There is nothing like everyone getting together to share in a live event like the Super Bowl. Sharing a live event with a crowd of friends is becoming very rare, especially in light of the 2020 pandemic. How do we deal with live vs delayed church streaming moving forward?

The Streaming Generation

With the rise of streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, we are ushering in a new generation that may never know what it was like to sit at the TV at 7 pm on Monday nights to watch your favorite show. And now that Warner Bros. will release all of its 2021 feature film slate on HBO Max at the same time as they hit theaters, the lines between on-demand and live have blurred to the point of obscurity. But is there a place in this new digital landscape for both? And what are the pros and cons?

Defining Terms

For our purposes, we will define live video as event-based productions delivered to our viewers in real-time. This would be services, sermons, conferences, concerts, or other events made available via television or internet live streaming as it is happening. We will consider VOD (video on demand) as a product delivered after the fact, whether an hour, a day, or even a month later.

With COVID-19 forcing a monumental shift in how we deliver live experiences, the approach to video changed in 2020. For my church, we moved up our timetable to broadcast every service online live and on-demand. Consider what your church is doing currently. Are you creating maximum impact based on your production goals and the resources you have? You might be stretching yourself too thin by trying to accomplish a live production beyond your monetary, time, and equipment resources. Others may be missing a golden opportunity to reach more people with your content because you are settling for a VOD-only option.

Live Video

The great thing about live productions is they are a collective experience. When you see a stadium filled with people or a living room crowded with friends, it is all about sharing something. This has incredible implications for the church. Since the church is about being together, live services have been the center of our collective experience for millennia. When we deliver our church services live, we allow those who cannot attend in person to share in a collective experience. Even in a satellite or campus model, those not in the main sanctuary can experience something together, in the moment. This has become even more important in a post-pandemic world where people may not feel comfortable attending services in-person. Additionally, the lack of personal connection for an extended period has caused parishioners to long for a shared (albeit online) experience.

Pros of live video:

#1 – Shared user experience – this intangible is the essence of what the church is designed to be.

#2 – Real-time experience – the audience experiences something as it happens. The content is fresh, new, hot off the press. The ability to watch a church service online at the exact time on a Sunday morning as it is happening is key to helping people feel connected and keep a sense of normalcy.

#3 – Urgency of experience – when we present live, there is an urgency to be aware of when it starts, be there on time, and do not want to miss anything. If you miss it, you may not hear it again. Also, the idea of “eventizing” a video presentation by setting a time and date for the broadcast can create buzz around it and increase attendance or engagement.

Cons of live video:

#1 – Creating live broadcasts is high stress. You have to prepare all of the elements beforehand. Everything must be ready to go and there are no second chances. Planning from all departments must be coordinated before the event. 

#2 – Often, delivering content in real-time means you need higher bandwidth. Confirming you can deliver 5-12mbps video over your internet will help ensure stellar video quality.

#3 – There is a greater potential to miss your target viewer. When something is delivered live, the chances of someone not being available to watch at that specific time increases. This means offering another option is ideal.

Live vs Delayed Church Streaming

On the flip side of things, VOD can let you breathe a big sigh of relief for a second. When delivering content on-demand, there is much more time to prepare, double-check, edit, and make sure the end product is how you want to deliver it. However, VOD is a much more individualistic experience. While it provides the convenience of watching when you have time, you are much more alone in the experience.

When it comes to VOD, here are some pros:

#1 – VOD allows you to craft the message at your own pace. It gives you time in post-production to adjust or fix any errors that may have gone out to air otherwise.

#2 – This delivery method can increase the chances that people will watch your content because they can fit it in their schedule and not have to adjust their time around a specific time and date.

#3 – Because you may not need expensive switching equipment, you could lower the cost of your production equipment. Instead of using a multi-camera setup with a switcher, you may be able to use just one or two cameras and edit in Adobe Premiere, Davinci Resolve, or Apple Final Cut. Additionally, you may need to coordinate a smaller crew like camera people, a technical director, a switcher, and more.

#4 – Lastly, producing video for broadcast at a later time can give you more flexibility to adhere to local health guidelines and still create a high-quality video production. While we were not allowed to have indoor worship services due to COVID-19 restrictions, we could have a small crew film the worship service and have an editor do the post by himself. This cut down on the number of people in the space so we could adhere to guidelines. It also allowed us to try some new techniques, like shooting in a more cinematic style, that we wouldn’t have been able to do if producing a live service.

However, there are some cons associated with this method:

#1 – Increase in time. Because of the post-production process involved with VOD, there can be a significant increase in time when editing and finishing the production.

#2 – Expectation of higher quality. When something is not live, there is often an increased viewer expectation of quality. For example, the live local news has a different production value than a dramatic TV episode. There is a difference in expectations based on how we’ve viewed live and pre-recorded content since the early days of television. And that’s not even taking into account the motion picture experience. This means that people expect us to edit out any blips and “live” mistakes. They may also expect a pre-produced introduction to your sermon or live content that you are serving on demand.

#3 – Finally, VOD has decreased relevancy. When we try to present live content after the fact, it loses its punch. Like watching a rerun on TV, a video can lose audience interest as more content is added and more time passes. 

The Changing Landscape of Video 

The landscape of video is constantly evolving. With services like Restream, YouTube Premiere, and Boxcast, you can create a live experience with a pre-recorded video. Also, the rise of live video on Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, Instagram, and other social media platforms, live video has become more popular. Additionally, the expectation of quality isn’t as much of a burden since many live videos are known to be “off the cuff”. New tech tools that make producing live productions easier and more affordable. Finally, more internet providers have installed fiber and gig speed networks that make bandwidth issues less of a problem for live streaming.

The Rise of the App

In the last few years, the increased accessibility of Apple TV and Roku apps has made delivering live and VOD content much easier for churches. With these apps, churches can offer viewers easy organization of content and a much friendlier user experience than searching through a YouTube or Facebook feed. Additionally, these apps allow viewers to easily watch content on their television which means a more enjoyable and collective viewing experience.

The Hybrid Model

I recently produced a short film and, due to pandemic restrictions, I could not have an in-person premiere. So, I decided to do a YouTube premiere. This is when you upload a video to YouTube but set a release date and time. Then YouTube plays the video as if it were live and offers it as a normal video after the “live” stream is over. This gave us the chance to create a shared experience with a pre-produced video. It was so successful. We had over 1,000 views of the premiere. Then those that wanted to watch it again and some that missed the premiere were able to watch it like a normal YouTube video. I feel this hybrid model is excellent, whether using a pre-produced “live” video or an actual live stream and is something we will continue to see moving forward.

How has your church adapted recently regarding live vs delayed church streaming?

Below is a list of articles we’ve published in the past on this topic:

Small Church Live Streaming

Connecting Church Communities Through Video

Live Streaming Trends for Churches

12 Live Streaming Providers to Consider