What Is Multistreaming & When to Use It
You want to livestream to all your fans or customers, wherever they are. Multistreaming is the answer. What exactly is it and how does it work? You’re about to find out.
What is Multistreaming?
Multistreaming is one of those technical terms that actually means what it says. It is the process of live streaming to multiple platforms or destinations. This means you can set up one livestream and reach viewers on your website, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other social networks.
Even though the term is straightforward, it can be confused with some existing terms. Two of those are “multicast” and “live multicasting”, which in some places are used interchangeably with multistreaming. Here’s the truth. They are similar.
Multicast is a method of routing data from one computer to multiple computers, called recipients, across a network. It happens at the network level, so unless you’re a network administrator you’ll never even know it’s there. But it’s the same basic concept behind multistreaming, which is why the terms are often confused.
Live multicasting is a term that specifically refers to sending live video to multiple platforms (Zidivo,Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.). Multistreaming is the same thing. As things often go with language, the two terms are merging into a preferred usage, which is multistreaming.
How It Works
There are two ways you can set up a multistream. One is sending the multiple streams from your encoder, the other is using a cloud-based service to send the streams for you (also known as restreaming).
Using your encoder can be difficult or easy, depending on what you're using. Hardware encoders are considered more reliable than software encoders. But the tradeoff is cost and complexity. Multistreaming hardware encoders range from several hundred pounds to many thousands. Software encoders like OBS, Wirecast, or vMix, often support multistreaming but might require add-ins or a complicated configuration.
Chances are, if you’re looking to multistream, you already have an encoder you use for your single channel livestreaming. Even if you’re able to configure it for multistreaming, you need to be aware of the issues you’ll run into. One is that you’ll need to ensure you have enough bandwidth at your location to send multiple streams. If you don’t, the video your viewers see may be poor quality, or the stream may cut out. If you’re using a software encoder, you also need to test your computer to see if it is able to handle encoding the different streams without affecting performance.
Cloud-based Multistreaming Services
If you’re concerned about configuring equipment, having enough bandwidth or a powerful enough computer, you’ll want to consider using a service to multistream. Companies like restream.io or streamyard.com make things super easy. When you use a service, you livestream just like you always do. The only difference is that instead of sending to your preferred platform, you send it to them. They handle all the work of multiplying the stream and configuring it for each of the platforms before sending it on.
The downside is that they add additional cost. The two services mentioned above offer free plans, but most serious streamers will want the features only available in one of the paid tiers. But for the fee you get a much easier setup, and often tools that allow you to interact with your audience no matter what platform they watch on.
Why Use It
Livestreaming grew by twelve percent from 2018 to 2019 (across all platforms). That’s an impressive number, but it is dwarfed by the increase seen this year. From March to April, it increased by forty-five percent, and an incredible ninety-nine percent year over year. That jump is because of the pandemic and lockdowns, but there’s little doubt that live streaming would have continued to grow even without the help of idle people sitting on sofas with nothing to do.
There wasn’t one platform that didn’t see the boon. This can be interpreted many ways, but one is that people aren’t tied to one platform. Audiences move between Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, websites and other platforms. This poses a problem if you livestream to only one. You don’t know how much of your audience is there or if they are there. The answer is to meet them where they are, which could be anywhere. Well, probably not anywhere. A livestream about a business opportunity streaming on LinkedIn isn’t a good fit for Twitch, but might be for YouTube, and certainly your website. That’s the beauty of multistreaming. You get to pick where your video goes without the worry that your audience isn’t there or might miss it because they’ve switched to another platform (even temporarily).
Another reason you’ll want to multistream is redundancy. If one platform has issues, it doesn’t mean the end of your livestream. It just means you’ll have to push the word out over social media or email that the stream is live on another platform. Viewers can switch over, and what could have been a disaster transforms into positive proof of your resilience and flexibility.
A benefit that you might not consider is that multiple streams make you censor-proof. Even if your content isn’t controversial at all, you can still be shut down without notice. This happens all too frequently on the larger platforms who use automated algorithms. You can inquire and appeal, but by then your event is over.
This is one reason you’ll always want to include your livestream on your website, too. Anyone can visit your website and watch, regardless of what social or content networks they belong to. When you provide your website as the premiere place to see your stream you’ll also get other benefits. Your visitors are right there, seeing you and what you have to offer without distractions present on other platforms. Once they are there, you can give them the best viewing experience and entice them to visit the rest of your website when the event is over.
Multistreaming is here to stay, and probably will grow in popularity as more become aware of the benefits.