Just when we thought we had everything sorted, we'd been streaming classes four times a week for the last two weeks, with only a couple of little hiccups, and feeling more confident each time. Then on Saturday morning we were setting up ready to go, just like we'd been doing for the last couple of weeks. We started streaming and our feed wouldn't send to Dacast, why, we had no idea. We were frantically trying to contact support people at Dacast and fiddling with all the settings with no luck at all. But before I explain what went wrong, let me tell you what had been going well until this morning.
Using A Streaming Service
In our previous article, we had decided that we would use a dedicated streaming service and settled on Dacast as our provider. We had signed up to the base plan which is $19USD per month (billed annually) with the understanding that the 100gb of data per month included in that plan should be enough for the number of viewers we expected each month. We intend to continue to stream classes after lockdown has finished, just not as much as we are doing now.
Now, we needed a way to send our video to Dacast who would broadcast our stream to our viewers. Unlike ZOOM or Google Meet, Dacast is not an application/service that you use to record and stream your video. Dacast's focus is streaming video, and you have to use a third-party application to send your video to Dacast who then broadcast your video to viewers. There are many third-party applications you can use, and one of the most popular is OBS (Open Broadcast Software) Studio which is open source and free. Dacast recommends using OBS Studio and provides a customised version specifically for their service.
Why Do I Need Another Application?
OBS Studio is a screen recorder, streaming software and video editor, and will let you share what's happening on your screen with viewers. It enables you to work with multiple input sources, and you can even have picture-in-picture images, use a green screen and then mix all together. It does have a bit of a learning curve, but with it, you can achieve professional-looking video streams. Another popular application is vMix which is Windows only. VMix is a professional level streaming application which does have free version as well. We've not really investigated this application as it was Windows only and we wanted a Mac application. However, we wanted something a little easier for us to use and so we settled on using Ecamm Live which Mac only.
Here's a video that gives you an overview of Ecamm Live:
Adding a Little Polish with Ecamm Live
Ecamm Live has many of the same features that OBS has, but the most significant difference we saw was it's ease of use and of course it was a Mac application. With Ecamm Live you put your streaming details from Dacast in and click the "Go Live" button, that's it your broadcasting.
What we wanted to do with Ecamm Live was to broadcast a screen 15 minutes before we went live with a countdown timer ticking down the time till we started streaming the class. We also want some music playing while people waited. Doing something like that is incredibly easy to do with Ecamm Live.
A Youtube channel that has been extremely useful has for us in understand what is involved with setting up your own streaming video has been Live Streaming Pros. Definitely check out their channel they have a tonne of videos on equipment, software and services. They even did a video on getting your fitness, yoga or dance class up online talking about a range of different options for different budgets. They do focus a lot on streaming to YouTube and Facebook which are out of bounds for us as licensed Zumba instructors, but still have heaps of good advice.
How Do People View The Stream
Now that we can broadcast our video to Dacast the next thing we need to do was to provide a way for people to view our stream. Dacast offers a link to their video player for your broadcast, you then share this link with your viewers or embed their player on a webpage. You have some basic options to customise the player, and if you want to charge people to view your stream, they also provide a paywall which can take credit card payments before allowing people to see your stream. We're not charging for our classes and have not used the paywall so can not give any insights into this service.
At this point we had everything running as we wanted and I think anyone could do also get to a similar point too:
- Setup Dacast Account
- Setup OBS Studio or Ecamm Live
- Connect your camera, have your music and mic flowing through Loopback (or you could use OBS Studio to do a similar job)
- Share your Dacast Link with your students or embed the player on a webpage.
We created a secure page on our website where people had to sign-up and create an account to view our class. Now, at this point, I have to say what we've done on our website requires a level of technical skill that most people will not have as we've built our website from scratch using a development tool called Webflow. But, I know that others have been able to achieve similar results using website builder applications and services like Wix and Squarespace, so someone can do the same without writing any code at all.
So What's The Problem
We were now broadcasting our Zumba classes four times a week. Video quality is awesome, some students said that it might stutter now and then but only for a fraction of a second and only a couple of times throughout a hour-long class. Music is crystal clear, and students have said that they love the fact that they can crank the volume up and it sounds amazing, but there were some downsides, cost being one of them. We were paying $19USD per month, which is $4USD more than a Pro version of ZOOM, but you have to pay a full year in advance to get that price. If you only want to pay one month at a time, then the price skyrockets to $165USD per month with a three-month commitment.
This is a one-way stream, and you can not interact with your students. They can not send you messages via Dacast and you do not know who is watching your stream. Dacast offers you some analytic information about the number of people currently viewing your stream. If you have the paywall active, you might get some information about who they are. As I said earlier, we've not used the paywall option, so not sure if that is the case.
What we've done to add a little more interaction with our students is to Facebook Live Stream before and after our classes. This has been great to make sure we stay connected with everyone who comes to our online classes. Because people have to log in to view our stream we do know who is watching and can reach out to them later via email and social media.
By default Dacast streams have a latency of about 90 seconds. What this means for us is that if we say that a class starts at 5pm we actually start our class at 4:59pm to accommodate the difference. They do offer a 'Low Latency' option, but this only lowers the latency down to a ten-second delay so not really worth the effort. What we have learnt is that you should not stop broadcasting as soon as you finish your class. Give your stream a little buffer at the end, when you tell Dacast that you've finished your broadcast it will stop immediately and your students will miss the last 90 seconds.
We encountered a problem when we used up all our Dacast bandwidth when we accidentally broadcasted our stream at 4k quality. Luckily we were not broadcasting to a lot of people but 60 minutes of 4k blew most of our data in a couple of classes. That was error on our part, and we had to purchase more data to continue the classes for the rest of the month. If you go over your allocated bandwidth, you can buy more data at $0.3USD per gb. We ended up buying another 50gb which cost $15USD, not a big cost but because we are offering this service for free, every dollar counts.
So we thought everything was going fine, we had made a couple of booboos and sorted them quickly, but this ANZAC weekend we hit a snag that resulted in us having to cancel our class. Earlier in the week, after our last class on Wednesday night, I received a software update for Ecamm Live and decided to upgrade the application. I bet a lot of you have already figured out what went down.
Saturday morning and we're setting up for our class, just like we've been doing for the last few weeks and started broadcasting from Ecamm Live, but Dacast does not receive our stream. Everything at our end looks good, Dacast support people tell me everything is fine at their end, and I can not work out where the problem is. After an hour of mucking around, I discovered that the update I had done, had made a change in the way that Ecamm Live communicated with Dacast. We finally solved the problem by making a change in my Dacast account, but it was too late. This was a rookie mistake, and we should have done testing after updating the software. We live, and we learn I guess.
Still more to learn
There are still heaps of things that we have learned along the way. We've moved away from our Logitec Webcam to a Canon DSL camera. We use a good quality mic for our voices, and we've ordered a proper mic headset that we hope will arrive soon. The headset is more for the Strong Nation classes that we will be delivering. We've also made 'real budget-as' softbox lights out of cardboard, tracing paper and tinfoil to improve the lighting.
All in all, we feel that we've come a long way and we're pleased with where we are with our online classes now. There are also other 'soft-skills' that we've learned as well, such as keeping energy levels high when you don't have an audience in person, that alone is another blog post.
We hope that these articles help others who are considering using Dacast or similar streaming service for Zumba. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.