Behind the scenes: Facebook Live at RoS

Blog by Gregor McMillan, Video Production Officer at the Registers of Scotland.

Live streaming and the Registers of Scotland. They’re two things you might not automatically put together but, at the start of 2017 – aptly the 400th anniversary of Scottish land registration – we decided to embrace digital in a way we’d never done before. It was time to detonate Facebook Live.

Why did we decide to live stream?

We regularly host events for our stakeholders and in January and February, we ran a series of ‘next steps’ consultation workshops across Scotland. It was pretty clear when we started to promote them that – certainly in the big cities – places would sell out fast (hooray for us, boo for those wanting to attend).

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Live streaming was the clear choice for surmounting that hurdle; a way to broadcast our events to an online audience; a digital alternative that allows us to reach people near and far through live video.

Planning and choosing the platform

For our first ever live stream, we decided to broadcast on Facebook. There were several reasons for this. First – although we have a larger audience on Twitter – our Facebook followers would receive a notification when we started streaming, which would boost our engagement and viewer count at the start of the video.

Second, Facebook prioritises live video in its newsfeed which meant that – according to the platforms’ algorithms – we should reach a larger audience on Facebook than we would have on Twitter. And third, we were able to schedule our video on Facebook to highlight to our followers that this exciting moment in our digital history was about to happen!

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But first… What kit did we use?

It’s a little-known fact that RoS has its own internal video unit, which is uncommon for many public sector organisations. This meant we could utilise existing video cameras, microphones and a MacBook to present the event stream more professionally than a smartphone allows. That’s all fine in theory, but how do you actually make broadcast standard HD cameras speak to the laptop for a live streamed event?

After some search engine sleuthing, a solution was found in a small black box called the Teradek VidiU video encoder. The VidiU connects via HDMI to a camera, allowing you to stream HD quality video to the social platform of your choice. Since we had a couple of Sony Z7 cameras in the office, two little boxes of magic were purchased.

With the hardware part taken care of, the next step was to find a visual mixer that would allow the MacBook to cut between two video feeds (basically a live edit) and send them to Facebook.

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A quick Google search returned a few potential solutions, but as it turned out, none of them quite cut it. Livestream Studio 4 was only available for Windows 7, Wirecast cost $995, and free open broadcaster software (OBS) wouldn’t recognise the VidiU boxes.

So it was back to the Teradek website in the hope an answer lay amongst the support pages and – as it turned out – the answer had been staring us in the face all along. On their website, Teradek link to an excellent and free iPad app called Live: Air (read as Live to Air). And so, with a borrowed iPad and the app installed, some real testing could begin.

First off, the iPad and the Teradek VidiU boxes had to be connected to the same WiFi network. Simple enough to do for the iPad, a little more complicated for the VidiU boxes (a lot of clicking through menus and painstakingly typing WiFi passwords). Once everything was connected and cameras turned on, we could fire up the Live: Air app.

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The app itself has a simple layout. The top right image is your live shot, the top left your preview. Bottom right you have cross dissolve and cut transitions, and bottom left is the editor preview section, where you can add video sources and import images. Tapping ‘Add a Device’ in the editor preview section of the app brought up our two camera feeds. Tapping on a camera feed once added allows you to tweak the settings. We set the cameras to 1280×720 resolution, 2000 Kbps data rate and 25fps.

The overall broadcast output is configured through the settings menu top right of the app. Again overall output was set to 1280×720 resolution, 2000 Kbps data rate and 25fps, giving us a decent picture that wouldn’t hammer the WiFi and cause minimal buffering issues. The broadcast destination is also configured in the in the settings menu. Tapping on ‘Add Destination’ brings up a list of live streaming platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, Livestream, Ustream and Custom RTMP.

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Test, test & test again (just ignore the cats)

It was time for a test run. But how do you test a live stream without seriously confusing your audience? It helps to have a colleague that’s not too precious about their own Facebook business page. Once you’ve entered a code into Facebook, the app will sign you in and authorise a live stream on that page. Simply hit ‘Go Live‘ on the Live: Air app and cue the cat photos and random background chat. Houston, we have our first successful Facebook live stream test!

3, 2, 1… And we’re LIVE!

Finally, the day of the Edinburgh consultation workshop rolled around. We were all in the building – video team and social media manager – at a painfully early time for a final test of the gear. Cameras on, microphones on, iPad on and MacBook set up on Facebook.

Everything was working as we’d hoped (and tested!) and it was almost time. The three speakers arrived early and were miked up, stakeholders took their seats and an eerie quiet descended on the room as people waited for Sheenagh Adams (Keeper of RoS) to speak.

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It was time to broadcast. We went live with a holding slide and as Sheenagh started to talk, we cut to the wide camera shot of the room. We were live on Facebook! And 90% of the time we were repeating the mantra, ‘WiFi, please don’t cut out…’

But the 45 minutes of streaming flew by. No major disasters and a successful first live stream under our belt. Yes, our peak viewer number was only 10 but after a week of our stream sitting on our Facebook feed we’ve received 189 views and reached almost 500 people. This is pretty good going – we’ve organically reached 80% of our Facebook follower total; usually pages only organically reach 16% of their fans. So for our first time, we’d call this a win!

And the one key thing we learnt from all this?

A live video stream is only as good as the WiFi network speed. Our stream did have some moments of buffering, it’s the nature of the beast, and so going forward we’ll be looking into ways to optimise that.

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It’s all a big learning curve but – in 2017, the 400th anniversary of the General Register of Sasines – it seems appropriate that we’re continuing to transform with the times. We’ve got a bunch of exciting events coming up to celebrate 400 years of land registration and we hope that – whether you attend in person or watch our live stream – you enjoy discovering this seldom-publicised part of Scottish history.

Have you live streamed? We’d love to hear your experiences and tips, comment below!

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