Last week we tried something new. We had teams out across the country shutting down Shell petrol stations to protetst their plans to drill for oil in the Arctic this summer. But that wasn't the new part, we've done that before. We wanted to find a way to bring the experience of the activists to everyone who supported the campaign but couldn't be out on the streets themselves. So we decided to run a live, 12-hour broadcast of the action, with the footage being played out as it came in, or with a short delay. We had an amazing response with more than 16,000 people tuning in over the 12 hours - I was happy when we hit 200 viewers in the second show!
So how do you got about setting up your own internet TV channel? Well, in a shocking bout of openness, here's how we did it.
Without cameras, no one's going to see anything so they're a pretty crucial part - we had two studio cameras and 15 roving cameras with the teams. The set-up we were using required the cameras to have XLR audio but you can use simpler, less expensive equipment. The roving cameras were smartphones using Qik's live streaming service. The studio cameras were plugged into two computers via firewire cables.
In a similar way, without some decent mics no-one's going to hear anything. In fact, many people will often watch a bad picture so long as it has good audio, so this is often the most important part. Our set up used three radio lapel mics and one handheld mic running into a mixer to balance the levels. The mixer ouput was plugged into both cameras which sent the audio to the computers. A simpler set up would use the mics going directly into the cameras.
No TV studio is complete without an On Air sign!
3. Streaming software
The main software we used was (original) Livestream Studio. This is a software-as-service application that allows you to plug in camears as well as upload video or pull in Youtube videos, and mix between them. Livestream also integrates with Qik, so that when the cameras on the smartphones went live we could pull them directly into the live feed and switch between them the same was as the studio cameras and other video sources like Youtube. The cameras were sent into Livestream using Livestream's Procaster software. You can send the camera signal directly into Livestream however Procaster gives you a greater degree of control over the camera streaming settings.
There are a lot of other pieces of software that you can use to achieve the same effect. CamTwist is a very good piece of software that can do pretty much everything that Livestream can, but without the streaming channel. Combined with Adobe's free Flash Media Live Encoder and a service like Ustream or Justin.tv, you would be able to do the same.
Our set-up used four computers operated by two people. As each camera needs to have a separate connection to Livestream, these need to have fairly beefy processors. We used a Mac Pro for Camera 1 and to run Studio and a Macbook Pro that just ran Camera 2. Another laptop was used to control the on-screen graphics, the ticker, for uploading videos and for managing the collections of videos - Livestream calls them storyboards. The fourth computer was used to control the video playout on the TV in the studio and for video library management on Livestream.
5. Plenty of bandwidth
The most common stumbling block for livestreaming is the internet connection. This is where everything falls apart. It is absolutely crucial to have a fast upload speed. Most internet packages are sold on the basis of their download speed, 10mbps/20mbps etc, for streaming you need a fast upload speed. Thankfully the Greenpeace UK office has internet on steroids but there are lots of factors that can affect your connection speed. Test your connection speed to see if your connection has what it takes.
This is pretty important stuff. If you've got nothing to fill your show, why are people going to watch? Each of our 12 live shows was scripted and planned out beforehand. That said we were often re-writing five minutes before we went live and even during the shows!
Carpet being laid for the Greenpeace TV set
What's a good TV show without a set? Our master set-builders in the warehouse pulled together the entire Greenpeace TV set for about £30 by reusing a few bits we had lying around. However if you haven't got a warehouse full of recyclable props, you can pull together something pretty easily with a few chairs and a backdrop.
So there you have it, the rough blueprints for your own online TV channel. As I mentioned at the start, this was something new for us so if you were watching last week we'd love to hear any thoughts or feedback.
We'll also have some highlights and clips from the show uploaded soon!