Anatomy of a semi successful live stream of commencement

Firstly, seeing as this is the first post I have made regarding my work, a disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed here are solely my own and in no way reflect the views or opinions of my employer or anyone who works there, outside of me.

I am part of the team responsible for the website of Christopher Newport University and in the yearly cycle of the university, commencement is a high point. We wanted to step outside of what we normally have done, to make a bigger splash on the website for those attending commencement and those who couldn’t be there. Our initial planning began a few months ago, and included the use of social media, live streamed video and near live photo slide shows.

As we approached the date, features were cut. No social media on the home page, no photo slide show, stories for our post graduation pages were changed or cut entirely. Completely normal for leading up to the release of a major “publication” like this, but this is item one on my After Action Report.

I had conducted some tests embedding the streaming video on the development homepage and it worked. It was a technical possibility, but required knowing the video stream ID number for the embed to work. In trying to elucidate the ID number from the video production team, I was left with no real answers. So that meant on the day of the event, we would have to wait for the stream to start and then we would view the source on the page, copy the ID and plug it in to our homepage.

The default streaming technology is flash, so I had worked to get the flash object embedded, but during a meeting 3 days before commencement, the director of communications aske the question “What happens if someone is trying to view this on an iPad?”

Forehead slap.

In looking at the streaming server from the iOS Simulator, I could get a previously recorded video to stream, so clearly the server is pushing out HTML5 compatible H.264 version. So, now I needed to put in place a way to detect if the browser supports Flash, and if not, switch to the H.264 stream.

Enter Flash Detect. After adding the below to the homepage:

I was mostly there.

The other issue was that the streaming server didn’t work with any version of Internet Explorer before version 9. So now I have to add something to get around that. Grr.

Okay. So now it will hide the blank banner area when we go live. Whew.

Other things that didn’t go quite right:

  1. The stream was stopped and started twice, which means the live stream on the homepage stopped working, twice. It is hard to get people to reload their browser once it was broken, because the video automatically loops. Poor design, unexplained break in stream equals not happy audience.
  2. We had internal communcation issues regarding what content would be on the homepage during the video stream. I had believed that it would be the commencement program, but the events from Senior Week were built. Small, but significant issue.
  3. The streaming video had cheesy title blocks and credits, which I think just cruddy.
  4. During our tests, the video was well positioned, but during the evnet, the camera angle sent some graduates heads to the top of the frame, which depending on the browser being used, might have had the standard homepage navigation overlaid on the top of the video.
  5. Last item is the one that I mentioned earlier: We should have had a better idea of the stories and events that we wanted to highlight before, during and after and should have consulted management to ensure that we were inline with their vision of the web prescense for they day.

All lessons learned.

Did all the students graduate? Yes. Did people get to see the live stream? Yes. These are just my minor issues with the parts that I can control.