Another year has passed and graduation season is upon us again. While students and faculty prepare for closing ceremonies, media-services departments scramble in preparation for the biggest event of the year. Here are ten tips to help you not only successfully stream your event, but also create an engaging experience for your viewers.
- Something is better than nothing
- Leverage existing equipment while scaling
- Plan time for troubleshooting
- Double down on bandwidth
- Monitor your event web page and stream health
- Create a digital experience
- Engage your audience
- Build momentum early and often
- Think mobile
- Schedule email blasts and social alerts in advance
Before I dig into streaming and event-marketing tips, let me touch on the question of whether to stream. I know some of you are still on the fence, so for the undecided, my first tip is to just do it. According to the Wowza 2015 Live Streaming in Education Benchmark Survey, 42% of universities live-streamed their commencements that year. And for some universities, it was the very first event they live-streamed.
If you’re just starting out, start simple. Don’t worry about multicamera views and live switching. Don’t worry about features such as overlays or closed captions. Instead, focus on sending a clean audio and video stream to a streaming service like Wowza Streaming Cloud that can then give you a set of high-quality streams viewable on any device, anywhere.
For universities currently live-streaming, a public event like graduation presents a unique challenge with scaling. Simultaneous viewers may be much more numerous and geographically diverse than with other streaming projects.
Don’t worry—you don’t need to re-invent the wheel to scale your streams. For example, if you already use Wowza Streaming Engine software on premises, you may want to consider a hybrid workflow that uses your on-premises server for transcoding and a pay-as-you-go CDN like Wowza CDN for delivery. This will help you scale your infrastructure affordably without making large up-front investments. (Note: Wowza currently has a promotion for existing customers to receive 1 TB of free delivery.)
It’s common to schedule time for testing, but just as important is to budget time for troubleshooting your setup. I recommend a full production test of your setup at least 48 hours in advance of your event. If you aren’t familiar with your equipment or streaming, I’d start even earlier and consider contracting a streaming technician for a few hours to help guarantee your setup is right.
During your dry run, remember to test both audio and video. For video, check your sustained bitrate going out from the event venue. This will help you understand what size stream you can send from your encoder to the cloud as well as test your overall bandwidth. For audio, make sure your mics aren’t picking up too much background noise. This is especially relevant for outdoor ceremonies.
The most common point of failure when streaming an event is a lost Internet connection. If possible, use a dedicated Ethernet connection that you have full control over to ensure consistent network usage. If you can’t hardwire in, then check out popular cellular bonding or multiplexing solutions that aggregate LTE/4G bandwidth from multiple carriers. Additionally, if bandwidth is limited I strongly recommend you consider moving part of your live encoding workflow to the cloud to reduce your bandwidth needs.
If you want to be really safe, set up a redundant workflow, one using a hardwire connection and another using a cellular bonding solution. You can configure both streams with a streaming solution such as Wowza Streaming Cloud and then enable failover in case your primary stream fails.
Always monitor the event web page so you see exactly what a viewer might be seeing. Keep an extra tablet or laptop on hand to monitor playback as the event progresses. And don’t just view the video; keep a pulse on the audio stream with an extra set of headphones.
In addition, monitor your stream health. A streaming service like Wowza Streaming Cloud will monitor the stream health coming from your encoder in real time. This type of stream monitoring lets you collect important data such as the frame rate and keyframe interval, and it will send you alerts in case something is going awry.
Although your streaming production doesn’t need bells and whistles, as noted already, the viewers’ experience is important, of course. Don’t just stream the event—create a digital experience. A commencement ceremony is more than just listening to a speech. It’s a culmination of years of hard work by your students. To make it memorable, the event page should be more than just a page to watch a two-hour live video. Transform the page into a portal that shares the story of this graduating class. Include photos, and maybe even videos, on the event page to showcase the journey of this graduating class. And don’t forget to show off the unique elements of your school, from its values to its curriculum paths.
Don’t merely share content—ask people to participate. Create a way for students and alumni to share their memories about graduation. One option is to collect their stories via email and then share them daily on your event page. A more automated option is to embed a Twitter feed that collects stories via a specific hashtag you create for the event.
Also, be sure to enable social sharing on the event page in advance. Encourage stakeholders to post socially via your hashtag. Also, find a way for people engage you. This may be signing up to receive alerts about new graduation events or daily digests. The important thing is to seek engagement and offer a two-way channel for communication.
To make your streamed event a success, start spreading the word early to draw viewers. Make sure you have your event page up at least a few weeks in advance, and take a multitouch, multichannel approach to announcing your live stream. Work with the communications team to get a small promotional blurb included in all email communications, add a banner to your home page, and get social. Every time your university is talking about graduation, mention the live event page and how to participate. After all, the purpose of streaming the event is to draw attention to your school and share this momentous occasion.
Adopt a mobile-first strategy. Commencement ceremonies are often on weekends and during the day when people are on the go. Expect viewers to discover your stream on mobile devices (via email or social networks) and even watch your stream on their phones and tablets.
While you should make sure your streaming service can deliver to mobile devices, it’s also important to make sure you event page and even email communications are mobile-friendly. Be careful with large table layouts and make sure you follow responsive web design guidelines.
The best time to get someone to watch your live stream is when your stream is live. Schedule an email during the event to encourage alumni, relatives, and potential candidates to watch. Make it short and sweet, and let people know the event is in progress so they can jump right in and participate in the action.
And don’t forget about social. Be sure to engage on Facebook and Twitter and consider spending money to boost your posts to make sure your followers see it.