By Bob Lowe
Greensboro College SID/ CoSIDA Technology Committee Chair
The term â€œContent is Kingâ€ has spawned a revolution in the Internet technology. With that said, itâ€™s now possible to produce video broadcasts for free at sites such as Ustream.tv.
At Greensboro College, we have produced live audio webcasts since 1999. We also did a handful of video broadcasts years ago, but costs and poor video stunted its growth.
Fortunately, a colleague from Greensborosports.com, Don Moore, introduced us to Ustream.tv in August. The concept of free video streaming sounded too good to be true, but itâ€™s not.
According to its web site, â€œUstream is a platform that provides live interactive video for everyone. Anyone with a camera and an Internet connection can use Ustream to broadcast to a global audience.â€
Ustream.tv is a little like Youtube.com. On Ustream.tv, however, you can show full games and archive the broadcasts for future viewing. Video is known as a hog of resources, so this should be welcome by your campus IT folks.
New users need to sign up and create their own â€œchannelâ€ where you direct users to go for your webcasts. You post add logos or photos to your site and add links back to your home page, or elsewhere. The Greensboro College PrideTV channel is http://www.ustream.tv/gcpride. Folks can also search for relevant titles from the Ustream.tv home page.
There also are more bells and whistles that could be added. Graphics, ad placements and a scrolling â€œcrawlâ€ all are possible. Those third party features wonâ€™t be discussed in detail here, however.
During a broadcast, you also can enable a chat room. The game will be running on one side and the chat room appears next to it. This is a neat feature. During a recent game, one of our former student-athletes who is playing professionally in Europe checked in.
-The Set Up
With our initial set the only new piece of equipment purchased was a 14-foot Firewire cable that goes from the camera output to the input on a laptop. I used my Gateway laptop and a recently purchased Sony HandyCam DCR-HC28. This $300 camera (800x digital, 20x optical zoom) is a consumer level product that produced very good results. (NOTE: A three-year-old HandyCam we tried, however, did not offer an acceptable quality.)
Another benefit is that you do NOT need encoding software to broadcast on Ustream.tv. They pick up the video straight from your computer. You simply choose a few setting and press â€œStart Broadcast.â€ If you want to archive the broadcast, users need to press â€œstart recording,â€ too.
As for audio, we experienced very good results with the following. Our JK Audio RemoteMix mixer, which has been used for audio broadcasts via telephone, was put to use. We donâ€™t activate the telephone line, just run the output from the mixer to the microphone jack on the laptop. (Note: we tested computer headset microphones to the same jack with poor results.)
We use the Sennheiser broadcast-quality headset microphones. Such headsets should work with an inexpensive sound board and a line into the computer. If your camera as an audio input, you could also run sound that way.
-Maintaining a Quality End Product
Once youâ€™ve sent the feed to Ustream.tv, you can monitor the broadcast on the streaming computer. A sound and video check and monitoring during the game is also recommended.
Ustream recommends at least 300K BPS Upload speed to run a broadcast. If interested, you can test your upload speed at www.speakeasy.net/speedtest. If your upload is too low, the broadcast can be choppy or cut out. Consult with your campus information technology people.
Viewers should not expect HDTV or even ESPN360 with Ustream.tv. The picture is decent and the audio has been very good. When the camera pans at basketball game, for example, it appears to be difficult for the end product to be clear. Still shots, if possible, seem to be better video.
Better equipment, more equipment and more manpower could result in better broadcasts.
-Practice Makes Perfect
We later tested tapping into to our basketball coachâ€™s broadcast cameras. By plugging our Firewire into their unit we save on manpower, too. The coach and broadcast producer, however, both need to be on the same page about what the broadcast will look like.
Our crew went on the road, too, for our recent menâ€™s basketball game at Hampden-Sydney College. We averaged more than 200 viewers during the webcast. This is more than double any other broadcast we have produced at GC and more than 10 times the listeners for an average basketball transmission.
This Dec. 30 webcast was the most watched program for much of its live duration. Because of that, our game was the featured program when computer users logged onto Ustream.tv that day. Additionally, the broadcast was later a featured archive, likely due to its high viewership.
Obviously these impressive numbers tell a story. The broadcasts reach folks (Ustream surfers) who otherwise wouldnâ€™t be familiar with your athletic programs or institution. Yet thatâ€™s all the more reason to produce quality webcsasts and offer links back to your institution.
Since we are also providing live stats of basketball games, we direct fans to open live stats in one browser, then minimize the width. We suggest doing the same of Ustream in a different browser window. The result is audio, video and stats on one screen for the audience!
-Is there a Down Side?
Some institutions may have issue with streaming to a third party. Ustream features radio shows and niche broadcasts, but itâ€™s mostly Average Joe on a webcam. For some reason, people like showing themselves at their computers or doing mundane activities. Yet this story wouldnâ€™t exist if there was a high â€œsleaze factorâ€ on Ustream. Additionally, an unobtrusive Ustream.tv watermark is present during broadcasts, but itâ€™s not offensive.
Ustream.tv has a few weaknesses. The technical support page/forum could be more extensive about set up and other issues. When I registered and asked questions on its forum, however, my questions were answered quickly and accurately.
Some of your coaches might be concerned about displaying live and archived game footage on the Net. They could view it as an advantage for opponents in scouting. With that said, you donâ€™t have to archive the broadcasts and can just show them live.
Itâ€™s easy to embed a link to your web site. This brings the video player to your site and keeps the branding of your institution. We embedded the link into our live stats program, too. This value added feature was paste into Statcrewâ€™s â€œsponsor logo textâ€ area.
Our coaches, however, seem to see the bigger picture: The benefits of producing live games on the net can be a boon for a small college. Players, fans, families and recruits should love it. While others are charging between $5 and $10 for a game, weâ€™ll rest easily knowing this value-added feature is being offered FREE to our constituents.
Yet there are other celebrity types who also see the value in Ustreamâ€™s audience. Presidential candidates Mitt Romney, John McCain and Barack Obama have offered live stump speeches. Musicians are prevalent and there are a handful of other sports related shows. Iâ€™ve scanned billiard, high school basketball, and various court sports from Europe.
-Not Ready for Video?
If you donâ€™t have the staff, equipment or desire to video, audio with Ustream is an option, too. There are numerous radio broadcasts on Ustream. Those logos and photo we mentioned earlier can appear on your screen during the games.
Once again, Ustream.tv is free to produce and free for end users to listen and/or view the broadcasts.
From a production standpoint, Ustream is easy and you donâ€™t have server hosting issues. The fact that you do not need encoding software is also a bonus. End users should be pleased that colleges are providing free broadcasts of game. The audio-only webcast is also worth exploring for many SIDs.
Finally, this article only discusses the game broadcasts of Ustream.tv. There are many other possible applications for our profession. Coaches shows and offering an on-campus TV station 24/7 come to mind.
-Ustream web site
-Recent L.A. Times story on streaming at the university level
-Venture Beat stories on the various video streamers