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Live-Streaming 101: It’s All About Your Bandwidth

Live streaming video is nothing new, but I find myself watching more and more of them as more and more news organizations utilize them to cover events from all over the globe. I was caught between two thoughts. The first being that the more mobile our news gets, the more important live-streams become as we cover breaking news. The second was that some of the live-streams I was watching were sort of boring and ‘buggy.’

I’m sort of allergic to anything involving more than one wire so I contacted Steve Durham, who’s worked with video and streaming for as long as it’s been possible to hook up a camera to the internet. He shared some crucial insights to remember if you want to start streaming the news, whether it’s a coup from across the globe or your town’s Labor Day parade. 

1) Moderation is Key

As for my complaint that some of the live-streams I perused were boring, Durham notes that it’s sort of the nature of the beast. The stream will only ever “be as interesting as the events themselves” he notes. A lot of the streams I was watching, like Vice’s coverage of protests in NYC after the Zimmerman verdict had live comment feeds next to the video, and they were full of spammers. Isn’t there a way to stop that? Not really, according to Durham: “someone should have been moderating those,” he says. It’s really as simple as that. If you’re streaming an event with comments running on your site, someone needs to be a dedicated moderator for the event. You either invest in that manpower, or don’t. 

2) It’s Actually Pretty Simple

The “real advantage,” according to Durham, is that for a small amount of money — and sometimes for free — you can broadcast from anywhere in the world. But it’s sort of all or nothing: “As long as you have a stable internet connection, it’s easy. And if you don’t, it’s impossible.” You can even livestream from your 4g cell phone if you’re on the go as a reporter. The “major consideration is bandwidth,” he notes.

There are lots of free streaming solutions and some paid ones that your publication, or even a a freelancer, can use like ustream.tv or livestream.com. Most services also offer live-blogging or commenting services, too. Free is always good, but Durham notes that the gap in quality of video streams is “huge” when you jump from gratis into the paid world.

And live-streaming can get even easier. Durham is developing a deep-tagging system to save editors hours of work. You know how sometimes you livestream an event that ends up starting a half an hour late? Using tags, Durham is able to create an artificial start time for livestreams so it starts when it should to keep users on your site — and save hours of re-rendering and re-uploading.

3) Cover Your Bases

I asked Durham what his main concern would be if he was in charge of running the stream from say, Tahir Square, earlier this month. Surprisingly, it had little to do with technology. It was copyright concerns.

“You want to make sure there’s not a radio playing in the background somewhere, because you can be slapped with a lawsuit,” he said. Or, for example, in Germany it’s illegal to record a person unless you have their consent. So, if you are live-streaming a parade or a city council meeting, pay attention to the rules.

Are you already streaming events from your smartphone to your news site? Any tips, tricks, or resources to share with rookies?

 

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