Lessons from Streaming Media West
Every year Streaming Media holds conferences sharing the state of the industry, forecasts, and in-depth training. In Autumn, they usually meet in California so they can soak up some sun while mingling with other people in the industry. This year is not like others though, and like everyone else, they needed to make other plans.
Instead of beach basking, they live-streamed, which only seems appropriate given who they are. For four days they connected with their audience on Zoom, providing presentations, discussion panels, and how-tos. I sat in on a few sessions and came away with some interesting lessons, tidbits and facts anyone who live streams would want to know – especially professionals or businesses trying to leverage streaming to stay open.
You’ll notice some common themes in all the sessions. The main one is how much Covid, and the response to it, affected all aspects of the industry.
The Keynote: The State of the Streaming Market
The kickoff session had a three-person panel discussing the preliminary results of the “Autumn 2020 State of the Streaming Market survey”. Earlier in the year, they released a version of the study done before Covid. This Autumn version of the report, with data collected six months or so after most countries went into lockdown, provides a measure of how events pushed streaming further into the mainstream.
Most of the respondents are from the United States, but about 20% are from Europe and other areas. Also, only companies that created or distributed media, or both, are included in the data. With those disclaimers, here are the major takeaways:
- Live streaming overtook on-demand by a slim margin. Live has been slowly growing over the past few years, but since the pandemic, it jumped.
- Live-linear streaming saw the most growth. This is streaming that resembles a traditional programmatic experience in that the viewer has no control over the content–except to change the channel.
- 65% of companies use a software-defined infrastructure, allowing them to manage shifting needs for different broadcasts. Because of this, many companies fared well when the shift to remote working happened.
- Most companies support multiple protocols to reduce latency. They found this a more effective approach than having to introduce conversions later in the workflow, which would add latency.
- Covid affected the way companies saw using the cloud, as they now view it as important in providing remote streaming capabilities for their workforce. Previously, remote working never entered the top five or ten perceived benefits of using the cloud.
It appears Covid caused a “break the glass moment” according to panellist Gordon Brooks. Companies had slowly been working towards adding more streaming and remote options for their workforce and infrastructure, but Covid sped up those plans.
Panel: Streaming in the New Normal
A five-person panel of video production professionals shared their experience of, and advice for, changes in streaming under current circumstances. The discussion started with some facts about how healthy the industry is. By 2024, revenue is expected to top $80 billion (£62 B) including ads and subscriptions.
The rest of the discussion revolved around some key issues, one of which is digital rights management (DRM) for live streaming. It appears pirates steal live stream content as soon as it begins. The discussion wasn’t too technical in how to mitigate it but mentioned that it is a big issue for larger, high-value productions or events (e.g. sporting and music). Fortunately, if this is an issue for you or your business, there are companies that specialize in providing DRM for live streams.
This panel agreed with the conclusion from the keynote session. Covid accelerated the adoption of live streaming, and in particular remote live streaming. Rather than sending full teams out to set up professional production equipment, remote live streaming often uses consumer grade equipment—mobile phones or webcams—as capture devices and the production takes place somewhere else. Some examples would be music artists who perform “together” but each alone in their homes in front of their mobile devices. All the signals get sent to a person, or team, each working in their own space who then use their equipment and software to create the production that streams live over the internet to the audience. A couple of panellists said they had been moving in this direction anyway to reduce cost and provide better quality of life for their employees (less travel needed). Once Covid happened, they were prepared to go entirely remote.
This remote approach is being done to bring the audience back to the performers too. Musicians playing to an empty theatre or sports teams with empty arenas just aren’t the same as having a live audience. To make it more interactive while still staying remote and safe, the audience is included by turning the cameras back on them. The effect is much like what Britain’s Got Talent did for the finals, where selected audience members appeared on screens opposite the performer.
How-to: Become a Remote Production Ninja
Anthony Burokas, founder of IEBA Communications and a production veteran, covered some remote production principles using his setup as an example.
He had multiple devices including a laptop running vMix, Zoom on a second device, a third with prepared content, plus a remote input (mobile phone). He stressed that his specific devices or software aren’t important, and you can use OBS or Wirecast, a desktop or a laptop, and other devices. What you use depends on what you already have, what your needs and budget are, and what sort of production you are doing.
The main takeaways are:
- Make your guests (whoever is appearing in the production) feel good about what they are doing. He sends a checklist ahead of time to help them get the best setup in their location (lighting and camera angles) and then walks them through how things will work. Now more than ever, people who may not have any production experience need to prepare their own setup and helping them through that makes for a better final production because they’ll feel more comfortable.
- Pay attention to sound so that everyone speaking is clear. Using production tools, you can equalise voices and make them more pleasant for viewers.
- If a guest is presenting slides and the setup includes using a platform like Zoom, be careful. Zoom, and other live meeting services, optimize camera input as video which results in blurred slides, especially if they are text-heavy (this doesn’t apply to screen sharing natively within those apps). There are a couple of solutions. One is to give the slides to the person doing the production and let them integrate them as another input into the stream. Then the producer can advance the slides when the presenter asks them to. In situations when the presenter wants to have control over the slides, there are apps that provide remote clicking. He says they are easy to configure and worth it to make the presenter comfortable. The other solution is to just avoid slides heavy in text.
- Monitor the resources your computer is using. If the load is too heavy, the stream will look bad or stop. There are options for doing all the production in the cloud so you can control it but have the processing take place somewhere else.
The overall takeaway is that it's possible to produce live streams with multiple inputs that look great from a remote location and this is something that Zidivo can do for you.
Covid gave live streaming a boot up the backside. The pandemic forced people to use it and companies are innovating how to make it simpler and even reach professional quality production levels remotely. There is no one size fits all solution or configuration. While Zoom, Teams and Meet are popular for remote workers, not all use them. And sometimes those are used in combination with other options, such as an online video platform like Zidivo, to create a live streaming experience and not just a meeting.