There we were: minutes to graduation. Hundreds of parents and friends of the school were settling in, ready to enjoy the program, chatting happily with each other, eagerly anticipating seeing that special someone walk across the stage to receive their diploma.
Live web streaming is a great way to engage with your audience, draw eyeballs to your web site, and expand the reach of your events beyond campus. Graduation is a perfect event to broadcast because so many people want to be there, but not everyone can make it. Heck, while you’re at it why not broadcast Baccalaureate and the Spring Awards Ceremony too? But how do you easily broadcast multiple events, across different venues, and under the end of year time crunch?
I’ve written about this before but I haven’t gone into detail about our current, super-efficient setup. If you have your game on (and follow this advice) you can easily make it all happen. So here is how you can broadcast graduation (and any other events on the schedule) in 5 steps!
Step 1 – Know Your Limitations
If we had unlimited resources of time, people, and money, we could put on a program that makes the Oscars look like a one ring circus. Sadly that’s not the case. When we designed our set up we considered our limitations very carefully:
- Simple: We typically operate a broadcast with just one person, sometimes we get a student or two to help, but for an event like graduation it’s hard to count on students who might have other responsibilities.
- Robust: We’ve built an audience over the past few years, parents expect that when we put an event on the live broadcast schedule it will happen. Our setup can’t crash, period.
- Relatively Portable: We broadcast from a finite and known set of locations (theater, gym, etc.). Although the same setup has to work for all of those venues, we have the time to pile the gear into my car if necessary.
- Value: We were willing to invest in new gear… to a point. We needed a system that could handle existing cameras and mics, but would also give us some room to grow when we were ready.
That list of limitations directly informed our hardware choices which brings us to…
Step 2 – Gather Your Kit
For the complete list of the hardware we use in our broadcasts head over to Amazon, but here is the summary:
- Tricaster 40 – This video mixer meets all our criteria: it can mix four live cameras plus pre-recorded videos. Best feature: it can handle RCA, BNC, HDMI & Firewire video inputs so we can use our old cameras.
- Audio Mixer – We use a 12 channel stereo mixer that might be a little overkill for our live event broadcasting. The Tricaster supports two audio ins which might be adequate, but I like the options of having more than one mic in the venue.
- Cameras – We are using older Canon XH A1’s which you can get used on Amazon. These are work horse cameras that do really well in a live environment. I run about 200′ of video cable off these cameras and bring the signal back to the mixer.
- Video cable – Get a couple of long cable runs and you will have the flexibility to position your cameras anywhere you want to get the best coverage of the event.
- Network cable – When we did a one-off event last year we set up the whole studio far away from our normal venues. We explored all kinds of options to get the signal to the internet including wifi repeaters and other trickery. Finally the easiest option was to get a long network cable and have our tech department terminate the ends with RJ45 jacks. It’s cheap, always works, and once you have it, you’ll find a use for it.
So now we have a beautiful mixed audio / video stream with titles, pre-roll video, and other features. But for now the content all stays on the video mixer. We’ll need a broadcasting service to bring our message to the world.
Step 3 – Choose Your Streaming Provider
We use Livestream.com as our streaming provider. They aren’t the cheapest service, but they provide 24 hour tech support, an aggressive development cycle, an iPhone app for mobile viewing, robust moderated chat, and complete white-label integration into our web site.
Now we are technically ready to broadcast. Time to do a practice run… or five.
Step 4 – Practice, Practice, Practice
As robust as this setup is, something always breaks the first time. Dial the system so solid that you are pretty much bored during the broadcast. If the broadcast is technically simple, the audience can relax and enjoy the program, and you can focus on getting just the right shot, engaging in the chat, or sending out that last tweet.
I recommend trying everything out on a real event, but a real event that doesn’t have a huge amount of value in case it doesn’t work. For example, ask the JV lax coach if you can show up and broadcast a game some time. When you do the team will be pleased, but if something crashes you will have some room to fix it.
Always practice at the actual venue and under the same conditions as the real event if possible.
Step 5 – Plan Your Coverage
Broadcasting a live event with more than one camera and a small crew is a challenge. We set up camera coverage so we don’t have to move the camera too often. For example, at graduation, put one camera so it’s facing the podium to capture the speeches and awarding of diplomas. But also position that camera so it can be turned to cover the processional. A second camera could be positioned to capture a wide shot of the audience during the ceremony, but could also be zoomed in to get a close up of the graduates if desired.
With two cameras you have lots of options. I’ll often cut to one camera on the mixer, then run to the other camera, reposition it, and then run back. Add a student or other camera operator into the mix and your life gets much easier. In that situation I usually keep one camera wide and tell the student to alternate between close up on whoever is making a speech and a medium shot of the podium. If the student is struggling to move in or out because of a pause in the action, I can cut to the wide camera to cover the moment.
Also consider audio coverage when planning a broadcast. We typically go live 10 minutes before the start of the ceremony. That’s a long time for the audience at home. Consider keeping a mic in the studio so you can occasionally let the audience know how much longer they have to wait, or you can read from the program to give them a sense of what is coming up.
There we were…
10 minutes after broadcasting graduation we were winding cables, and stowing cameras. A breathless dad walks by with his graduate daughter, “Grandma watched the whole thing online, she even got to see your speech!” All the work was worth it, we can pack up the gear for a well earned rest, until the next broadcast!
What do you think? Have you learned other tips by broadcasting events from your campus? Still on the fence about broadcasting, and have a question? Let us know in the comments!