• Further Film Industry Innovation: Live Streaming

My last post was on the topic of innovation in the film industry, and I wanted to continue the discussion by looking at a particular innovation. In November I was asked to stream a wedding ceremony and was introduced to Speedstream.tv (makers of a mobile, wearable iPTV streaming technology that works off of a wireless signal). Basically, it broadcasts a live video feed to the internet. I saw this technology as a potentially great tool for the Austin Film Society. We do so many events throughout the year, and it could open up our audience and broaden our membership capabilities. We decided to test the device at one of our Moviemaker Dialogue events on November 10th with Janet Pierson and Claudette Godfrey of SXSW Film.

The event itself was great. The topic, “An Insider Guide to the SXSW Film Festival”, was a how-to for independent filmmakers to submit their films to film festivals, a really exciting and useful subject for budding filmmakers from two big hitters on the festival scene. The event was well attended and informative, and Pierson and Godfrey gave some great advice to the attentive audience. A couple of the take-home points were that your film is right for some festivals, but it’s not right for all of them. Know your film and where it fits, and then plan which festivals you will submit your film to and budget for them before you even enter production.

Prior to the moviemaker dialogue, I had seen the streaming technology used only a couple other times, but this event marked my first time to use the equipment entirely on my own. I arrived an hour before to set up the equipment. The pack consists of a hard-shell, fairly lightweight backpack with battery pack and touchscreen computer monitor, which connects to your camera using an a/v composite cord.

The way this works is by connecting your camera’s audio/video feed to the streaming kit, which is connected to a wireless network. The audio/video information is encoded in real time by the kit’s computer and sent over the network to a specific URL address in the form of IP (internet protocol) packets. The packets are then decoded on the user end and show up as a live video stream.

We were using a 4G wireless Clear Spot to connect the device to the web and had a strong signal, but I was still unable to successfully start the encoding. The people waiting on their computers at home to test the feed were unable to view the event, and I wasn’t equipped at the time to troubleshoot the issues we were having. Two of the main problems included identifying interference from a nearby computer logged onto the feed’s URL and, as I learned later, an incorrectly entered password for the encoding.

I have had the opportunity to use the technology a few times since with greater success. Still, many of the nuances and ticks of live Internet broadcasting are currently beyond my knowledge base and that of the general public, and this technology is still in sort of an adolescent stage. I want to start with the benefits of the technology, and then talk about some of the current limitations.

The pack is lightweight, compact and portable and does not require a wired connection or external power source like other types of live streaming devices. This makes the product highly mobile and great for work in the field or at big events. In addition, the interface is fairly easy to use, so a one or two person crew can operate the equipment with excellent results. The feed can reach a large targeted audience from anywhere in the world if people cannot make it to the actual event. This has the potential to broaden membership for an organization such as the Austin Film Society because people could benefit from our great speakers and programing even if they are located outside of Austin. The pack also connects directly to a dedicated URL, which can then be embedded into your own website for a streamlined look. The technology is continually improving and even expanding to multiple devices at different price points, including tablets with built-in cameras.

As far as limitations, the equipment requires a level of experience to troubleshoot and stream at the highest quality. The streamer has to have good knowledge of Internet broadcasting requirements, including bandwidth needs. This being an independent company with limited bandwidth, it could become an issue, as users have come to expect a high-level of video quality on their computers. Wireless signal can also be unreliable. I lost the feed at some point during the wedding ceremony I streamed when I hit a weak connection and had to deal with the fallout of unhappy viewers. And on the other end, user compliance and high-speed connections are needed to optimize the experience. All Internet browsers do not yet support this technology and some browsers require certain plug-ins to be downloaded, which requires a level of sophistication by the viewers.

All that being said, I was able to go from no broadcasting experience at all to streaming an event for an audience of over a thousand people in just a few short months, which speaks wonders for the ease of use of this product. Working with this new equipment has been a great learning experience, and this is clearly a technology that has potentially huge implications for the future of broadcasting.