How to Broadcast on the Internet (Part Two): What it Takes

In Part One we defined the typical broadcasting experience and what it entails.

In this part we’ll look at how to broadcast on the Internet, what it takes, what materials, hardware and softwares are required, and what outcomes you can expect. We’ll also look at some practical examples of those who run successful studios.

How to broadcast on the Internet with a smartphone

How much does it cost to construct and run a television station? Click here for a detailed breakdown of just the equipment. It runs in the millions, which shouldn’t be surprising.

On the other hand, all it really takes to stream on the Internet is this:

iphone

You point your smartphone at someone, use a streaming app to send it live over the Internet, and you’re done.

Is that all? What’s the catch? Only a few hundred thousand. Let’s deal with some of the big ones.

Streaming providers

Every website lies on computer somewhere, called the server. Its job is to serve files. The same thing happens to video – it needs to be hosted on a server connected to the Internet.

Your audience connects to this server, and requests to see your video. Your server must then stream your video (live or otherwise) to each authorized viewer. This server can be:

  • Your own server hosted by some company or yourself, or
  • Some other company’s server.

 
What’s the difference? In the second instance, the company ‘hides’ the server and all the technology, so you are completely free to produce and distribute content, and focus on your broadcasting business.

In the first instance, you have total control over the technology and the server. If your server is owned by a hosting company, they might take care of some technical issues (like keeping it safe and alive). This is how most websites are hosted. If you’re totally into doing it yourself, you can run your own server. Obviously, with great power comes great complexity.

Which is cheaper? Neither, really. The world doesn’t have enough live streaming experience to decide categorically either way. Each faction will sell you its own story, which is only half the picture at best. The vendors of the second option offer cheaper prices. They can do this because they can source bandwidth in large quantities and pass on the benefit to you. What they take away, though, is freedom and choices.

Companies that take care of everything are called Online Video Providers (OVPs). Two of the biggest names are:

 
There are many others, and they’re for you to find out – or them to find you.

I’m not going to tell you which one is better, because I don’t know. But I can tell you some things to look out for:

  • How much storage space are they providing? If your video can reside on the server you can have repeat broadcasts without having to upload it again and again. It’s also a backup.
  • How many ads do your viewers have to bear, and what kinds of ads?
  • What are the specifications for broadcast, and do they support adaptive streaming?
  • Do they have phone/email support? What happens if your stream fails well… mid-stream, and you can’t let that spoil your reputation?
  • How many social networks can they integrate? How does it work?
  • Do they offer additional features like chat, interactivity, polls, etc.?
  • Do they give customizable skin options (for the player)? Can you embed them anywhere? Are there any limitations?
  • Can they deliver the same experience to all your viewers, no matter where they might be? Or, do they have geographical or other limitations?
  • Can they help you monetize?
  • Can you brand exclusively, or do you have to share your brand with theirs or someone else’s?
  • If your relationship with them soured tomorrow, what is your exit strategy?
  • Look at their pricing – how much bandwidth can you actually consume? How many viewers can you have?
  • Do they offer monthly, quarterly or annual memberships? Can you cancel at any time?
  • Do they have a free plan so you can study their services for a few months (yes, months – a 30-day trial isn’t going to cut it in this space).
  • How’s their analytics data?
  • How convenient or inconvenient is the experience for your viewers?
  • Sooner or later, they are going to up-sell you on more expensive options or products. It is better to know this beforehand, than having to purchase or buy something just because you’re stuck with them. How good is their hardware and software?
  • Finally, how good is their stream quality? Are they making too many compromises to give you a good deal?

 
That should do for now.

Once you subscribe to a service, you’re good to go. If you have an iPhone, you can download an app from one of these OVPs, and stream live from it. You can start with a free plan, and move up the ladder as your viewership grows.

Now all you have to do is create earth-shattering content with your smartphone that will pay you back on your investment and make you a decent living.
Livestream HD500

How to broadcast on the Internet with one camera

In principle, it works similarly to a smartphone, except that it’s worse. Why so? Here are some reasons:

  • It has no computer in it, so you’ll need a computer connected to the Internet.
  • Camera recording specifications are far higher than Internet streaming specifications, so you’re faced with the prospect of transcoding your footage before you can upload.
  • Audio is recorded separately sometimes, and that needs to be synced with video, multiplexed and fed to the stream.

 
Therefore, you’ll need one additional device to pair with your camera. This can be a:

  • Computer, or a
  • Computer-like-thing-custommade-for-streaming.

 
In the former case you’ll need:

  • Software, to manage your camera, transcode and stream your video.
  • Software, to manage your streams, interactivity, etc. Sometimes, both these are the same software.
  • Hardware, to interface with your camera, especially if it has an HD-SDI or HDMI feed that needs to be monitored.
  • Connection to the Internet.
  • Reliable power source.

 
Two softwares that handle this for you are:

 
Live streaming demands that you have an I/O card like the ones made by Blackmagic Design, AJA, Matrox, etc. I’ve given some recommendations here. For the best camera for web videos, click here.

All this makes your setup work like a smartphone!

If you’re going for the second ‘device’ option, then you need to buy a ‘turnkey’ system made just for streaming. Two examples are:

 
Here’s the connection diagram of the Livestream Studio HD500:

 hd500 connection diagram

As you can see, it’s just a computer with the right hardware and software, and not that expensive considering how much it would cost you to build the same thing.

Instead of a camera, if you’re streaming recorded content, then you need to send data residing on your hard drives; everything else stays the same.

If you’re trying to host VOD content, then you really don’t need any streaming gear. Just upload your content to your hosting provider (Youtube, Amazon, Odemax and Vimeo being a few big names) and let them handle everything. Or, you could do it yourself.

How to broadcast on the Internet with multiple cameras

What if you have multiple sources of audio or video? Then, you’ll need two things (other than extra cameras and microphones):

  • Video switcher
  • Audio mixer

 
The audio mixer comes first, because you can feed all audio sources and control them together. The end result is multiplexed with the video before delivery.

The video itself can come from multiple cameras, and you need to ‘switch’ between them in real-time (just like they do on real television). You could use a software to do this (as shown above), or you could use hardware. One specialized hardware solution is the Blackmagic Design ATEM M/E Production Switcher.

One good thing to have if you can swing it is Genlock. If all your devices are genlocked, then it eliminates a million headaches. However, most live streaming setups that start small start with webcams or camcorders that don’t have genlock. You do what you can.

How to setup an Internet broadcast studio

Here’s a video showing how to set up a broadcast studio for live streaming:

Can one person set up a live stream broadcast studio?

Sure, here’s a video of one person trying to do alone what took many hands in the above video (hats off to you, Dan):

Wow, we’ve covered a lot of ground. I hope this brief crash course has taught you how to broadcast on the Internet. You now have the tools and know-how to get it done, even if technology and providers change. That’s the biggest problem in today’s setup – you don’t know who’ll be around five years from now.

Just make sure you are.