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Going Multisite: How to Prepare

Week Behind, Almost Live, & Real-Time

The number of new multisite ministries is difficult to calculate, seeing as the term “multisite” can mean so many things. However, one thing is clear: the multisite church model continues to explode.

It won’t be long before every community in the United States has at least one church that is part of a multisite congregation.

It’s getting easier and more affordable every day.

This proliferation of multisite facilities is not only recognized by people looking to plant churches — it’s also being observed by equipment manufacturers. This means that innovative products and solutions will continue to be developed, as well as price drops.

Internet bandwidth requirements continue to increase for the average consumer and are increasingly mobile — with LTE speeds rivaling the average household cable modem. Additionally, more fiber lines are being run in cities across America, which allows for tremendous data speeds and large files to be moved consistently from one location to another.

On top of all this, the cost per byte of data is continuing to fall as market forces work to introduce competition and new service providers.

Why go multisite anyway?

For many, the decision to move to a multisite ministry is economic. Perhaps the current campus can no longer support the growth in attendance and the church doesn’t have the funds to build a new, larger facility. A smaller facility that will supplement the main building and spread out the attendance is a great option.

For those pursuing multisite, you will be happy to learn that you no longer have to spend a boatload of cash on gear to get a quality experience.

Innovative technology and dropping prices across the spectrum have made video venues a viable economic model for almost everyone.

Multisite considerations

There are many items to consider when planning for a multisite ministry that can inform your production decisions.

Visual continuity is a big issue when taking content from one venue and transporting it to another. For example, if the acquisition venue (where you are filming) has a beach ball theme, and the receiving venue does not, then it can definitely destroy the illusion. To combat this, you can create a projection backdrop of the pastor in the acquisition venue that can be changed when needed, or you can plan on getting a tighter shot with the camera to reduce the amount of background that is seen.

Keep in mind that the content in video venues has to be duplicable. If your first church can accept content in real-time via a T1 Internet circuit, and your next venue is in a more remote location without a T1, you will now have two standards and systems to work with. It’s not impossible to do, but it does make things more complicated.

It gets hard to juggle if you have one live facility, another that is almost live, and another a week behind. Keep in mind that the solutions increase in price and complexity the closer you get to “real-time” streaming.

Multisite Options:

The “week behind” facility

If you are a “week behind” facility, then you have several options for new technology that can simplify your workflow.

Many of the newer production cameras can record directly to an SD card in an H.264 or Quicktime format, so you can take your content right to an editing station, or send the file to a remote campus.

The “almost live” facility

“Almost live” is a great option for those who can alter their programming to make it work. For instance, if the acquisition venue has a service at 9:00 AM that can be recorded, that file can potentially be transferred to a playback venue for a 10:30 AM service.

Or, the video can be streamed live to the playback venue, where it can be recorded and played back at the 10:30 AM service. This gives you greater flexibility for when to start the service. This way, you can replay that segment and incorporate it into the service without the expense of a production video server, which would give you the DVR capability to start and stop the video segment while it is still recording.

The “live” facility

Live is the most complex multisite scenario, from a technological perspective. But it does offer ease of programming, and once you get it right, the process should run like clockwork.

For those in metropolitan areas, fiber Internet is a great choice. It offers high bandwidth, so you can send the best picture quality to your playback venues. If you have campuses in more rural areas or over great distances, then satellite transmission can be best.

Satellite is financially daunting at first, but the more venues you have the better the cost gets, and the reliability is rock solid. Satellite and fiber lines are top-tier when considering data transmission. Still, churches make multisite work all the time over the public Internet and even the old-fashioned “sneaker” net.

Streaming Options

Streaming options used to be pretty limited, but as the quality has increased and video compression has improved, the cost has also decreased. Basic streaming requires that you have an encoder at the acquisition venue and a decoder at each playback venue to stream the video.

Encoder Options

Encoders/Decoders that stream two channels of content in one piece of gear are becoming more prevalent. These models benefit those working in the “virtual pastor” model, meaning the pastor wishes to have back-and-forth contact with the remote venues. Encoders are generally divided into hardware pieces that stand alone and perform one function, and software decoders that are run on a standard PC.

This range of options makes it pretty flexible for a variety of playback venues that may have different download speeds. The transcoding part allows for several different file sizes — the higher the file size the higher the quality — so each playback venue can take advantage of their Internet download speed.

Hardware encoders have also exploded on the market with a new range of options, including the openGear platform which has many manufacturing partners that all create cards for the same frame. This gives you the option of picking an encoder from one manufacturer and a decoder from another while still having a similar platform and interface.

What does your audience want?

All the new gear aside, it is good practice to assess feedback from your local community to determine if pursuing a video venue (multisite) strategy is right for you.

From those discussions, you will be able to better determine what delivery method you should choose. Receiving expert advice from talking with others who have already walked this road goes a long way to saving you from making expensive mistakes.

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