On my Blog I try and make my audience clear, I write for the Live Video person doing IMAG, or at the very least, church Tech people in general. But this may be one of the few post I ever write that I hope Church leaders/ decision makers read. I have seen and or been part of quite a few multi-campus churches and there are many ways to do multi-site video venues, (take a look at different style options on the multi-site tab on the top of this Blog). However, when diving into multi-site for the first time there are a few Do’s and Don’t that no matter what style of Video venue is chosen should be followed.
Don’t rush into it: I have seen many different scenarios of churches rushing into multi-site video venues. Everything from a church was given a property and the congregation pushes to go now, to a premature announcement announcing the date when it will launch and nobody knows if it will actually be ready or even work. But going multi-site is not just a decision to either do it or not. In fact, once the decision is made to launch another campus, and that campus will be a video venue, the planning has really just begun. In the realm of technology, decisions need to be made based upon desired style, technology required for recording venue, technology required for the play-out venue, and process for transportation and delivery. The planning of all these things alone takes time, but each piece should be given a proper timeline to implement.
It’s much like building a house, you never just sell your house and then expect to move-in within a month before any planning has started. You have to find a lot, pick a contractor, design the house, figure out the details, and so on and so forth. It takes months, not weeks for this process to take place. The same is true with implementing the level of technology required to do a multi-site video venue, it takes time to do it right.
Don’t buy the cheapest thing that will work: If I have heard it once I have heard it a 1000+ times, “What is the cheapest thing we can buy to make this work?” I can’t even begin to go into why this is the wrong question to be asking. I believe a statement should replace the question, “This has to work!” Do you understand what you are doing once the decision is made to build a video venue? You are asking people to come to church to watch a screen for at least half of a service! They have no other option, it has to work, and it has to be reliable if this campus is to succeed. If you go in with the cheapest thing possible you are automatically going in with the wrong approach. This doesn’t mean you can’t be budget conscious, it just means it is going to take a good chunk of cash to get it going.
Don’t go in without a back up plan: So if we start saying “This has to Work” we need to face that even the best gear on the market will eventually fail for one reason or another. It could be human error, struck by lighting or just simply fail for no good reason. Either way, if you are doing video, there needs to be a back-up plan in place. In most cases this is a back-up recording on duplicate record decks or on less than ideal mediums such as DVD’s. When I worked at Eagle Brook Church we always had a minimum of 2 back-ups behind our primary transport method. And we had a full procedure sheet that went over every different scenario possible and what to do if something failed during that time. In my 5 years at Eagle Brook even with some fantastic gear, we still had many occasions where we would go to one of our back-ups. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. Don’t overlook back-up plans.
Don’t give it to a volunteer: In pretty much every church the message is your bread and butter, it’s why people come to your church. If you have a 100% volunteer tech team I would highly recommend not going to a video venue until you have some type of staff in place to be responsible for the technology and the process. I believe in many cases this is a paid staff person on both ends, the record site and the play-out site. Again, This HAS to work, as great as many volunteers are, this isn’t what they do for a living, and don’t have as much at stake as a staff person would. If the system needs to be refined, staff people will more quickly react then a volunteer can. There has to be some level of responsibility/ reliability that this will work every week no matter what!
As much as volunteers will be a part of the process, they should not be solely responsible. Minimizing human error is one of the hardest things to make consistent, by minimizing volunteer involvement with the critical stages of recording and play-out can be a huge factor in success. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a volunteer press record or press play. But there has to be someone overseeing to make sure things are on track and done right.
Don’t forget about quality: It not only has to work, but it also has to look good, keep people engaged and make them forget that they are at a video venue. The audience doesn’t have to believe that the person speaking is actually there, but they should eventually not care that they aren’t. One of the best ways to do this is have a product of quality. This is end to end. It starts with the Pastor and how they look, what they say and possibly wearing make-up; good lighting; quality cameras; steady/ smooth operation; high resolution recording devices; If you are streaming, a high quality stream; a good play-out device(s), and great projectors. Yes this has to do with gear, but it also has to do with training and practice. Quality matters, if you don’t care about quality then you are essentially saying that you don’t care if the video venue succeeds or fails.
Quality doesn’t stop being an issue once you launch your first service, it will take years and years of continuing to refine and work on making the quality better and better. The process will continue forever, and needs to be watched closely to ensure things don’t slip. Your campus(s) depend on the quality being high.
Do your homework- visit other multi sites: You are not the first church to do multi-site, go visit other churches that are doing multi-site and go to a few of them, ideally ones that are doing different styles to give you an idea of different options, what works well and what doesn’t. Find churches doing multi-site well but also find churches that aren’t doing it well and figure out why they aren’t. Ask lots of questions about the technology they use and what the overall cost is. Whatever they tell you the actual price is, assume it will cost you more. The reason I say this is because you don’t know what technology they had in place, what deals were around when they purchased that gear, or if that gear is even available anymore. The safe bet is to assume higher. But the best way to learn is to visit other churches and learn from what they did well and their mistakes in going through the process.
One of the mistakes I see when churches visit other churches is they are usually under the impression that they can do it differently or spend less than the church they are at did. Yes, you can do it differently and still do it well, but facing reality is important. The reality of cost, quality, timelines, training, and practice need to be understood when entering into multi-site.
Do keep it practical: I hear all the time that churches just want to dive right in. They want to do 2 channels, live stream, time slip, and the first week out of the gate. Keep in mind you can always expand later. But start off simple; see if it will work first. I’m not saying to invest in the bare minimum, but invest wisely in order to expand in the future if things tend to go well. It is also easier to move forward step-by-step then it is to dive in head first.
Since I have left Eagle brook I have help a few churches go Multi-site. And very often I hear of churches that want to do multi-site the exact same way EBC is doing it, the whole 9 yards. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do it the best you can, but maybe before doing live stream try doing a physical transfer of decks, and rather than doing two channels maybe try with 1 first. If you have the staff and infrastructure to go all in, then go for it, but if you don’t then scale it back. A quality experience can still be achieved with less.
One of the churches I recently worked with did a very simple setup. They transport 1 drive from one location to the next, it is a single camera shot operated well without graphics and only video rolls mixing in and out of the camera shot. At their playback campus, it is a small venue, we have three screens butted up next to eachother, and they play the pastor on the center screen and on the sides they have the pastor’s Prezi. Because of the room size, and technology budget, it makes perfect sense to do what they are doing, and it looks good! It was carefully planned and implemented well. It is simple but clean, and their first campus is a huge success!
The other side of this is don’t try too much too soon. I worked with a larger church that did the 2 channel live stream system. We spent a lot of time getting it working and up to speed (on a very tight timeline). This church did decide that the first week out of the gate they wanted to broadcast in reverse. They didn’t purchase extra gear to make this happen so we had to physically un-install the gear and move it from one location to the other. This would be a major task on any week that I would never recommend, but to do this the First week wasn’t practical. The church pushed and as an integrator we made it happen. (I was out of town so my Boss made it happen J). But there are so many variables in live stream that getting one direction to work well has it’s challenges, to immediately swap directions can be equally challenging. Just because it works one way doesn’t mean it will work both ways. Be practical.
Do train for multi site: Practice, practice, practice! Multi-site may be a different product than what is produced for the Web or in-house IMAG. So it requires practice from all parties involved. The Pastor, Camera operators, video directors, CG operators, audio guys, lighting ect. It takes the whole team. And it isn’t just getting the product looking good it is also about the process and building habits to ensure things get done and done right week in and week out. As someone I recently met said, repeated perfect practice produces perfect results. Figure out the details in getting a good product because everyone plays an important part.
Do invest: Doing multi-site video venues are not cheap. If you do it in a cheap manor you will get cheap results. But yet many churches don’t want to invest the money in the proper video technology. It is important to invest well not only in the record but also in the playback campuses as well. The first campus is always the most difficult because you have to make investments into 2 venues rather than one and the record campus is always the most expensive. After the first satellite campus is launched the investments back into the main record venue is much smaller.
Think of the alternative to a video venue, having a live speaker every week that is up to the quality of the speaker you have at your main campus. Not only is that difficult to find, but people need time off and then you have to have someone fill in for them. So think of the salary for a speaker, I’ll say 60K a year, I feel like that is middle of the road for a teaching pastor these days. After 2 years that is 120K of savings by not hiring a speaker for that campus. And if you buy the right the gear, it will last 5-10 years. If you take that 120K and invest that into just the cost of doing the recording and distribution, that can go a long way, it may be more or less than you need but either way it is a good chunk of cash to get multi-site going. Keep in mind a Satellite campuses needs basic audio, video and lighting no matter if you have a speaker or make it a video venue, so the money you save in staffing should go towards the specific technology needed for the video venue portion of the install.
Investing wisely into a video venue from the start makes a huge difference; if the investments are made cheaply then it will always be a struggle to get these campuses to be successful. Don’t let the poor investments of the bread and butter of your service be the reason why a satellite campus doesn’t succeed.
Do partner with an integrator that has expertise with Multi-Site: The best thing you can do as a church when investing in the technology for multi-site is to partner with a good integrator that has done this before. It is the job of system integrators to know what technology is out there and what is the best fit for what you want to do and talk through the ups and downs of each solution and style of production. So find a system integrator you trust, visit other sites they have worked on and see the solutions they have integrated. There are many ways to do multi-site video venues, and an integrator will be the best resource you have to point you in the proper direction.
Watching churches dive into multi-site without doing their research and fully understanding what it takes to pull off multi-site video venues well is hard for me to watch. Everyone wants a quick fix solution that doesn’t cost any money, but that doesn’t exist. These campuses are not just a cheap thing to throw together to solve a problem; they truly are investments and need to be treated as such. An investment in technology, staff and volunteers to make these campuses succeed.