With the increasing popularity of live video streams for colleges, corporations and citizens alike, more and more people will look to offerings like UStream and/or its partner Watershed to share events with the world (wide Web). Since we recently survived our first project using Watershed, I thought I’d share some observations, pros and cons.
The project was our President’s Breakfast, which featured special guest speaker Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University and author of Big Man on Campus. He’s an awesome speaker. But getting from concept to execution wasn’t always awe-inspiring … sometimes more like aww-@#$%-inspiring.
The technology behind the live stream.
Setup: If you’re just broadcasting something simple and low-tech from your laptop, UStream is pretty good. When it’s a major production involving a camera, audio and embedding into your own branded page, more difficult. We went with Watershed, UStream’s option if you don’t want ads and prefer to embed in your own site. I worked with some outstanding video and audio technicians on the front end, involving a lot of trial and error and non-cooperation from Watershed’s interface. We also have a superb Web specialist who designed the page, embedded the code and — when it looked like the laborious code-intensive chat-moderation feature exceeded our personnel available — added a Twitter feed through Tweetizen where people could participate via a #sunyoswego tag.
Support: With UStream/Watershed, this is almost non-existent. The FAQ page, which is almost impossible to find, isn’t terribly helpful. Their live-chat feature relies on volunteers from the community to answer user questions. Judging from the log, these volunteers appear about as often as elves riding unicorns.
Cost: UStream is free, but limited in what it can deliver. If you go with Watershed, you can incur a monthly fee if you plan to use it often, or a pay-as-you-go service ($1 per viewer hour) if you’re still uncertain. You can’t go from monthly to pay-as-you-go without an additional large expense. Since this was a fairly modest experiment, we opened up a pay-as-you-go account.
Execution: Thanks to Herculean efforts by Rick our Web guru, we created a templated oswego.edu page which pulled in the feed and with a window syndicating comments that had a #sunyoswego hashtag. Audience was nice though not overwhelming — 140 views and 76 unique visitors from 20 states — often around 20 to 25 at any given time. But we didn’t do extensive promotion, in part because of uncertainly about how it would work. A lot of hits were driven by posts on Twitter and Facebook just before or during the event. We even had a few hashtag questions, including one I shared during our audience Q-and-A period.
Output: To its credit, Watershed rocks in terms of what it lets you do with recorded content: You can copy and paste an embed code for the recording, download a Flash file or both. The embed is good to put on your own Web site, while Flash file gives portability for YouTube and the like.
Analytics: UStream/Watershed offers pretty decent, albeit flawed, analytics. For instance, all of our hits from Oswego, NY were instead listed as being from Oswego, Kansas. Which is to say, I’m not sure how much I can trust any of its geographic data.
Doing a big production via UStream/Watershed, for the first time at least, can be … well, a big production. We burned a lot of hours and brain cells making it work, which it finally did thanks to expertise, teamwork and people dropping other things to seal the deal. The stream itself went wonderfully, a good frame rate, not too jumpy, consistent, etc. Plus we had great feedback from the audience — including at least one prominent alum asking to get more involved — and ultimately user experience is an important consideration.