We’ve branched into a new media here at Groton–live streaming.

If there is one event that we do exceptionally well, one event that all alumni cherish, it is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.  Lessons and Carols is a holiday service modeled after a similar event at Kings College.  This year’s festival was the 82nd annual and it’s a big deal for all involved.  Our Chapel holds the student body plus the Faculty, thus about 450-470.  We hold three standing-room-only services, one for the town, one for parents and alumni and one for the School.  Quick math will tell you that’s about 1300 to 1400 people.

See the full event here:

http://www.ustream.tv/flash/viewer.swf

Or for a quick taste, check out the crowd favorite, “Personent Hodie”:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/11474066/highlight/133464

This year, we decided to try to live stream this quintessential Groton event.  Previous to this, we had live-streamed two events, both using my $50 Logitech web cam and my Dell laptop.  Really simple and quite frankly, the video quality stunk and the audio was just fine.  These would not do for this event and it was time to step up our game.

Now when I wrote the title to this post, I meant it.  I have no experience in doing any of this.  I can hang out in Facebook and Twitter and talk marketing strategy, but when it comes to the real technical stuff, I’m clueless.  The same goes to video and audio streaming, and making it work.  I took me three weeks from the time our Choir master came to me with this idea up to the night of the event when everything went live.

Step 1:  Get a Mac

I took me a week to figure out how to get the camera to feed into a computer (And by “figure out” I mean , Hans Mundahl (@hmundahl) at New Hampton told me).  It turns out you need something called a fire wire.  It’s faster then a USB cable and the only laptops that I was able to find with a port were the MacBook Pros.  There were a couple of PC’s on campus that had them, but I didn’t have room for it in the Chapel.  Besides, I see us streaming a bunch of other events and needed the portability.

Step 2:  Get a camera

I found a nice camera lying around in the back of the IT closet.  It’s a Cannon 3cccd and it looks like it came out right before HD became widespread.  If we start doing this, I’ll look into getting and HD camera, but for right now, this works fine.

I set it up, plugged in the fire wire into the camera and the MacBook and was good to go.

Step 3: Get a microphone

This service is heavy on choir music, which can be quite loud.  It also has readings by individuals, which although there a microphone and speakers, they aren’t the best and it can be hard to hear.  I didn’t have access to a soundboard and needed to accommodate both.  The camera microphone was pretty good quality, but I could get rid of an echo.  Again, I know nothing about sound or how to correct it.  I did however have a Zoom H2 Handy Recorder which we bought on Amazon for $150 earlier this year.   This has a great microphone on it, and I ran a line from the headphone jack on the recorder into the microphone jack on my MacBook.  With a little adjusting, it sounded great.

Step 4: Get Internet and power

Thankfully, my IT guys were awesome and able to get me a dedicated line and power to where I was in our 100-and-something year-old Chapel.

Step 5:  Find your platform

I went with Ustream.tv.  It’s a service that I had used before and was comfortable with.  To get a higher quality video, it suggested I download Adobe Flash Encoder.  I did.  I have no idea what it does, but it did seem to make a difference.

Ustream.tv is free, but we paid for one month’s subscription to get rid of the advertisements.  Some how, seeing the Hoff sweet talk a fan in German didn’t’ seem appropriate on this special occasion.  For $99 it seemed like a no brainer.

That being said, I wouldn’t use them again.  I have so far been unable to make changes to the description of the video, nor can I download it.  I put in a service ticket, griped over Twitter and emailed, but I have yet to receive a response.   LiveStream is getting my business next time.

Step: 6 Market it

This is the part I hate doing, because that means you’re doing it.  You are committed and if it crashes and burns, you’re  crashing and burning with it.  We did an email blast to all parents, alumni, past parents and friends of the school two days before the event.  I also created an event on Facebook, posted a link on the Fan Page and plugged it on Twitter.

The response was, well, modest.  I think we had 14 people confirm for the event, a couple of likes and comments on the Fan Page and zero replies on Twitter.  I figured that I had fifty viewers, this would be a success.

The event was slated to start at 7:45 p.m.  I jumped on at 7:30 p.m. to give a quick sound/video test and then planned to jump offline.  When I had 50 viewers at 7:32 p.m. I figured I couldn’t kill the feed and just kept rolling.  That number had climbed to 220 by the time the orchestra start playing at 7:45 p.m. and when Lessons and Carols began at 8:00 p.m. we were over 300.  Our high for that night was somewhere around 360 at one time with over 900 total viewers.  I’m glad I remembered to hit the record button because since then we’ve had over 630 views of the event.  That’s over 1500 views.  It’s the equivalent of adding 3 more performances to totally packed Chapels.

Needless to say I am totally stoked.

Step 7: Evangelize

Hopefully all went well.  The next step is to start telling people about it.  Luckily, I have a great boss who made sure that our community knew how well this went.  I’ve been trying to talk up social media here and this has helped tremendously.  There was a buzz on campus just before we left for break.  I’m excited to see what comes out of it. We had luke warm buy-in on campus before this event.  Now with these numbers, people are excited.  I spent most of the Faculty Christmas party talking about that night with others asking what is next on my agenda.

This is where my final piece of advice comes in.  When starting out with live streaming, pick a simple event to get your toes wet.  Then, once you get the basics down, go big or go home.  Pick the biggest event you can and by biggest I mean the one that is most meaningful to your constituents.  You’re guaranteed to find success, that is if you pull it off.  Screw it up and you’ll really hear about it.

*****UPDATE****

As of January 3, 2011 we’ve had a total of 840 views of the recording for a grand total of 1,800 views. This makes it the our highest attend alumni/parent event for the year, eclipsing even Reunion Weekend.