Media and technology companies have always understood the value of intellectual property, whether it takes the form of episodic TV, feature films, or apps and information. Houses of worship should recognize that they too produce valuable media assets. Churches can learn several things from Hollywood and tech firms, since content creation for the faith-based market in many ways parallels the content production cycles of media companies.
While it is a given that religious organizations should keep spirituality as the foundation of their efforts, churches, synagogues, and mosques should also look at content production and distribution—and live streaming in particular—from a business perspective as well.
Houses of worship can use video for their outreach as a way of growing their ministry. Online video is an effective communication and discovery agent. It provides an opportunity to reach out to more congregants and enable them to connect with you from almost anywhere around the world on any device. And because of changing media habits, viewers are looking for other ways to consume content outside of traditional television broadcast models.
As a growing house of worship, you can provide an alternative to secular shows by offering your own brand of streamed programming. Streaming video is a key catalyst in driving more consumers to view more content. It helps you disseminate knowledge, and creates a global unified experience in real time.
Houses of Worship as Broadcast Networks
Houses of worship simply are online broadcast networks that deliver exclusive original programming to people who are seeking it. Religious services are generally timeless and can be viewed multiple times over many years since the messages are universal, unless they cover topical subject matter.
However strong the message they’re delivering, just as with broadcast television or any other online media, churches should produce video content consistently in the best quality possible. Viewers have become much more sophisticated and savvy about online video, and have a certain expectation of quality. Streaming should not be an afterthought, but rather a focus for your house of worship. It should be treated as a priority since these are direct touch points to your current and future congregation. It should be viewed as the primary form of communication outside of your physical location.
My experience as a new media advisor and consultant for the entertainment, gaming, and technology industries helped me recognize that there are concepts, production tools, and workflows from mainstream media companies that houses of worship can adopt to help them engage with their audiences and provide a better experience. In this article, I’ll cover several elements of this process, including the following:
• Content strategy: Identifying your story and figuring out how to tell it.
• Content creation: Understand the value of your content and preserving it by using the highest-quality production tools and technology, and hiring the right production personnel.
• Managing your content using media asset management software.
• Distributing content to streaming and content platforms.
• Engage with your parishioners: Marketing to your audiences, reaching them where they are, and include them in the conversation through sharing and social media.
• Evaluating and analyzing: Collecting analytics, and choosing resources that help you decode what all the data means.
Content Strategy: What is Your Story? How Are You Going to Tell It?
When establishing your house of worship as a broadcast network and content studio, one of the hardest things is to formulate a vision and establish clear objectives. You need to identify what your story is and have a clear idea of how you want to convey it. Once your organization is committed to producing live streams and content, you need to ask yourself several questions:
• Who and where is your audience?
• What is your spiritual message?
• What type of content can you create that reinforces your identity and messaging?
• How can your departments collaborate to create that unified message?
• How can you make it entertaining?
• How often do you want to produce videos and stream events?
• What type of original content will you produce?
Build Your Library of Digital Assets
To begin with, you need to capture video and photos during sermons and special events. Try to capture as much video and still imagery as possible, since anything you capture can be considered for use as b-roll or behind-the-scenes footage. Photos can be reused as stock images for your website, promotional videos, informational materials, and more. Video, text, graphics, and photos must be produced and presented consistently, since the content you deliver will be a key component in your marketing.
Since you created and own it, there’s no additional cost involved when using and repurposing those photos or videos, which will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. But be sure to keep the quality as professional as possible, since you may be mixing your own materials with other stock footage and images from different sources.
Create Your Own Content
Original content comes in many forms. You should consider developing programs similar to television shows that contain compelling subject matter, as well as covering issues that can help your followers as well as sparking interest in potential new members in discovering solutions for their personal growth. If you’re not ready to develop your own shows, I suggest starting off with streaming and then expand into different types of programming that are a part or your identity.
Video programming can include the following:
• Live streaming (sermons, events, etc.)
• Shortform videos
• Longform videos
• Promotional videos
• Viral videos
• Mobile content
Audio-only programming can include the following:
• Podcasts and shows
• Promotional spots
Content Creation: Improve Your Production Quality
Houses of worship usually have volunteers that run the show during a live streaming event. In order to have consistent production value, you need individuals who can maintain and execute the standards you set, whether they are volunteers or hired professionals. They must be engaged, enabled, and committed in their position and fully understand that they carry the vision of the church.
I highly recommend hiring qualified, full-time personnel to manage your events and production. By having someone that is technically qualified, you will also ensure that the event will be a success, with only very minor technical glitches. Technical glitches are a part of the production process, but with an experienced technical director you can mitigate some of the issues prior to the event.
Designate a person such as a Director of Media to be in charge of productions, manage volunteers, and work to build your media team. Look to someone who is versed in multiple disciplines, able to handle switching, camera operation, lighting, sound, and technical troubleshooting.
If your budget allows, I also suggest having a clear division of labor, with separate individuals assigned the roles of technical director, audio tech, graphics operator, camera operators, and director.
It would be ideal if your church already has qualified technical volunteers or staff who can help in some of the production areas. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to look to outside professionals who can come in and offer good advice, help you avoid making mistakes, and thus save you a lot of embarrassment and headaches.
Foster Education and Cross-Training
Having your crew learn while on the job can be disastrous. For professional results, you should have capable people operating professional equipment. I highly recommend encouraging production staff to devote several hours a week to learn a new piece of gear or software as your organization acquires new production tools. They should test the gear and practice with it in settings that replicate the exact production scenarios for an upcoming event. You should have them attend conferences and seminars to become familiar with the equipment and industry. Also register them for online courses and use YouTube as resource to learn how to perform things.
You should also cross-train the staff in each other’s specified roles since you do not want to jeopardize a production if one member of your production crew calls in sick or can’t show up. Live productions—particularly live streaming productions—should not rely on one person. Cross-training your crew helps in developing your team’s abilities so you have the flexibility to respond to technical problems on the fly.
Preproduction and Preparation: You are What You Stream
As with non-worship media studios, you need to plan for every production. One good way to start is by creating a storyboard or shot list detailing how you’re going to frame the live stream in camera.
Prepare a run sheet for the crew and have a meeting or rehearsal prior to the event. A run sheet is a breakdown of events or tasks organized in a chronological sequence. A typical run sheet would include, for example, the start and stop time of when a person will be speaking, when a graphic will be displayed, or when audio cue will take place. It can also list which crew member is responsible for each task during the production.
Before each event, you should compile a checklist of everything that needs to be prepped and tested. Turn on all the equipment and spend at least an hour testing each piece of gear. Run test audio through mixer, play back video animations and graphics through the playback computers and video switcher, and make sure that the internet connection is working properly. Also make sure that you are receiving a clean feed from the cameras and that your cameras are properly shaded and color-matched. You should send out test streams to your content platform while monitoring the final audio and video output of the stream as well.
Create a Production Bible (pun intended)
To maintain consistency and best practices across all your productions, you need to create an operational manual or “bible” that covers the list of equipment being used as well as file formats, production standards, graphics formats, signal formats, as well as mezzanine files needed for uploads. This will standardize all operations and create an efficient workflow.
Shoot with Multiple Cameras and Professional Gear in the Highest Resolution Available
Shooting with a single camera is fine when you’re just getting started with worship video production, but it isn’t an option when your production needs to look professional. Having more cameras increases your production values exponentially. Your cameras should have HD-SDI output, which allows for longer, more reliable cable runs than HDMI.
Always shoot and record in the highest resolution possible since you will be using these files for delivery on multiple platforms. The digital master will be converted to many different quality levels and specific media formats to be delivered to devices such as smartphones and tablets, laptops/desktops, smart TVs, and other devices. Also be sure to record the individual camera feeds (ISOs), given that you may need this footage to be used for future re-edits and archiving.
Use Graphics and Animation When Necessary
I’m a firm believer in keeping things simple in worship and other live productions, especially when it comes to incorporating graphics or animations. You can also use still and motion graphics to help punctuate certain ideas, concepts, or moods which help viewers visualize what you’re trying to communicate during the streams. This also may include various visuals such as lyrics, verses, special charts and graphs, as well as any type of photos that can enhance the overall experience.
You no longer need a graphic design team or motion graphics designers to incorporate high-quality visuals in your productions. There are many resources online where you can purchase stock video graphics and music, which will give you a great starting point for delivering a professional-quality production.
You can find stock photos, logos, animations, video, and templates to enhance your productions on the following sites:
I also recommend two sites that provide stock graphics designed specifically for worship use:
There are many different programs that will play back graphics and video. One program used extensively in churches is ProPresenter, an application for displaying lyrics and videos that works with both Mac and Windows. Playback Pro is great at playing video files, and has established itself as a standard in the corporate market.
Improve Your Sound Quality
Investing in high-quality mics and mixers is a sound investment since good, clean audio should always be a top priority. It’s always preferable to send a post-fader audio mix to your live stream. This will enable the online audience to experience the same mix that the on-site audience is hearing.
The very nature of sending an auxiliary mix rather than a mix off of a matrix will enable the audio engineer to tweak the gain of a specific channel (if the need be) for mix that goes out to the internet. Let’s say in a panel of six presenters, one presenter has a softer voice, this person may sound loud enough in the house but needs a little more gain streaming out to the internet. The audio engineer can gain-up just this channel while preserving the integrity of the overall mix of the other five presenters.
Conversely, it’s not a good idea to send a pre-fader mix out to stream since a microphone may muted in the house, while the audio from the same microphone is still being sent to the internet.
Use Technology to Make Processes Easier
Don’t be afraid to use new technology to address some of your staffing or budget constraints. Technology can be on your side if you choose and use the right solution. Automating production processes can simplify your workflow as well as save money.
One way you can save on labor costs is to use Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) cameras. Some churches simply don’t have the budget to hire multiple camera operators, but with PTZ cameras such as the Panasonic AW-HE130, Datavideo PTC-150, or the Sony SRG300SE, a single person can operate many cameras. If you’re extremely limited in staff, you can take automation even further with the 1Beyond AutoTracker camera that automatically tracks a person with no camera operator required.
Providing a great customer experience is something that you must strive for, so I recommend having tech support staff on-hand to address any technical issues that may arise during the stream. Having a chat window available on the same page as the streaming player enables the audience to give you real-time feedback on the stream itself. This allows you to make any adjustments and corrections during the stream, and puts both you and your viewers in a win-win situation since they can get instant support while you get instant reports of the stream.
In addition, you may want to provide a direct phone number to your support desk for individuals whose internet connection may not be working, or folks who simply aren’t tech-savvy enough to diagnose any technical issues they may be experiencing.
Postproduction allows you correct or add anything after the stream has occurred. You can perform color correction, add graphics, animations, logos, voiceover, music, and create highlights from the source material as well. There will be times when a shot switches to an image that isn’t set correctly, the audio is noisy, or certain graphic is missing. Addressing these issues in post will allow you to clean up some mistakes since you want everything to look as pristine as possible for the final, archived output.
The last few years have yielded major technological advances for media creators. With the advent of new hardware and software, it is now easier and more cost-effective for houses of worship to quickly build a wide audience and community through content creation and online delivery. Only recently could a small organization or an individual have the reach of the global mass media company.
As long as their broadcasts are professional in quality, any small-to-midsize house of worship can have the same online impact as any megachurch or media network. With a clear vision, faith, and persistence, you can build your house of worship into an organization that is able to share its ideas and values with viewers on a grander scale around the world.
Media Asset Management
You’ve created the content. Now What?
It’s critical to start logging your content in the early stages since it will play an important role in repurposing and re-editing your videos in the future. This will help you create new content that can be used for multiple purposes such as promo videos, highlight reels, or a compendium of sermons. You need to build an archive and use it as a foundation for your media library.
Once you start producing content consistently, you will have the dire need to manage it since it can become a growing challenge to organize your files in the future as your library increases in size. Properly labeled content can save countless hours locating it especially when it is immediately needed.
First you’ll need software to organize and manage the content due to the volume of media in various formats that you’ll be ingesting, ranging from audio to video, photos, graphics, illustrations, documents, and presentations. In addition to having the live streams archived in the cloud through your streaming video platform, you should always save the ISOs (isolated recordings from each camera) and Program/line cut recordings locally as well, in an easy-to-edit format for use in editing software such as Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro, or Avid Media Composer. ProRes files are generally recommended since they are visually lossless in quality, and easy to manage and edit with, but you should use whatever high-quality codecs you may have already established in your workflow. Before you start managing your files, you should categorize them by using Digital Asset Management software to incorporate the metadata.
What is Metadata?
Metadata is data that describes or provides information associated with other data whether it’s text, images, audio, or video. Metadata is descriptive and provides information such as title, author/creator/speaker/pastor, date created, or pertinent keywords. Metadata is created in an XML Metadata file which sorts the content by custom fields that you specify and help you find files internally. Externally, it is a valuable tool for search engine optimization was well as for other channels since it helps in the discoverability of your video for web searches.
Metadata is extremely valuable in your production workflow since it allows users to manage assets more efficiently and completely automates processes around those media assets. It allows people from different departments such as production, IT, marketing, and management to contribute, collaborate, and improve discoverability through a centralized searchable repository.
Here is an example of metadata fields for a video file that was streamed and recorded:
date_modified: 9/6/2015, 9:00:05 AM
file Size: 1.2 GB
duration: 56m 45s 545ms
speaker: Reverend Thomas
created_by: Stream Engineer Dave
title: Why God Matters in our Daily Life
Media Asset Management Software
A Media Asset Management (MAM) system allows users to comment on, catalog, store, and share all assets with other users. MAM systems and come in different flavors: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), cloud-based, or on-premise. I will be covering on-premise software since it is a good place to start for churches delving into asset management.
On-premise MAM software is purchased and installed on your hardware which you provide the computers/ servers and hard disk storage to run the application and is usually managed on-site.
There are several MAM systems that can help organize the media of your church and they can be quite costly. Two of them are relatively inexpensive solutions that can immediately get you started in managing your files. One of them is called CatDV and the other is called Axle Video. While both are quite robust, offering advanced logging and organization, automated workflows, user scalability, and integration into various storage and hardware partners, each has its unique approach in asset management.
Axle is easy to use software for managing your media files through a standard web browser. It runs on a single computer such as a mac mini that connects to any existing storage on the network. After you install it, the software automatically indexes all the connected drives on the LAN.
Its price is quite reasonable and its simple interface makes things to easy to use even for novices. Once installed, the system can be accessed on any computer including Windows and Mac laptops, Linux systems, and mobile devices.
It costs $1990 for a 5-user license and works with Final Cut Pro 7, Final Cut Pro X, and Adobe Premiere Pro and additional licenses are sold in 5 user blocks.
CatDV has a more comprehensive interface and has an even more advanced media management toolset. It also handles a wide array of video formats. It also integrates with a variety of other products, platforms, hardware, and software. It’s not as simple to use as Axle Video, but it offers extensive control. It scales according to workgroup size and is available in different versions for both Mac and Windows. A standalone version starts at $450-$1,000 depending on the features and workgroup versions are available and pricing depends on how many seats are needed.
Streaming and Online Video Platforms
Houses of worship have unique needs, especially when it comes to streaming. There are several online video platforms (OVPs) that provide specialized features that aren’t available on other mainstream platforms such as Bible notes, bookmarks, a single player for multiple events or services, auto scheduler/ playlists, prayer requests, countdown timers, Roku channel creation, and online tithing/donations.
Another reason to utilize worship-specific OVPs is that certain churches may not want their streams public and these OVPs offer something that makes content accessible without diluting your message with ads, or other possibly objectionable content.
Although there are many online services that cater to the religious markets that make the overall process of streaming less painful, here are some standouts.
Sermon.net is an all in one internet-based SaaS media delivery platform designed specifically for Bible-based ministries. Sermon.net is a non-profit organization that considers everybody as a partner and offers dedicated support for small to large organizations. It simplifies the streaming process and puts everything under one umbrella and acts as more of a portal. It even offers churches access and visibility in the iOS App Store, Google Play, and Roku.
Based on Wowza’s technology, StreamSpot is a solid platform in the faith market. Their service has allowed one customer to deliver live streams to 44,000 concurrent users during Rosh Hashanah 2014, and another customer to reach 1 million views in a single day without disruption.
StreamSpot was built on the requests of faith-based organizations and perfect for churches and synagogues with embeddable players, integrated chat, online donations, broadcast notifications, and detailed analytics. The company offers 24/7 phone support that monitors each broadcast through the StreamSpot platform and will notify their clients if they see any issues from their servers even on the trial version.
100% automation with no human intervention is possible with their automation workflow. Its Streamspot Sync allows users to set their broadcast schedule for single event, or repeating multiple events. It can start and stop streams on its own without an operator having to be on site. This feature is great for Orthodox Jewish synagogues since it enables them to deliver streams without directly using technologies or devices that violate the Sabbath, acting as a sort of technological eruv.
Kaltura has an extensive user base in the enterprise, entertainment, and the educational sector and is used by major media companies such HBO, Warner Bros, Disney, and Paramount. The company has addressed the needs of faith-based organizations with various features, such as a donation-based video player, chapterization (cue points in the video that highlight the metadata), and captioning, which provides searchable, automatic transcription.
Kaltura can act as a centralized media repository, unified digital asset management system that will facilitate inter-department communication, collaboration, content management, and distribution to almost all platforms including OTT.
Kaltura can serve as an all-encompassing, fully functional, integrated, easy-to-use system that can be used by an organization, or used independently by all departments to meet their individual needs. It contains a universal media management console (KMC) so all department administrators can gain shared access to your church’s digital assets.
Kaltura is one of the most comprehensive end-to-end enterprise media platforms for content creation, management, and delivery. It provides an array of features that go beyond what most churches would need, thus allowing for the opportunity to grow with your organization as needed.
This is the “Holy Grail” of OVPs for house-of-worship use since it packs a lot of features that other OVPs may not offer but at a cost above well above the other platforms. It would be considered more of an enterprise solution since it starts at approximately $1,800 per month.
This system can facilitate the growing needs of your church. In addition, its consumer-facing video site, Mediaspace, can provide easy access of materials to clergy, students, and prospective members. Mediaspace is a turnkey authenticated video portal which resembles YouTube for your own content.
Kaltura is highly recommended since it can perform most of the functions your church will need well, which will serve as a fully developed and instant bridge between each department. The primary functionality of this system would be to automate and integrate all processes including the following features helps ingesting the metadata, transcode video, and deliver to various platforms.
We are dealing with a new generation that is more engaged than ever. In addition, houses of worship are looking for new ways to reach people. When it comes to sharing your churches information and creating a conversation, utilizing social media will increase awareness as well as introduce new people to your congregation. Social media is also a great tool for inreach to promote fellowship as well as for outreach for spreading the message. It’s best to use popular social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube for greater reach and discoverability.
First, find out where your members are most active in social media and find ways you can contribute to the conversation they are having online. Social media is great for making announcements and providing information for upcoming events but you must go beyond that by having your online conversations be much more inclusive and not exclusive since you now have to address your audience’s needs. I also encourage more interaction and sharing with your audience to get them excited about your messages.
You should tailor content specific for YouTube which is both powerful and effective for reaching online viewers. YouTube is great for discovery since it allows you to reach a wide audience. You should consistently produce engaging shortform videos that will appeal to new viewers that want to know what you’re about. You could highlight the key aspects of your congregation and show people what makes your church unique. YouTube can help your search engine optimization as well since it is connected to Google and gets priority in search rankings.
Social Media Analytics/Social Media Management Tools
After you’ve established your social media channels and strategies, you can use several resources to view social media analytics. Social Media Management Tools (SMMTs) allow you to manage multiple social networks from a single web interface or dashboard. These tools can help you make decisions in increasing the effectiveness of your campaigns and provide real time analytics, automated posting, and other insights.
Hootsuite is one of the most prevalent SMMTs and is focused on small business to large enterprise. It displays your social media in multiple streams and has comprehensive tools to help you manage and automate your social media activity.
Sprout Social is the head-to-head competitor to Hootsuite. Its main differentiator is that it displays your stream in a single-column view and the management has a certain philosophy as to why it was to presents your information in that manner. It is designed for a more unified and uncluttered experience with a smart inbox.
There are many tools and resources that will help you create your broadcast network from both the content creation to content management to final delivery to the end user. Although the production cycle can be daunting at times since there are many moving parts and many things to consider, I hope I have provided you with some information about the basic tools and workflows, and that it can serve as a good foundation in helping you spread your message across to as many places as possible and help you overcome any technical hurdles well.