When it comes to movies or television programming, most viewers reduce the experience to a binary reaction—is it “good” or isn’t it? They don’t dissect whether the camera work was repetitive, if the lighting was two-dimensional, whether the script was weak, or if the audio was poorly mixed; they simply conclude that the show "wasn’t all that great."
Consider, for a moment, a symphony ensemble. An orchestra is only effective when each of the instrumentalists work together to seamlessly create something greater than the sum of its parts. The work of each individual performer matters, and if one player has a bad performance it directly impacts the success or failure of the concert. In the same way, as churches continue to lean more heavily into the power of live streaming as a primary strategy for carrying out their mission, the overall quality of each aspect of the production makes a considerable impact. If an aspect of your stream is “off,” it can seriously impact a viewer’s overall experience—even if they can’t clearly express why.
Let’s take a few minutes to explore the individual aspects of a live stream that tech and broadcast directors need to optimize to create a great overall experience for their viewers. The first and most obvious part of creating a great live stream begins with solid camera work. It’s important to ensure that the shots you’re setting up effectively transport the viewer into the live experience. Your shot selection should also be varied enough to hold the attention of viewers that are only half paying attention. While great camera work can seem like the most difficult and expensive part of setting up a great live stream, this is also an area where a little creativity can go a long way.
Two cameras with decent zoom lenses, each placed in the optimal positions in the room, can quickly become six or seven great angles with some planning. Another area that can significantly elevate the perceived value of your live stream is the stage and house lighting setups. With the dramatic increase of light sensitivity in today’s larger-sensor broadcast cameras, stage lighting for broadcast ministry is changing for the better. These improvements allow current lighting design to move away from valuing brightness at specific spots onstage and into creating consistent coverage across more of the stage area. Effective lighting design for live streaming should ultimately endeavor to create transparency for the viewer, where the subjects are evenly lit when moving left, right, upstage or downstage. Broadcast directors will also want to ensure that the primary lighting for vocalists and teaching pastors render accurate and flattering skin tones in the final video output.
One aspect of live streaming that is too often overlooked is audio quality. Studies have consistently shown that live streaming viewers are more apt to overlook substandard visuals than they are poor audio. If your mix is poor, or worse, distorted, most viewers will simply move on and find something else to watch. Creating audio mixes that take advantage of broadcast-style audio mixing, compression, and ambient room mic’ing will set their streams up for increased effectiveness.
Successful streaming ministries often choose to create audio mixes separate and unique from the live house mixes for the best final results. Another area to keep in mind is the overall quality and impact of the design aesthetic of your graphics and animation. For instance, do your graphics appear to be stylistically unified? Are your animations used sparingly and do they appear similar to the design of your graphics?And finally, are the lyrics and sermon text elements designed to be readable on small cell phone screens as well as large televisions?
Finally, while it’s good when you have the elements inplace to create a great live stream, it’s better when your team can knock out a weekend stream without the director’s hands even being on the controls. Investing in the long-term success of your streaming ministry team, and bringing your leadership on the journey with you, will help you fulfill your ultimate call as a leader and set your ministry up to adapt to whatever is just around the corner. It’s often said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When it comes to orchestrating an impactful live stream, investing in the strength of every link in that chain will pay off in the increased effectiveness and impact of your live streaming ministry.
ALEX SCHWINDT is a filmmaker and writer with over two decades of ministry experience. He’s also the creative director of Alex Schwindt Media, a boutique media agency specializing in commercial, documentary and concept film and video.