I talked in previous posts about our work with the European Conference on Educational Research to ‘amplify’ the conference, recently held in Vienna. This involved setting up various social media channels including a Twitter stream and a iTunesU page, producing a series of video interviews with conveners of the different networks which organise ECER and b9radcasting three live radio shows from the conference.
We also undertook to stream four keynote speeches, run in two parallel sessions as well as the opening. Easy, I thought. Like many of you I have live streamed from different events, pointing a camera or even a MacBook at the speaker and linking in to uStream or Justin.tv or one of the other social video platforms. It turned out not to be so simple.
We were working with a community not generally used to social media. And quite simply, the idea of pointing them to a platform advertising poker, acne treatments didn’t seem a good idea. Plus we had an issue with the reliability and quality of the free services. Livestream looked a better idea especially though their premium accounts. This allows you to have your own channel and remove the adverts.but a single channel on Livestream costs 350 dollars a month, with twelve months billing in advance. And we needed two channels. Back to the drawing board. We discovered that Ustream has set up another service called Watershed and indeed for a time were tempted by this. Watershed offers per view payments, but the prices are relatively high. And the terms and conditions of service for the monthly or annual contracts was impenetrable. No problem, we thought, we will ring them and clarify the conditions. Then we discovered there was no telephone number on their site. All you cold do was ask questions on a bulletin board, largely filled with complaints about the service and the total lack of technical support.
OK – so that didn’t seem such a good idea. Last resort – ask a friend. I twittered out for anyone with ideas of a service we could use. And somewhat to my surprise, no-one could come up with a solution, other than the services we had already looked at.
Back to searching on the Internet. Of course there are many companies offering professional streaming services but they all seem geared towards corporate or media organisations, not towards education or for relatively low numbers of live viewers.
I finally stumbled on a web site from a Canadian company called NetroMedia. Their prices were not clear but they said that for one off events you could fill in a query form. So I did, not with any great hope. To my surprise about half an hour later, I had an email reply asking for more details about the event I wished to stream. And to my even greater surprise, some forty minutes after returning this a person rang me. Yes, a real live person!!!
She calculated how much bandwidth we would need and offered us a service for 100 Canadian dollars, plus 20 dollars for unlimited technical support. (Note that if you buy into this or a similar service, it is important to buy sufficient bandwidth in advance, extra bandwidth per view is relatively expensive). Woo, away we go. Even better some twenty minutes after paying them, Darren, the technical support man rung us. This was very helpful, because although the set up is relatively simple, we required two video streams going out simultaneously, and that required a little fiddling.
NetroMedia do not offer a portal for streams. Instead they provide a streaming service and you embed a Flash video player in your own web site. This suited us just fine. The up stream was encoded through the free Adobe Flash Media Encoder, which worked well on both a PC and a Mac. The only thing I would like is to have more direction control over what we were streaming – e.g to be able to switch between a feed from the data projector and the video but I am sure we can work out how to do that. I am very happy with the quality of the streaming (you can view the recordings by clicking on read more on each of the channels on the ECER video streaming web page) although we were helped in this regard by the kind loan from Helsinki University of two very good video cameras.
Of course, if you are working in a University or large organisation, you may be able to run your own streaming server.But such an investment is beyond Pontydysgu, or I guess many small organisations. Yet video streaming is going to be an important part of Amplifying future events. And we need a reliable and reasonable quality of service. I would certainly go to Netromedia again. But I also wonder if there is some way we could collectively organise resources for streaming in the educational technology community to both share know-how and expertise and infrastructure.