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Webcasting Weddings
Posted Feb 14, 2008 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Every bride we've met has expressed disappointment that at least one close family member could not attend her wedding. In the several years we've been running San Francisco-based Savadelis Films, the close family member is usually a beloved grandparent who is too weak or too sick to make the journey. On a very rare occasion, it is a parent. That is what happened to our bride Pam. Just days before her wedding, her mother broke her leg and was hospitalized, unable to fly from Ohio to California for her daughter’s wedding. As you might imagine, Pam, her groom Phil, and her entire family were heartsick.

What’s interesting to us as videographers is that we can, at least partially, mitigate the heartache of a mother not being able to see her daughter be married— and not just by showing her what it was like after the fact. Technology has advanced to the point that we can broadcast events live over the internet from almost anywhere on earth. The price has come down to a point that is within reach for many brides, and mastering the technology is well within the abilities of most wedding video studios. This gives videographers the potential to become heroes in the eyes of their brides.

figure 1The Challenge
Like most professional videographers, we like to surprise and delight our clients with service that is better than they anticipated and is pertinent to their needs. When we heard Pam’s mother wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding, we tried to find a way to help. A few pieces of the solution were already in place.

First, we had excellent communication with the bride and with the wedding planner, Jean Marks of Jean Marks Weddings. Both let us know the situation almost as soon as it happened, which allowed us time to make the necessary arrangements.

Second, Chuck stays current with technology advances by reading industry magazines, by regularly visiting online chat rooms frequented by wellinformed colleagues who willingly share information, and by attending monthly meetings of our local videographers’ association.

As it happened, Dan Grumley, president of Event By Wire, had recently given an impressive live demonstration of webcasting technology at the Bay Area Professional Videographers Assocation (BAPVA). As president of BAPVA, Chuck attended the meeting. Proving that the technology did indeed perform as advertised, Jewel watched the meeting from a computer at home. Being well-informed about current technology was critical to providing a solution for Pam.

figure 1The Solution
We contacted Dan Grumley immediately and explained that within 48 hours we needed to set up a live internet broadcast from an outdoor ceremony site in California with very poor internet access to a hospital in Ohio with similarly limited access. Even though Dan had planned to participate in a golf tournament in Pebble Beach that weekend, he quickly cancelled his plans to personally set up the equipment and make sure things went off without a hitch.

Next, we got in touch with Pam’s relatives in Ohio. Due to restrictions on operating electronic equipment in a hospital, there are no internet connections in patients’ rooms. We contacted the nurses (always the go-to people) who connected us with the head of the IT department. Our IT contact made arrangements to have Pam’s mom transported to an administrative office that had a computer with a fast internet connection on the evening of the wedding. He also ran tests in advance to make sure he could connect to the Event by Wire website.

figure 1On the wedding day, Dan and his associate set up the live feed. The wedding broadcast went live 15 minutes before the ceremony and continued flawlessly until the end, when the last guest left the ceremony area for the cocktail party. Pam’s mother, dressed in her beautiful gown, adorned with a corsage that matched the bride’s bouquet, was thrilled to see her daughter’s wedding, even remotely, and Pam said she felt the strong presence and support of her mom despite the distance.

After the wedding, Pam said, "Instead of trying to figure out how to get my mother to California for the wedding, I was able to concentrate on enjoying the wedding. I felt like my mother was there, somewhere, in the crowd of guests. When the minister mentioned my mother in the ceremony, it was all I could do to stop myself from turning to the camera and waving and smiling because I knew she was there watching me. But then that would have made me cry!"

figure 1Pam’s mother recalled, "It was almost like being there with Pam and Phil. And I watched the wedding again and again when I got home."

The Technology
There is always a trade-off between the price and quality of a technology, and that theory holds for the enabling technology required to webcast a wedding. One low-cost solution is to broadcast a wedding via instant messaging on MSN, Yahoo, or Skype. With obvious compression artifacts, the image and audio quality are poor, playing at 6-7 frames per second, and competing for bandwidth with the traffic of millions of customers. Plus, you can broadcast to only a few people, and there is the ever-present probability that you will lose your connection and the broadcast will be interrupted.

Another low-cost solution would be to record the event, then stream it over a video sharing website such as YouTube, Google Video, VideoEgg, Dailymotion, or Veoh, to name just a few. But all of these sites broadcast archived events, not live events. It is the immediacy of viewing a wedding that is going on right now that is so exciting. Plus, the image might end up being of poor quality. While the low quality of most YouTube video owes as much to poor production values as extreme compression, how much high-quality, unedited wedding video can you really cram into a 10MB file (YouTube’s filesize limit) that you compress and upload immediately after the event? No matter how good the quality of your original footage, that much compression will take its toll. And dividing the wedding into 5-minute chunks isn’t exactly user-friendly to a shut-in elder who wants to watch her grandchild get married.

At the high end, you could broadcast live events with superb quality to thousands of viewers through companies that have served the Fortune 500 for two decades. But this requires a huge infrastructure of hardware, servers, software, maintenance, and tech support, which all come at a hefty price.

Choosing a Webcast Service Provider
So, the key is to find a company that has solved the toughest part of the technology dilemma at a reasonable cost. The most difficult part of delivering a live webcast is the live part. The event must be recorded, compressed, and broadcast in real time. This is where the value lies for brides: that their friends and relatives can watch the day unfold while the wedding itself is happening, rather than hours, days, or weeks later. This requires sufficient processing power to compress the video in real time, and sufficient bandwidth to send the signal to multiple viewers.

Where can you find such a company? Most wedding webcast services operate regionally. By googling wedcast or wedding webcast, you can find such companies as webcastmywedding.net in Dallas, I Do Stream in Connecticut, Yourwebcast.com in Hawaii, Vowcast.com in Georgia, LiveVows in Florida, and our personal favorite, Eventbywire.com in California. Once you locate a service provider in your area, here are some criteria you might apply to select the best among them.

Reputation of Company. Ask how many live events, both weddings and corporate meetings, the company has actually webcast. Ask how many failures, and of what kind, they have experienced. Ask for referrals from other videographers and corporate producers who have had positive experiences.

Quality of Video. How many frames per second will the viewer see? Between 10 and 20 frames per second is lifelike (like the movie trailers you see online); 5-10 frames per second is jumpy. Can the broadcast be seen if viewers have as little as a 100Kbps internet connection?

Quality of Audio. Does it have CDquality sound?

Ease of Use. How easy is it for the broadcaster to use the technology? How easy is it for viewers to receive the live internet broadcast?

Service and Tech Support. What services are included in the price? How many users can view the broadcast simultaneously? Is there a live person available onsite or via phone during the critical setup time if something goes wrong?

Equipment. What equipment is included in the price: dedicated laptop, 3-CCD camera, wireless microphone(s), all required cables and wires?

Privacy for Your Clients. Is the broadcast password-protected?

Additional Services. Will the event be archived and for how long?

The most important criterion, of course, is reliability. There are no second takes in live video—and there’s no fixing in post, either. Above all, you must be sure that you are hiring a company that will, without fail, provide the service you promised the bride and groom. Your reputation depends upon it.

Practical Advice
Here, finally, are five key things to keep in mind that we’ve learned in our experience with wedding webcasting to date.

Set Up Time. Consider how much time you have to set up the live broadcast, given your other duties. It can take as little as 15 minutes if you employ a webcast specialist, or an hour or more if you are doing it all yourself. At the very least, if you employ a webcast specialist who provides a turnkey solution—including all the equipment and cables necessary for video and audio input—you’ll still have to make sure that the audio and video inputs are functional, and that the placement of the stationary camera does not interfere with the line of sight for you, the photographer, or the guests. If you choose to provide web hosting, the amount of setup time will be significantly greater. You will have to provide audio and video capture equipment, connect it to the computer, and connect to the internet via hardwire, wireless, or even satellite, and make sure viewers can receive the transmission.

Dedicated Camera. A stationary camera has no mobility. Whatever camera you use for the live broadcast is in one fixed position throughout the ceremony, most probably the center aisle camera. This may have any impact on your typical wedding coverage—which cameras you use to get certain shots, and how you get them—and all this needs to be taken into account as you plan the day and prepare to get the shots you need for the video you’ll edit and deliver to the client. For example, during long readings, we sometimes use the center aisle camera to get cutaways. If this is the camera that is used for the webcast, you can’t take it off the main action. So you would need an additional camera to capture cutaways. And while capturing those cutaways, we would have to make sure that we are not within the view of the center aisle camera. This might force you to revise your ceremony coverage plan.

Pre-Ceremony Viewing. Your webcast has to go live before the ceremony begins. Visually, you need a title screen and background music that indicates to viewers that they’ve made the connection, but that the ceremony has yet to begin. Consider this: You have a static picture of the altar on screen. If you have live audio, usually the groom’s mic, viewers may hear him saying things meant only for the best man’s ears, or he may be clearing his throat, or worse.

Be Prepared. For want of a nail . . . the battle was lost. No matter how good the service provider, the responsibility for the broadcast is still yours. Speak to the service provider in advance and understand his needs. Then, bring sufficient extension cords, cables, and batteries to back him up.

Secure Connections. This may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less critical. Loose connections can delay or kill the broadcast just as well as more technically involved problems. Make sure all connections from camera to computer, and computer to internet, are secure. Route cables and wires so they cannot be tripped over or inadvertently pulled out which can lead to interruption and loss of connection during the broadcast.

Benefits to the Videographer
Why should a videographer offer this service? Because it is a potential way to differentiate yourself from your competition, and may give you a bit of an edge in being hired by a bridal couple. And if you sell it as a premium option (which, of course, you should), it can provide additional revenue just as same-day edits, photo montages, and love stories do.

Another benefit is that offering webcasts can give you a reputation as a problem-solver in the wedding professionals community, particularly among wedding planners.

Finally, of all the add-on services, this one may have the most value to brides and grooms. If the absence of a precious family member detracts from the joy they feel on their wedding day, you have the ability to deliver a gift of genuine relief to the couple and their families. You have a chance to become a hero to your bride and groom and their families.

Chuck & Jewel Savadelis (jewel at savadelis.com) produce high-definition movies of weddings and other social occasions in the San Francisco Bay Area and internationally. Their company, Savadelis Films, won a 2006 WEVA CEA Gold for Wedding Highlights Production. Chuck is President of the Bay Area Professional Videographers Association (BAPVA). They are members of the exclusive Grace Ormonde Wedding Style Magazine Platinum List.

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