Understanding the Investement into Live Video

Over the last 5-10 years Video production has faded from being a thing for the professionals.  Getting a computer, software and a camera is all you need to start doing production, and you can make a relatively small investment and become competitive in the field.  This Culture shift sent creativity skyward, making the industry more competitive and raising the bar over and over again. 

It used to take rack of gear and endless hours to produce a video.  If you wanted to add graphics or even text to a video it took even more gear.  Now you can edit a video and build complex graphics from your couch on a laptop.  The Rack full of Gear has gone away.

Most people when they look at doing live video they have the same perspective with the low Cost, and the ability to jump right in and be competitive.  However, the live video industry may have seen a lot of changes in the last 10 years, but the fundamentals have not changed.  The gear itself has gotten smaller, cheaper, more powerful and has had many face-lifts.  You can now do more with less, however, you still need the same basic gear, and you still need the same basic skills.

When it comes to Sound, lights and video, video is always by far the most expensive.  And for that reason it is usually the last investment people tend to make.  It isn’t exactly something you want to just dive right into.  So when do you make the investment?

The most common situations that cause churches to invest in video is because of the size of their room or because they have decided to launch multi-site.  There are many other reasons to make the investment but these are the common ones that I see.  That means either IMAG or Multi-site production drives the investment.  I very rarely see people make the investment because they want to be on TV or develop a web presence, but it does happen.

How do you know if your room needs IMAG?  A long time ago Willow Creek associate said that if your farthest seat from the stage exceeds 100ft, that is usually a good opportunity to go IMAG.  And I would for sure agree with that.  I have been in rooms that are less than 100ft and rooms that are more, but I would say that is a good rule of thumb.

But there are plenty of rooms that just feel big making it hard for people to focus on what is going on that might be on the edge of that 100ft rule, or there are rooms that have hard sight lines.  All these are cases where IMAG may be a good decision.  Some auditoriums have good raked seating allowing people to easily see even at 100ft and may not be a good room for IMAG. Every room is different so to give a blanket rule of thumb can be difficult, but if people have a hard time engaging or seeing your stage, it is probably a good indication that IMAG might be a good investment.

A tricky reason can be culture.  You may be a media heavy church already employing a fulltime video editor or two.  IMAG may seem like a good idea because it fits into your culture and that may be a good decision even if your room is smaller than 100ft from farthest seat.  But be careful, I see churches all the time make the investment because it is trendy and fits within their culture, but in the end it just isn’t practical.  It is a lofty investment to make just because you think it fits into your culture, or because you think it would be a cool thing to do.


Understanding the Investment


Investing into live video production isn’t like investing into editing equipment.  We require a lot more gear and much more expensive cameras.  It not only takes dollars but it takes a good-sized volunteer team and I recommend having some type of staff person running it.

Most people make the financial investment into video when doing a building campaign which is a great time to do it, unfortunately a lot of time I see it being the first thing to get cut when funds don’t come in.  Not to mention campaigns don’t cover staffing in most cases.

As I mentioned before, video equipment is expensive.  When you do it right, you can easily spend 60-100K before touching cameras and projectors, and that is a conservative system.  Within the last couple of years there has been some major new releases in available gear that has driven down the price.  But as the gear has gotten better and more economical, the fundamentals stay the same, it requires the same gear as it did before, just now maybe a piece of gear can perform 2 functions rather than 1, or the amount of rack space is less.  There has been a major opening in the market recently that has greatly welcomed economically priced gear that may not have all the bells and whistles but can do the job.

I wish I could write this document and tell you to put aside X number of dollars for video.  And I will give you a number, but as I have tried to design “box” systems that would work for everyone I have realized that they don’t exist.  Every facility has different needs and requirements and to have 1 or 2 box systems NEVER work.  I may have my favorite gear that I spec but the configuration is always different.  People have existing gear, different requirements, different budgets, needs, futures, opinions, and new gear is always coming out giving new options.  Box systems are near impossible and if an integrator tells you they have a Box system then they aren’t going to evaluate your needs and you should find another integrator.

Whenever you start a project it is important to find experts.  I highly recommend to find a System Integrator or SI to partner with on your projects.  Not all SI’s are equal, I have seen 3 types of system integrators when it comes to video.  You have the broadcast/ AV SI’s.  They are used to the 2 extremes, boardrooms and TV stations usually with huge budgets.  Some do a good job with churches, but I have also seen many miss the target greatly! Just a few pieces of gear different and they could have built a great system but instead they botched it.  Or they pick the right gear but the design in how it all works and flows doesn’t line up with how you want to use the gear.

The second type is Audio installers.  I have worked with some great audio companies that do Great work!  Most audio companies are used to dealing with churches because churches need PA systems, and there are many that specialize in churches. The great thing about churches is they understand the culture, the budget and the situation, however, video isn’t always their specialty.  I have seen some SI’s in the scenario make good decisions but miss some key areas, but at least they are on the right track. 

The company I do most of my integration work for is this type of company.  They realized that this wasn’t their specialty and called me in as their primary video resource.  Together we have put in some great systems, and they aren’t the only company I have seen do this and do this well.

The last type of company is the company that will try and sell you a box type system.  RUN AWAY!  I’m not talking about a system in a box, which I have talked about before, but rather a pre-designed system that they think will work for all churches.  Every SI has their go to gear but every situation is slightly different and they need to approach every situation as different.

Now there are 2 ways to get into a new system.  The first is to dive right in and make the complete investment, the second way is to ease into it.  Most people would opt to do the second, but a lot of mistakes can be made that won’t last long term. You can end up spending money 3 times over in the end because of decisions that seemed good at the time but weren’t good for your end goal.

So now for the number:  If you are starting a brand new system from scratch including Projectors and the whole bit end to end, I would be ready to spend $500K for a video system.  For most churches this will be on the high end and you can do it for 300-400K and some churches won’t even be able to get started with a budget of 500K.  Like I mentioned before, there are so many scenarios and there isn’t a Box system that works for all churches but if you are looking to invest into live production be ready for a number like 500K.

Some people have the mentality that if there is money available you can get into video system, you just go small.  Buy cheap cameras, switching gear, projectors and so on.  Just remember you get what you pay for.  Video is serving a purpose, it is a communication vessel that you are asking hundreds to thousands of people to watch, which means you essentially are fixing a problem.  I believe you can actually make the problem worse by not properly investing in the right stuff. If it looks crappy, nobody wants to watch it and it can be more distracting than it is solving a problem.

Also read: 3 things no IMAG system should cheap out on https://worshipimag.com/2011/06/03/the-3-things-no-imag-system-should-cheap-out-on/

It is important to know for sure that you want to invest into IMAG or live video production, some food for thought would be for a big weekend like Easter or Christmas to hire a local production company to bring in staff and gear to give you a taste of what having IMAG would be like, or go to a church with a similar style that uses IMAG and does it well.  It might seem like a lot of money to put forward to just “try” but if it costs 15K to rent the gear for a weekend it is better to know for sure you want to move in that direction before investing. Consult your local event services company for more accurate rental pricing.

Before you make the jump, find a consultant that you trust, that has done what you want to do before.

About brhoda

I freelance doing a few different thing in the video and live production market. I worked for a church for 5 years directing services and designing control rooms.
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