How to Produce a Livestreamed Event
A Producer’s Guide to the Tools and Embedded Values
At HowlRound, we have been receiving many inquiries about how organizations and artists can adapt their cancelled in-person conferences, panel discussions, and talks to an online format during this moment of physical distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past few weeks, HowlRound TV has supported and peer-produced several examples of physical distancing conversations and performances. Each one is different in what it requires but there are some basic things to know before beginning. I am going to describe how one of them was done from the technical producing perspective.
This is just one workflow outlined here, and we are in a process of continuous learning so would appreciate your ideas for alternatives in the comments section below. Non-commercial, commons-based open-source software solutions are most welcome.
Long-Term Impact of the Physical Distancing Livestreaming Model
The physical distancing livestreaming model can be summed up as a video conference that is made publicly and broadly available to viewers through a livestreaming video player. Viewers do not need to join or log into a video conference meeting, instead they simply click “play” on a live video player to watch and listen.
Service organizations that serve the professional arts fields and that were in the habit of gathering people via air travel for large meetings and conferences are now currently forced to radically rethink and redesign their gatherings using video conferencing methods. This rethinking is one of the positive, prosocial, and proecological aspects of the COVID-19 crisis. Our field’s gatherings will be lower in carbon emissions, potentially more democratic and accessible in terms of participation, and more aligned with the overall necessity of downscaling our carbon-intensive activities, such as air travel, which a post-carbon future demands of us all.
Though much of the hardware, software, and institutions of the internet are not “green” and are very much part of the extractive economic and social paradigm, in the near-term they can be powerful communication and community organizing tools to help transition us and evolve us into a new way of organizing our artistic fields. Based on what I’m hearing from forward-thinking managers in arts institutions and independent artists who are most negatively impacted in this moment, rebooting the unjust and ecocidal business-as-usual system at the end of this pandemic is not at the top of anyone’s agenda, and I’m hopeful that will be true. Though difficult, and for many catastrophic, we’re also in a moment of learning and positive evolution. I believe we’re finally figuring out how we can connect more while traveling less.
This rethinking is one of the positive, prosocial, and proecological aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.
In this moment when there is much panicked energy around producing an online event, one aspect organizations should prioritize is accessibility for Deaf and disabled artistic communities. As these communities are generally ignored during stable times, it is even more incumbent on organizations to include the most marginalized now. Three features should be considered:
- Live captions
- Sign language interpretation
- Closed captions
Live captions are written by professionals who remotely receive the audio in real-time as the event is happening (for example, via video conference), and then type what they hear into a software that displays text on a webpage. This text can appear in an embeddable widget box (an HTML iframe) on your website underneath your livestream video player. The company we use is the United States–based nonprofit National Captioning Institute, and there are many other companies around the world that offer this service. We do not recommend software-written live captions as they are never as accurate as a well-prepared professional live caption writer. The cost for us is generally $175 USD/per hour (pro-rated per 15 min increments).
Sign language interpretation can be done remotely via video conference and can be done by firms that provide a service called Video Remote Interpreting (VRI). American Sign Language (ASL) is the most common language in anglophone United States and Canada. Most other countries have their own local sign language. If your event is international, you could hire several different interpreters to sign in different languages. We are always seeking to engage values-aligned firms who actively promote racial and cultural diversity of their interpreters, so if you know of any, please let us know in the comments below. The cost is generally $160 USD/per event ($80 USD/per hour, two-hour minimum booking).
Closed captions in this context means captions or subtitles that you can turn on or off and that get written after the event when there is video recording available. The best closed captions are written by people, not software. We use the company Rev.com, though there are many other options such as the United States–based nonprofit Amara. The cost is generally $75/per hour, billed per minute of video.
Example Event Breakdown
HowlRound’s livestreamed event “Come Together: The Art of Gathering in a Time of Crisis (ASL & Captioned)” is one example of a physical distancing livestream model, which I’ll explain in detail below.
Here is a screen capture of the event as it was happening live:
With “Come Together,” we used the following four platforms:
- Zoom Meetings, pro level account
- Livestream.com, enterprise level account
- Recapd live captions software
The panelists, speakers, facilitators, ASL interpreters, and live caption writers were the only people who joined the Zoom Meetings Pro video conference. One advantage of the Zoom Meetings Pro platform is that it allows for a custom destination for livestreaming, which is what HowlRound needs because our livestreaming platform is with the company livestream.com (as opposed to free platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube Live). The main concept here is that we are sending out a Zoom Meeting video conference to livestream, meaning all the audience members were watching the event by simply clicking “play” on a video player instead of logging into Zoom.
Livestream.com is our livestreaming platform, which allows for a live video player to be embedded on websites (via an HTML iframe), allows for simultaneously broadcasting to Facebook or YouTube’s livestream platforms, and gives viewership analytics after the event is over. The video archive of the event is recorded by both the Zoom and Livestream.com platforms.
Recapd live captions is the software and web platform used by National Captioning Institute to deliver the live captions. We embed the live captions with their HTML iframe underneath our HTML livestream video player iframe. (See the screen capture above for what that looks like.)
YouTube is where we publish our archival video recordings after the event. We do this for two reasons: YouTube’s closed-caption system is easy to use and integrates well into our overall workflow with Rev.com, and HowlRound videos are more easily findable because they are indexed by Google and YouTube.
Rebooting the unjust and ecocidal business-as-usual system at the end of this pandemic is not at the top of anyone’s agenda.
To set up this method of livestreaming, here’s what to do:
- In your Zoom Pro account, turn on “livestreaming” in the accounts settings. Then, in your livestream platform (such as livestream.com, vimeo.com, YouTube, Facebook), gather the RTMP Server URL and RTMP Stream Key. Add this information to your Zoom Meeting. This tells the Zoom Meeting where to deliver its video and audio to get livestreamed out publicly. Note: not all livestream platform providers or subscription levels have RTMP information available to use.
- The panelists, speakers, and anyone else taking part in the livestream should join Zoom prior to the event time. When you are ready to make the video conference public, hit the button in Zoom that sends the conference to livestream out. The programming then appears wherever you have embedded the livestream video player’s iframe and on a page hosted by your livestream platform provider.
- After the event, collect the video file from your livestream platform, upload it to YouTube, and then submit the YouTube video to your closed captions firm.
An Open-Source Alternative
Each organization or artist has a different context and different resources at their disposal. At HowlRound, which is based at Emerson College, we have institution-wide access to Zoom Pro accounts. Additionally, we also have an enterprise account with livestream.com. Given this, the above combination of tools for the above example fit us well for what we were trying to achieve.
However, if you are just starting to figure this out and do not already have platforms at your disposal, a free and open-source video conference app that people should consider first is Jitsi Meet.
All open-source software projects provide an alternative social vision of the world that is sometimes adversarial to market-based software’s vision of society as purely consumers. These projects exist to benefit and grant access to a greater community as opposed to just creating financial profit for owners and investors. They are oftentimes built and driven by people who volunteer, work cooperatively, and are interested in more equitable and democratic ways of creating culture. It’s the kind of product that aligns most with the spirit of nonprofit arts organizations.
One advantage we’ve experienced using Jitsi Meet is that the application itself is not blocked by as many governments as some other more well-known commercial products are—making international collaboration and communication more feasible. If you wanted to livestream a Jitsi Meet video conference, you would simply hit “Livestream to YouTube.” This feature is built in and integrated in a very user-friendly way.
Continuous Learning and Development
Over the next few months, there is likely to be more software development and improvements from both commercial and open-source communities, which will provide essential tools for the arts field to share conversations and ideas, make art and cultural experiences, and meet some of our needs in this difficult moment. We’re looking forward to sharing that progress.
Post a comment below if you already have something to share, or consider submitting an idea to write a longer post on our contribute content page.