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Multi-Site Streaming Solution – The questions to ask when shopping

The multi-site churches across the world, more specifically in North America, are each faced with the same question: Will they have live-preaching or video delivery of the main campus experience? If video delivery, will it be live or have a time-differential. If a time-differential, will it be via Internet or a SneakerNet delivered storage device to each location? For this multi-site article we will focus on video delivery over IP, either live or with a time-differential. Now, there are more and more companies offering some form of multi-site streaming and they are all different. We want to help you to find the right solution that fits your ministry’s needs. Hopefully this article will help in your quest.

So, what should one look for when choosing a provider? Each church and their situation is unique; there is not a one-size fits all solution. There are a ton of solutions with different features and price points. Also, each site will have their fair share of issues to add to the equation. This article should be taken as a good starting point when considering a provider. As a consumer, you should ask questions, even the hard questions that scratch the surface to see what really is being told. After all, you trust a vendor to deliver your experience from the main campus to each site in a reliable fashion.

Multi-Site Streaming Workflow

Questions to ask about a particular multi-site streaming workflow: Did you design and implement this solution in-house? If designed in-house, are we able to talk to the engineers who put it together? Are you able to add features to the solution at our request, even if we have to pay for it? Why is the workflow the way it is?

Don’t be shocked when you hear “no,” to your questions. This is because the overwhelming number of companies who offer a form of multi-site streaming is reselling another provider’s service or offering a black box solution. The most popular form is cloud DVR. You can use either a flash player in your browser or their hardware with cloud DVR. It is true each CDN has their own form of DVR, which is Adobe’s streaming server, but they come with their fair share of limitations. Ask what limitations are with their DVR solution. “How many hours will the DVR stick around?” is a great question. Ask, how does your solution differ from their competitors? How are they overcoming the limitations of the DVR? The biggest drawback for cloud DVR is the buffer time when viewing. You will typically have a 10-second buffer. So if anything happens, you have 10 seconds to correct it or the video will be interrupted. Ask, what is the typical buffer window with their solution? Also, is their DVR hosted in their own data center and if so, do they provide a location close to you?

Multi-Site Streaming Support

Why is it important to deal with a company whom has full control over the solution? If something does not work, you expect them to fix it. If they did not design and build it, how can they fix it in a reasonable amount of time?

Picture a room full of folks in your multi-site location(s). The multi-site video delivery is not working, how fast do you think it will get resolved, especially if the vendor does not have full control over the solution? No doubt things break. Having a vendor that can quickly identify the problem and implement a solution is critical, especially with time-sensitive scenarios such as multi-site streaming. How much faster will a vendor be able to identify the problem, fix it, if they have full control over the solution that they have developed? Ask your potential vendor, if they offer support on Sundays and the ones doing the support will have intimate knowledge of the solution. The last thing you want is a guy opening a ticket for you while you have a room full of people waiting to receive the Word.

Multi-Site Streaming Cost

When it comes to cost, a lot of people get stuck at the price tag. No matter if it is expensive or cheap. I encourage you to look deeper, harder into the cost. Meaning, what value do you get with the cost and, with the value being presented, if the cost is justified. The majority of decision makers (The Board) never hears about the features or value that goes with the solution and just makes a decision from the price. Usually, information is gathered by one person who presents it to the board, so they choose the cheapest one. Then you have 200 people in the room watching the video that does not work, and everyone wonders why.

It’s a good idea to break the cost down by site, instead of an aggregate view. After all, you determine the health of a site by what is taken in compared to what it costs to operate. A benefit of the multi-site model is to have a more economical approach to expand your church. So a good question to ask is where is the value with the price we would pay for each site? Do we need to purchase encoders and decoders for each site?

Be an alert consumer when you hear, “everyone is doing it this way” or “it’s industry-standard.” Maybe a lot of people are using one solution, but it does not mean it will work for you or it’s the best way to do it. Ask for a 30-day trial of their solution and test it, including hardware. Don’t test just once on a Monday or a Tuesday. Test on the days you would stream and at the same time and location. Try to break the stream, unplug the Internet cable, plug it back in. Think of real world scenarios that would happen and see how the solutions respond. Remember, no two sites are the same and each has their own set of problems.

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