How to Stream Multi-Site Church

by | Apr 18, 2019 | How To, Multi-site

My church has decided to go multisite – how do I stream from one site to another?

Learn how churches such as Elevation, Life.Church, Seacoast and many others reliably and affordably transmit video from one to many sites.

There are many reasons a church may decide to expand from their facility, launching their first multisite campus. Whether they have run out of room in their current space, are seeking to expand their ministry and evangelistic strategy to a new geographic area, or helping a struggling church to thrive through sharing of resources, multisite can be an effective strategy for church growth and multiplication.

Once the decision to go multisite has been made, there are a few technical and production elements to be thought through. A church will need to decide what type of facility they will need, how they will organize and staff their ministries, and how to effectively carry out weekly services and ministry programs. One of the most important strategic decisions for multisite is the decision of how to deliver the message, worship, and other service segments from site to site. There are 3 key steps when planning how to stream multi-site church services, beginning with the broadcast site. 

Step 1: The Broadcast Site

How to Stream Multi-Site Church

Elevation Church Master Control Room – Charlotte, NC (@zkimrey)

The first step in planning a reliable, high-quality multisite stream begins at the broadcast site(s). Before considering the streaming system itself or the needs of the remote sites, the environment and experience of the broadcast site should be intentionally transmitted to be displayed with excellence at receiving sites. 

A church should first decide what elements of the service they intend to distribute. Most start with sending a sermon/message and usually have a local worship team at each site. Streaming worship elements can be a great way to connect and unify campuses and can be accomplished effectively by sending multiple audio channels such as musical director, crowd microphones, and click track.

Additionally, in order to best capture and replicate the experience of the broadcast environment, multiple cameras may be used along with a switcher to provide energy and intentionally focus the attention of the audience. Distributing 2 channels of video simultaneously including a program IMAG (image magnification) shot along with a virtual pastor/head-to-toe shot has also become a popular option for multisite churches in order to give an immersive feel to the environment.

How to Stream Multi-Site Church

Chase Oaks Church, which sends a program feed (side screens) along with a
“virtual pastor” (center screen) – Dallas, TX

Step 2: Delivery

The next step in the multisite setup process is determining how the video will be distributed to multiple campuses. There are several options to choose from, generally differing in reliability/quality, ease of use, scalability, and cost to implement and operate. 

Pre-Recorded

With pre-recorded file delivery, video from the broadcast site is recorded and stored in a digital file. The file is sent to the remote site digitally over a network or shipped/driven (often called “sneakernet”) on a physical medium such as a USB hard drive. While this can be a great option for churches just starting with multisite video delivery, it requires a great time commitment from staff or volunteers and is not easily scalable to more than a couple campuses. Another major reason pre-recorded video is avoided is that it often leads to a lack of energy that a live experience can create, especially when speakers are restricted from using time-specific references such as “tonight” or “this morning.” Often times, pastors adapt their messages from Saturday to Sundays, and prefer to have the flexibility to give their campuses the best message possible. Now, with the cost of streaming coming down and the reliability increasing, it’s about the same cost and a lot simpler to stream instead of using pre-recorded delivery. 

  • Reliability / Quality
  • Ease of Use
  • Scalability
  • Cost

Learn about Northwood Church’s journey with sneakernet:

Satellite

While satellite delivery of content used to be a popular option for video transmission, the cost of this method has remained high while other methods (such as IP transmission) has decreased, leading to a decline in popularity. Now, satellite engineers are expensive and rare. Satellite transmission can also have unpredictable reliability depending on weather conditions at either the broadcast or receiving sites.

  • Reliability / Quality
  • Ease of Use
  • Scalability
  • Cost

Point-to-Point (Dedicated Connections)

Point-to-point transmission of video content provides a highly reliable stream by sending content directly from an encoder at the broadcast site to decoders at receiving sites. However, to operate effectively, this option requires robust, expensive networks such as dark fiber lines or leased dedicated connections (MPLS/VPLS). Over these networks it is common to still have small amounts of occasional packet loss, so having a retransmission protocol is important to avoid glitches and video transmission errors. The benefits of these networks is low enough latency to allow for bi-directional conversations, but they are very expensive. As networks improve around the globe, these networks will get cheaper.

  • Reliability / Quality
  • Ease of Use
  • Scalability
  • Cost

“With Living As One, we can now move to cheaper internet connections at higher speeds, saving us thousands of dollars a month at each campus while consistently getting better quality video.”

Robb MacTavish

Flatirons Church

Learn more about how Flatirons replaced dedicated connections with Living As One.

Internet Streaming

When using internet streaming for multisite delivery, video is sent over the internet to a cloud service. Remote campuses pull the video from the cloud service, and every site uses their own standard internet connection. This option is very cost effective for a relatively high quality stream. Unfortunately, however, even when an ISP guarantees a high speed connection, every network is susceptible to packet loss, creating unpredictable environments often leading to buffering, frame-drops, and jitters, which is why it was avoided for many years. For a multisite experience, the quality the internet provides on its own is not acceptable. Even with fiber connections and great speeds, streaming over the public internet is unreliable without additional protocols and the necessary hardware. We’ve all experienced these issues through buffering wheels when attempting to watch live streams over the internet. 

  • Reliability / Quality
  • Ease of Use
  • Scalability
  • Cost

Streaming with Living As One
(over internet or dedicated connection)

Living As One’s Multisite Platform is known as the first to accomplish reliability over the public internet. The Resilient Streaming Protocol (RSP) provides the only live streaming technology that fully protects against audio and video quality loss during transmission regardless of network interruptions. The technology saves all media content onto the encoder itself before transmitting to the CDN and resends and corrects itself until a perfect copy is received by the remote site. A short delay is needed (between 20 seconds to 5 minutes depending on network conditions) to ensure a perfect copy of data in the cloud for receiving sites to download. The platform is extremely scalable, cost effective, and includes DVR ability for delayed playback at remote sites. The downside is delay –  while you can get to just a few seconds of latency, it does not allow for real-time conversations back and forth. If you are looking for bidirectional streaming, many of our customers accomplish it with technologies we recommend alongside Living As One. 

Thanks to the resiliency guaranteed by the platform, for the first time, interruption-free streaming can be accomplished on slow or troubled networks and even mobile hotspots! 

  • Reliability / Quality
  • Ease of Use
  • Scalability
  • Cost

See how Momentum uses Living As One to stream over mobile hotspots:

Step 3: Receiving Sites

How to Stream Multi-Site Church

Life.Church Receiving Campus

Church leaders are often concerned that a video venue lacks the engagement provided by live preaching. In order to provide the most engaging and interactive experience possible, intentionality should be placed on carefully replicating the experience of the broadcast site while still paying attention to detail to the unique needs of each receiving site. 

The greatest barrier to an effective video venue is an unreliable or low quality video stream. Interruptions, jitters, or pixelation in the video stream cause awkward interruptions and will affect the confidence of church leaders and congregation members (and cause stress for the production team!). Ensuring reliable video delivery as well as playback that is easy to see and hear should be the primary focus for a successful video venue. 

Secondly, plan infrastructure at the receiving sites to be suitable for best reproduction depending on the unique environment. Each room is different and sometimes there’s not much control over portable environments like movie theaters and schools. What works in your broadcast site is not always what works well at remote sites. For example, imagine a traditional IMAG shoot on a movie theater screen! Your pastors face will be 10 feet wide and 15 feet high. Explore the options and choose whatever screen position that works for you. As mentioned in step #1, displaying multiple synchronized streams of video can be very effective for elements like sermon notes or different camera perspectives. A synchronized head-to-toe shot that makes audience members feel as though they are in the room and also works great for movie theater campuses. Feel welcomed to reach out to us and we can send you pictures of what different churches are doing for screen and camera configuration!

Finally, decide how service times and elements should be coordinated between campuses in order to provide smooth programming and transitions at every site. A church may choose to have campus service times start synchronously in order to provide clear global communication of start times. However, staggering service times often proves easier for programming as it reduces pressure for receiving sites to stall if the broadcast site runs behind. Many hardware decoders feature time-shift functionality, enabling simple recording and playback of this content within minutes of the recorded stream. Additionally, features like cues provided by Living As One’s Multisite Decoders enables easy control of playback by volunteers or staff.

Wrapping Up

When a church decides to become multisite, they will be faced with many big decisions, with only some (still important) technical considerations. Thankfully, there are many churches to learn from who have taken the path before, and partners such as Living As One who will help to make the process seamless and smooth, allowing them to focus on what’s important – their ministry. We love to guide churches on how to stream multi-site church services or any element of the multisite journey, and we are happy to help regardless of whether you use our products or not!

Reliable Streaming Ensures Positive Guest Experience for theCHURCHat Battle Creek

In November 2002, a small group from Tulsa, OK came together with an ambitious goal — to form a new church in the Tulsa area that was centrally focused on community. Soon later, theChurchat Battle Creek opened its doors to a capacity crowd in a converted mall. From there, the church grew exponentially, forming 5 new campuses with a combined attendance of over 6,000.

Reliable Streaming for Seacoast Over an Unreliable Connection

Like many others in his field, Rick Russell, Production Director at Seacoast Church, faces a big challenge in streaming church services to the church’s multisite campuses. With 13 physical campuses spread throughout South Carolina, some in rural areas, multisite streaming reliability is critical for Seacoast. Russell explains, “from a leadership perspective . . . our number one most important priority from the production team is to provide the best quality video and playback at our campuses.”

Northwoods Replaces Sneakernet with Resilient Streaming Platform

Previously to the “sneakernet” approach, the church had attempted streaming solutions, usually ending in failure. According to Den Marlin, Worship Pastor at Northwoods, “Our previous solution to running the video on the weekend had a hundred percent failure rate so every weekend we knew it was going to fail at some point and our hope was it would fail during rehearsal where nobody would see, but that wasn’t the case.”

Momentum Church Pairs HEVC/H.265 With RSP for Live Streaming Over Cellular Hotspots

Momentum Church, a multi-campus church in Pensacola, Florida, has successfully transitioned from using pre-recorded video of their Sunday service to live mobile streaming with cellular hotspots. Neither of the two schools where the church’s portable campuses meet was able to provide access to a hardwired internet connection, so Momentum’s technical team deployed a cellular option. “This opens the door for churches everywhere who want to get their message out, but don’t have access to cable or fiber internet,” explains Alex Velarde, a pastor at Momentum.

Streaming Q & A With Woodmen Valley Chapel

Mark Shrimplin, Technical Director, and Mark Steel, Video Technical Coordinator, have been a part of our customer family since January of 2016. Throughout our time getting to know both Marks, we have enjoyed hearing their rich multisite history. Among the pioneers of multisite video streaming since 2002, they were one of the first to make it happen over the public internet, so of course that makes us natural fans of them.

Living As One Multisite Platform

The Multisite Platform is a turnkey streaming solution designed from the ground up to deliver video to remote locations with unprecedented reliability and quality. The complete offering includes Multisite Encoders for realtime video capture, LAN and Cloud distribution for scalable delivery, Multisite Decoders for live/DVR playback, and weekend support.

Multisite Encoders and Decoders ensure zero content loss throughout the entire transmission path, even in the case of a complete internet outage. This means that leveraging the benefits of a public internet connection to reliably distribute video is now possible. When playing back video all content comes from a local solid state hard drive which can buffer live video in advance.

This means that remote playback sites see exactly what has been encoded — no blackouts, no buffering, no jitter. It is also the only complete solution which can stream two synchronized 1080p videos at full resolution. All of this, designed in a way that is simple for volunteers to operate and easy for technical directors to manage.