Streaming Church to Facebook Live

Note: Somehow this got stuck in the publishing queue and never got the green light… So here it is, a few months after writing, but still relevant…

This past weekend saw much of the upper midwest plunged into an arctic deep freeze, leading many churches in the region to cancel services (we woke up Sunday morning to temperatures near -10°F and a stiff wind). I saw many pastors on my Facebook feed wondering if there was a way they could do church using Facebook’s relatively new live video feature.

Short answer: Absolutely.

But there are a few caveats in order to make it a good experience. With a little bit of advance planning, you can be prepared at very little cost. I’ll go over a few of the ways you can do the Facebook Live “thing” in increasing order of complexity.

Getting the video signal to Facebook

Using your smartphone and its onboard camera

This is the basic method that Facebook has in mind for its streaming service – people sharing live video on the fly. Whether you use an Android phone or an iPhone, these apply (mostly) equally.

  • Remember that your phone’s camera has a wide-angle lens. These are designed for those great landscape and sunset shots. All fine and good, but if you’re going for a tight shot, you have to get REALLY close. (The iPhone 7 Plus also has a 2X camera that works very well at longer distances)
  • Keep the phone steady. Ideally, some sort of tripod mount. These can be had on Amazon for under 10 bucks. My personal favourite is the Ztylus Z-Grip (Amazon, $10) which has a cold-shoe adapter (more on that in a bit). I also really like the Reticam Smartphone Tripod Mount (Amazon, $25) as it is an all-metal mount and is very durable. These will support a phone on even one of those little tabletop tripods.
  • Audio. Let’s face it, the onboard microphones on smartphones are terrible. They’re designed to capture sound close up.
    • If you’re doing a tight shot while preaching from home in your pajamas (I won’t tell!), a simple lapel mic such as the Audio-Technica ATR3350 (Amazon, $30) will do wonders for your sound quality (They also offer a “Smartphone” version of the ATR3350 that comes bundled with a mic/headphone splitter).
    • If you want to use an existing microphone, you’ll need to get a splitter for your headphone jack that breaks it out to separate headphone and mic jacks (Amazon, $7) and use a 1/8″ to XLR cable (available just about anywhere).
    • You can also use a shotgun microphone designed for a DSLR that has a 1/8″ jack on it. I like Røde mics for this (and these mount to the cold shoe on the Ztylus grip) such as the Røde Video Mic Go (Amazon, $100) or any other shotgun. If you have an iPhone 7, there are a few out there with a direct lightning interface.
    • If you wish to interface your phone to your church’s existing sound board, you have a few options. If your board offers a mic-level output, you can bring it straight in. If it offers line-level output (like most), you can use a DI box to convert it to line level or use a device like the BeachTek DXA-SLR-ULTRA (Amazon, $300) I also have a used one of these for sale. Contact me if you’re interested. If you’re coming off your sound board, it’s good to have a separate mix that gives online viewers a better audible context of the room. This is especially important if you’re using acoustic instruments that don’t necessarily need to be amplified.
    • Lastly, if you’re preaching from home, try to minimize external noise.
  • Lighting. Most camera phones have very small apertures, which means they don’t collect as much light as a bigger camera, so you need to have your subject well-lit for good video. This is a good time to familiarize yourself with the basics of three-point lighting.
  • Power. Make sure your phone is plugged into power before you do this. Video and live encoding is murder on a battery.
  • Bandwidth. Unless you really love sending your cell carrier lots of money or have an unlimited plan with really good LTE coverage, do this over wifi. Make sure your outbound bandwidth is sufficient (Facebook app typically streams at 2Mbps).

Using a tablet

Much of the smartphone discussion applies here as well, but consider that most tablet cameras simply aren’t as good as their smartphone brethren. Naturally, you’ll need a bigger tripod mount (and a tabletop tripod likely won’t cut it anymore).

Using an iPad opens up an additional production option with Teradek’s Live:Air application which allows you to add titles and such to your stream, as well as bring in additional camera shots from other devices including other iPhones. The Live:Air Solo app for iPhones does not allow streaming to Facebook because of an obscure clause in the Facebook Terms Of Service that prohibits streaming to FBL via third-party phone apps (but not tablet apps).

Using a DSLR or other video camera

If you already have a “good” camera such as a DSLR or a Semi-pro/Pro grade video camera, you can take the SDI or HDMI output from the camera into an encoding appliance such as the Teradek VidiU Pro (Amazon, $999), which will support streaming to Facebook directly without the need for a smartphone or a laptop (although you will need one to set it up).

If you prefer to use a computer with a capture card (Mac: BlackMagic Design Ultrastudio Mini Recorder, $140, Windows: BlackMagic Design Intensity Shuttle for USB 3.0, $190). You can then use Wirecast software to publish to Facebook. You can also do this with a USB webcam, but the results won’t be great.

Using your existing video system

If your church is a little more sophisticated and already has a video switching system, it’s relatively easy to use an encoding appliance or software as previously mentioned.

But I’m already streaming!

Great! you’ve mastered most of the technical stuff already, you just want to add Facebook as an additional outlet. This can be accomplished in Wirecast simply by adding another publishing destination. If your encoding software doesn’t let you do that (or you’re using an appliance with a single destination), you can use Wowza Streaming Engine or Wowza Streaming Cloud as an initial publish point and then use it to send your stream to multiple destinations. That’s a little beyond this blog post, but it’s not especially complex.

 

OK, that’s the easy technical part. Now comes the fun stuff:

Legal Considerations

If all you’re doing is preaching over Facebook, you’re in the clear. Unless you’re showing pre-recorded video illustrations that you didn’t create. If you’re performing music in church, you’ll need a streaming license. If you’re using pre-recorded music, that music needs to be licensed with a “sync license”. The good news is that the sync license is the responsibility of the site where the stream is published, so in the case of Facebook or YouTube Live, Facebook and Youtube need to get those licenses (and they have them, since they’re the ones monetizing your content)

If all you have is the standard CCLI license, this does NOT cover streaming. This is only a “mechanical license” that allows you to reproduce the song lyrics, whether in the bulletin or on your screen. CCLI and CCS both offer blanket streaming licenses that cover you.

Also bear in mind that if you are using a smartphone camera, Facebook’s TOS do not allow live streaming from any applications other than Facebook’s own app. Tablets and computers are another matter entirely. Check into Teradek’s Live::Air suite of applications (think Wirecast, for your iPad, using iPhones as remote cameras)

Analytics

One of the great benefits to video streaming on Facebook is the analytics you get from it. For more details, check out this page from Facebook about live video analytics.

 

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