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ASK THE EXPERTS The challenges of Streaming Media by Larry Jordan I nternet streaming. It sounds easy, but doing it is surprisingly difficult. I know, I’ve been streaming live audio every week for the last seven years for my podcast Digital Production Buzz and I’ve been streaming video from my website for the last three years as part of my on- going software training. If everything is working properly, watching or listening to a live stream is as easy as clicking a link in the browser but, if you’re thinking about originating a live stream, or live playback of a recorded show, there’s a lot you need to consider. It starts with a program Streaming is a distribution method. Before you can stream, you need to create a program. This could be as simple as one person talking into a microphone, or as complex as a multicamera extravaganza. However, basic rules of production apply. You may be streaming to the web, but you still need to watch audio levels, make good pictures and create content that an audience wants to watch. We are long past the days where simply streaming a signal will draw a crowd. The Internet is a very busy place, you need to fi nd a message that other people want to hear. At this point, you need to get the signal from your microphone, or cameras, or switcher into the computer. 40 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 91 JULY 2014 Digitising media Using the on-board camera and microphone on your computer is fi ne if you are talking to your mother but not if you want to attract an audience. (Yes, images of cats diving into swimming pools on YouTube draw huge audiences… is this kind of image and audio quality what you want people to associate with you?) To connect a microphone or audio mixer to a computer requires an audio interface. These generally take analog audio signals using XLR or 1/4 jack connectors and convert it to a USB 2 digital media stream. (These connectors are common for professional audio gear. Consumer- grade RCA connectors can easily be converted to either format, should you need it.) There is a wide variety of audio interfaces to choose from. Just looking around my studio, I use gear from: Steinberg, Edirol, Presonus, Alesis and Focusrite Video interfaces start to get trickier, simply because the technology is more complex. Here you have two choices: • Create a live program that people tune it to watch (this is similar to a broadcast television model) • Record your program, post it to a streaming server and allow people to stream the recorded fi le to watch it whenever they want. Experience has shown that, unless you are broadcasting something REALLY important - think World Cup or major breaking news, no one wants to tune in live. Also, creating live programming is both hard and expensive; especially if you want to do it right. It is far easier and better to create your program, record and edit it so that it is perfect, compress the fi le and upload it to a server than to attempt to stream it live and attract an audience. Once the fi le is stored on a server, again, you have two choices: 1. Allow people to download the fi le. This allows them to store it locally on their computer and watch it whenever they want. This is easy and cheap, but gives you no control over what happens to your fi le once it is downloaded. 2. Only allow people to watch the fi le, without downloading and storing it on their system. This offers more security (but still is not totally secure), but requires an on- going Internet connection in order to watch the stream. My company sells software training in two forms at two prices points: as a download and as a stream. This allows me to set two different pricing models, each with different upgrade options. I started offering downloads about fi ve years ago. But it took me a year and a half to get the programming done to support secure, live streaming. My key advice here is to ask yourself: • What do you want these programs to accomplish? • How important is “live?”