Live Streaming Video for Nonprofits

Editor's note: We're thrilled to have a blog post from Brian Rowe, National Technology Assistance Project Coordinator for LSNTAP. He and his colleagues do a great job of pulling together technology information for legal aid offices across the United States. Enjoy this post and feel free to share in the comments your experiences with live video.

If you’ve looked into live streaming video, you’ve probably already noticed its popularity among gamers. The technology is embraced by the gaming community because it allows people all over the world to build friendships, learn from each other, and share an experience.

Nonprofits can also take advantage of the benefits of live streaming. For example, in the legal aid world (my community), live streaming video allows legal aid offices to hold public outreach events or offer clinics where people can speak privately with an attorney across the state about an individual legal issue.

Events, especially, can be enhanced by live streaming video. Broadcast a keynote address or a prize drawing, set up a booth and allow people to come up and tell their stories or offer a heartfelt message, capture a special presentation, stream people receiving awards and giving their acceptance speeches, or allow people to follow a public conversation and ask their own questions—this probably only scratches the surface of what’s possible.

What Platforms Make Sense for Nonprofits?

The more gaming-focused live streaming video services are probably not the best fit for a nonprofit organization, especially if the videos are archived and saved on the site next to first-person shooter games or epic board game competitions.

Here’s a list of the platforms that nonprofits are likely to find useful:

If you already have a Google account, it’s pretty easy to start streaming video instantly or schedule a live event. Once your event ends, it will be saved on your YouTube channel, which means you can go back and add additional information to the description or include additional links. Free.

This mobile-only and Twitter-friendly platform allows you to capture video in the moment and broadcast it to the world instantly. Users can search for streams by map or view a list of current streams to discover something new. It’s also easy to tweet out a link to a new stream, allowing you to be spontaneous and create unique moments for your audience. One thing to be aware of: Your video will only be archived for 24 hours, so if you’re hoping to save it for future use, you’re out of luck. Free.

This tool offers a robust set of features. It allows you to set up live, linear, and on-demand streaming events and embed them on your website. You can choose whether to manage and store your videos on your own servers or in the Cloud and the interface makes it easy to capture and save clips from a stream. Also, unlike YouTube or Periscope, you control who sees your content—there’s little chance a random person will stumble upon your stream, which may be a pro or a con for your particular organization. Wowza offers a lot of customization options, so if you have a techie on staff, it offers a lot of potential. However, all these ad-free features are not cheap. Pricing starts at $15 per month, but to get most of the features mentioned here it will cost you at least $49 per month. Pricing ranges from $15 per month to $500 per stream.

Another powerful video tool with all the features a nonprofit could need and more, UStream stands out for its social sharing and integrated analytics. Generally, it is more user-friendly than Wowza. However, it’s also more expensive. If you plan to broadcast multiple videos per month to at least a hundred viewers, you can expect to pay about $500 per month. Pricing starts at $99 per month and is based on multiple usage factors. The pricing ceiling is more than $1,000 for enterprise service.

Update 2/4/2016: IBM has acquired UStream.

This service offers you the closest thing to your own broadcast studio. You not only get the software you need to turn a device into a mini TV station, you also can purchase tools that allow you to switch cameras and mix sound. Your events can be broadcast privately, or you can make them publicly available through a website embed and the Livestream website. Basically, any streaming tool you might need is available through Livestream. It offers what it calls “flat pricing,” which is its way of distinguishing its feature-based pricing model from other traffic- or usage-based models. Pricing starts at $49 per month and can go as high as $799 per month if you pay annually ($1,299 per month if you pay monthly).

Regardless of which live streaming video service you choose, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not choosing this option to produce perfectly controlled, polished videos. Striving for perfection will only get in your way. The awkward pauses, off-the-cuff comments, and genuine surprises are why people like to watch live video. There’s an energy behind it that’s just not possible through well-planned and produced videos. Embrace that and you’ll have a dynamic new way to reach out to your audience.

Brian Rowe

Brian Rowe is a professor and techie working at Northwest Justice Project, managing the National Technology Assistance Project and teaching at the University of Washington and Seattle University. Brian teaches as an adjunct in the areas of Privacy Law, Ethics, Copyright, and Information Policy.

Brian has worked for Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, the Washington State Access to Justice Board, Microsoft, Wizards of the Coast, and Disability Rights Washington. He is also a social media expert with a modest YouTube following. Follow him on Twitter @Sarterus.

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