutions for TV broadcast are 480, 720 and 1080, with the latter two considered HD. 

In online media, there is no standard frame size.  It can be anything and is not even constrained to 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio.  If you wanted to stream your event as a square or vertical video, super small or thousands of vertical lines, it's possible, it's just not recommended.

Because webcasters don't have to deal with the same standards as TV productions, a number of (confusing) options have been created.  Decreasing resolution is an easy way to lower a streaming video's bit rate.  Thus, webcasts have historically been encoded in sub-SD resolutions (180, 240 or 360 vertical lines have been common).

Now that HD webcasts are possible, it has only become more confusing.  Some people will say that HD webcasts must have the same resolution as HDTV.  Others say that it's any webcast over 480 lines (the vertical resolution of SD video).  With so many different options, here is our definition of HD Webcast:

An HD webcast is any webcast whose final resolution requires HD equipment to produce without having to resort to up-ressing.

Common HD encoding resolutions include 720x1280, 540x960 and 480x848. All of these formats are greater than SD resolution (480x640), thus to produce them without having to "create" pixels requires HD equipment.

Common SD and HD Webcast Resolutions

[Click here to see the actual size comparison]

If you have the capability, why not just produce "True" HD?

In our experience, the better the user experience, the more time your viewers watch.  The longer your viewers watch, the more value your webcast has to your sponsors.  In our mind, that's the main reason for producing an HD webcast, even though there are certainly many others.

However, as you increase the resolution, and therefore bit rate, fewer viewers will be able to see your webcast.  If you encode a stream with too much resolution, you could just be paying significantly more for a worse user experience for the majority of your audience.  Simply put, worse user experience = less value.

Your HD strategy directly affects the value of your webcast.

The solution is to use adaptive bit rate streaming.  Adaptive bit rate streaming detects "a user's bandwidth and CPU capacity in real time and adjusting the quality of a video stream accordingly. It requires the use of an encoder which can encode a single source video at multiple bit rates. The player client switches between streaming the different encodings depending on available resources. The result: very little buffering, fast start time and a good experience for both high-end and low-end connections."

You're ability to use adaptive bit rate encoding will be dictated by:

  • The number of streams you can encode.  Ideally, to offer the best possible experience to the largest segment of your audience, you would encode enough streams so that every viewer could connect to the best possible stream at all times.  In a full res HD situation, we suggest encoding at least 4 streams: an HD stream, a "super SD" and/or SD stream, a good traditional webcast stream and a low res mobile device appropriate stream.
  • The power of your encoder.  Only the best dedicated encoders are powerful enough to encode full resolution HD video, let alone a number of streams.
  • Your upload capacity.  In addition to the additional bandwidth consumed by the HD video, the additional streams will also take up more bandwidth.
  • Your streaming budget.  The bit rate of HD video is more almost three times traditional webcasts.  Increasing the bit rate means increasing your bandwidth expenses by the same factor.

While full resolution HD may not be right for you, thankfully, unlike broadcast TV, there are a number of options.  Based on what assets you have at hand, you can select an option that optimizes the experience and offer a stream that's better than what's possible on standard definition TV.

Summary

Whatever your situation, we believe, as an HD webcast provider, that you should choose resolutions not because of an esoteric argument about what is "True HD", but what maximizes the user experience for the largest segment of your audience.  The added benefit is that you won't waste money on excessive bandwidth and you'll get the most value from your webcast.

Topics: HD Webcast Production

How to avoid disaster during a live webcast

Posted by Jeff Harper on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 @ 18:09 PM

This article is the fifth part of our series, 5 Things you need for a Stutter Free Webcast.

Have a backup plan

No matter what you do, occaisionally, all hell breaks loose during a live webcast.  It's just a fact of live productions.  It happens, even for the largest, most elaborate, best planned, most experienced event producers.

We believe that the right strategy is not to pretend that it won't, but assume that it will.  The ultimate goal is to walk away from an event where no one even suspected anything happened.  Failing that, just making sure people get to see the event, even at less than 100%, is far better than viewers not able to see anything at all or having the webcast be unwatchable.

Here are some of the strategies we've developed to make our webcasts as seamless as possible, even when the unexpected happens.

Have seamless backups for critical systems

In webcasting, there are two things you can't live without, power and the internet.  If your primary source for either fails, make sure you have a secondary source.  Ideally, you should be able to switch to your back up source seamlessly or nearly seamlessly with minimal interruption to the event.

In our case, we've developed players that can automatically switch to a back up stream should we lose the internet connection for the primary stream.

Don't forget about the tape delay relay

the tape delay relay is a good backup option for live webcast productionAt a major ski competition a few years ago, the snow was so heavy it knocked out the wireless internet connection.  The webcast provider (not us) skied tapes of the event down to the bottom of the mountain and streamed the competition from a hard wire connection.

In spite of the time it took to relay the tapes to the bottom (15 minutes or so), the audience barely noticed.  Even after viewers on the chat reported the winners, most of the viewers kept watching.  That's the benefit of taking the time to create a quality, compelling show. Without that suspense keeping their attention, the viewers were still so engaged, they wanted to see the content.  While a 15 minute delay is less than ideal, it's far better than nothing at all.

What ideas do you have to deal with the unexpected?

Topics: Webcast Tips

Adaptive Streaming: An essential you never knew you needed.

Posted by Jeff Harper on Fri, Sep 10, 2010 @ 18:09 PM

This article is the fourth part of our series, 5 Things you need for a Stutter Free Webcast.

Accept that many of your users don't actually have high speed connections.

So you have a blazing fast connection, a dedicated encoder and a top-of-the-line CDN.  Now you're ready to push full res HD to your viewers, right?

Accept that your webcast viewers don't have high speed internet.Actually, your viewers tend to be the weakest link in the live webcast production chain.  While a lot of internet service providers throw around the phrase "High Speed Internet", the truth is their customers are rarely getting the advertised speeds.  In fact, a recent study by the FCC found that on average consumers got about half the bandwidth they were promised.

Still the report says the average US consumer's connection speed is 3Mbps, which would be enough to stream a pretty good HD webcast. 

There are two problems.  First, while our own numbers back that up in the US, our numbers show us that only 25-35% of viewers outside the US are capable of receiving an HD stream.  Second, if you want to maximize your audience, you can't plan for the average consumer.  That would eliminate about 50% of your audience.  To have 90-95% of people who want to watch your webcast actually see it, you need a plan to accomodate viewers with connections in the 5th-10th percentile--some pretty miserable connections.

Anecdotally, during events we've contacted viewers experiencing problems to troubleshoot and improve our system.  Poor connection speed, even on supposedly high speed DSL connections, is the number one cause of why viewers report a poor viewing experience.

Strategies

There are three strategies to accommodate the largest possible audience.  Of course, each has their trade-offs.

  1. Adaptive Bit Rate Streaming.  We consider this the best method for our clients.  Using this strategy, the encoder would push several streams of different bit rates to the server.  The user's player polls their connection speed and selects the right stream for the user's connection and processor speed.  If anything changes, either improves or deteriorates, the player seamlessly switches to a more appropriate stream.
    • Pros:  This allows viewers to see the best possible stream, regardless of whether have a high-end or low-end connection.  If the connection speed changes, the player switches seamlessly between streams with no interruption to the program.  The viewer doesn't have to know anything about their connection or do anything on their own.
    • Cons:  You'll need a faster connection at your encoder because you'll be pushing multiple streams.  This method is the most expensive because it requires a custom player that is capable of doing the switching.  It's a rather new technology and while we've developed our own, we don't know of any off-the-shelf live adaptive bit rate players available that are viewable across a large array of browsers and operating systems.  (Apple has developed one compatible only with Mac devices using the latest Safari browser).
  2. Manual Stream Selection.  Using this strategy, a user or player selects the stream (usually called "High" and "Low") at the time they connect to the server.  If the connection speed changes, the user must stop that stream and start the other stream.
    • Pros This method does allow you to have a high resolution stream for better connections and a low resolution stream for poor connections.  This too may require a custom player, but is a much older method and more are available.
    • Cons If the connection speed changes, either improves or deteriorates, there is no way to detect it.  If it improves, the viewer will not know they could be watching a higher resolution stream.  If it deteriorates, the viewer will know when the stream starts to stutter and buffer.  Changing streams is not seamless and will cause the viewer to miss some of the program.
  3. Streaming for the Lowest Common Denominator.  If you must use an off-the-shelf player or are limited to only one stream, then this is the last option.  In this scenario, you produce one stream at a very low bitrate.  While it won't look great, at least everyone will be able to see it.
    • Pros It's the least expensive option as there are a number of free off-the-shelf players available.  It requires the least bandwidth for the encoder.
    • Cons The quality of your stream will be reduced to what's acceptable for the lowest common denominator.  In our experience, this much compression typically involves heavy blockiness and muddiness when streaming an action sports event.  The other option is to eliminate a sizable chunk of your audience's ability to see the stream.
Next up, how to deal with the unexpected.

Topics: Webcast Tips

Can your internet connection handle your live stream? Are you sure?

Posted by Jeff Harper on Wed, Sep 8, 2010 @ 19:09 PM

This article is the third part of our series, 5 Things you need for a Stutter Free Webcast.

Get a quality internet connection at your event site

Even if you can view high resolution videos using your internet connection, that may not mean that your connection is sufficient for streaming a live webcast.  Here is our process to determine if a connections is "live stream ready" and if not, what alternatives exist for you to consider.

Understanding how a live webcast uses an internet connection.

When you measure connection speed, there are two speeds that you need to keep in mind, download speed and upload speed.  While it might seem logical that both would be the same at any given location, that is rarely the case.  Most often, internet service providers will provide more bandwidth for downloading than uploading simply because that is what most people do most often.

Unfortuatnely, for a live webcast, upload speed is absolutely Speed matters for webcastscritical.  It is what determines the bitrate you can push to your streaming server.  Bandwidth is like a pipe.  As long as you aren't cramming more stuff in the pipe than it's capacity, there's not a problem.  As soon as you do, not all the information can get through.  The result in your webcast is stuttering, dropped frames and all sorts of nastiness that you want to avoid.

Measuring your upload speed

The easiest way to measure your upload speed is by conducting a free speed test.  Select a location nearest to where your origin server exists.  Some CDNs provide multiple origin servers at various locations around the world.  By testing the speed to several locations, you can identify the server that is most likely to perform the best.

It's important to test your connection speed multiple times in conditions similar to the ones you'll be operating under.  Additional users sharing your connection will affect your connection speed.  For example, many ski resorts' POS system use the internet.  During very heavy sales, their system may cause a reduction in the available bandwidth.

Why you need to consider overhead

Even if your results are pretty good, there are number of things that can happen during your webcast that you need to take into account. 

  • All encoders stream's bitrate will spike when there is a lot of action on screen.  Unfortunately, when there is a lot of action is on screen tends to be the most critical point of an action sports event.  This is one of the reasons we suggest a getting a dedicated encoder for your webcast, as they tend to have much smaller spikes.
  • Increased internet traffic at any point along your route can cause a decrease in your connection speed.  Realistically, during events, there is always more demand for internet connections than you've anticipated.
  • Just the way that streaming technology works means that your stream actually will have less effective bandwidth than what you've measured.

To calculate your maximum bitrate, take the worst result from your speed test and divide it by 2.  For example, if you measured your upload speed at 3.2Mbps, that means that 1.6Mbps is the maximum recommended bitrate of your stream.

Alternatives

If you discover that you don't have a sufficient connection for your desired bitrate, there are a couple options available.

  1. Lower the bandwidth of your streams.  While this will cause more compression and therefore a degredation of the quality in your video stream, we consider this far better than stuttering.
  2. Eliminate adaptive streaming.  Each stream takes up bandwidth in your connection.  Eliminating a stream may allow you to have enough bandwidth for the others.
  3. Get a temporary high speed connection.  Some internet service providers are happy to set up a temporary connection.  If that doesn't work, portable satellite uplinks are available for rent, but tend to be very expensive.

Are you looking for other ways to improve your live webcast?  Don't want to miss out on more tips and tricks for producing better, more engaging, higher quality livestreams?  Subscribe to Adrenaline Garage's quarterly report via email today.

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    Topics: Webcast Tips