Podcasting Church 101111

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.

Storage and Bandwidth

Depending on your type of podcast (audio or video) and compression (there are much lower bitrate audio types create smaller files), there are a couple of things that you need to overcome. As we discussed in the chapter on backup, this can fill up storage space quickly. That’s only half the problem, though. Moving files from one place to another costs something, too. Everyday those costs drop, but they are something you might need to contend with.

When it comes to bandwidth, let’s say for the sake of argument you have a 100 mb video file that needs to be sent to your 1000 subscribers. That 100,000 mb or 10 gb (approximately) that your account used. Let’s say you do that once a week for a month. That’s 40 gb of bandwidth. That’s fine if you have an account with 50 gb or greater that’s included, but what if you have an account for your hosting that includes 20 gb? Usually, there’s a charge for additional bandwidth. If it’s $1 per gb, that’s $30 extra a month, but what if it’s $10; that’s $300 you weren’t planning on. Now, suppose that you have a controversial episode that gets press coverage. All of the sudden your podcast gets 100,000 downloads of people curious if you really did what you were accused of. If they all download all episodes for a month, your hosting bill just went from an uncomfortable $300 extra to $30,000 extra in a single month.

As you’re choosing your web hosting, take storage and transfer into account. An account that charges you $1.95 for basic hosting, but $10/gb over 20 gb could easily become a liability. A $20 package with up to 200 gb of bandwidth is a much greater bargain if you normally will be using up to 150 gb or so a month.

Follow this advice with storage as well. You don’t want an account that seems cheap upfront, but because of how you use it, normally charges you $100-200 more than your budget.

Happily, there are alternatives to just changing your hosting plans. You can do all sorts of things to make sure you stay under budget. There are storage services, podcasting services, and file sharing services that can help you here.

S3

Probably the most famous of storage services is Amazon S3. S3 allows you to store and transfer files of any sort and charges reasonable rates for bulk storage and transfer. There are some downsides, though. The first of these is setup and use. S3 is designed for large-scale websites that have someone who has the sole responsibility of maintaining the technical side of the website. As a single person who handles everything, it’s been quite a bit of a learning curve for me. When I first used S3, you needed to use special tools to access the storage. Soon there was a plug-in for Firefox that made it easier to move files onto your S3 account and manage files once they were there.

CDNs and Storage Services

Other services that are more friendly (sometimes they’re even just layers on top of S3) include Akamai, Cachefly, Bitgravity, RackSpaceCloud and Edgecast. These are all pay services. Depending on the amount of storage and transfer, they might prove to be much more reliable, cost effective, and most of the time faster, than your hosting account.

I’ve lumped these all together, but I really shouldn’t have. Akamai and Cachefly (and perhaps some of the others) are really CDN’s (Content Delivery Networks) which are optimized by their proximity and connection as peers to larger players online. They don’t buy their bandwidth from a cable company which gets it from a local telco which gets it from a regional service provider which is connected to a main line. A CDN is situated closer to the main line than we mere mortals.

This speed and reliability comes at a price. For week to week distribution of content, these networks often prove too expensive. For larger churches or media networks, CDNs and similar services may provide substantial savings and improve delivery over other methods, but most churches would save their use for peak times.

Syncing services

We spoke about DropBox, Box.net, SugarSync, and Live Sync in the backup chapter. The difficulty with these services for backup is that storage is limited. One of the realities of podcasting can help make these a viable option. Unless your content is “evergreen” (and often even if it is), downloads trail off quickly after the first month of release. That means you can use one service to the initial surge and another for the slow trickle. The first must have adequate storage, but high bandwidth. The second can have larger storage with more modest bandwidth.

These services could capture the initial surge. When I worked in tech support, we had software that was around 100 mb. Occasionally, it would fail to download properly from the site and I’d upload a local copy to my DropBox, giving a public link to whoever really needed it. I knew that based on the structure of these services, I could trust them to deliver a couple of gb of bandwidth reliably.

The downside to this strategy is that you need to change your links in the feed or use some redirection so that the feed remains the same while the actual links change. This could get onerous after a short time if episodes are released more often than weekly.

Archive.org

If you have absolutely no budget, and are cool with a creative commons license, archive. org might just be for you. Archive.org is sort of like the Library of Congress for the internet. They want to have a copy of everything online and make it freely available. Since this is their motivation, they’re happy to provide you with storage and bandwidth in exchange for your media. I’ve never used them for my shows because, while I like and use Creative Commons, I prefer for it to be an option, not a requirement.

Libsyn

For most people reading this, I’ve really saved the best for last. Wizzard Media owns a service that’s inexpensive and was founded for podcasters. The plans at Libsyn are relatively inexpensive (starting at $5/month for 50mb of new storage/month and unlimited bandwidth as I write this). They do all the redirection and permanent hosting of files. Their pricing structure means that you get a new block of storage every month for new episodes. Fill up your space this month? Just wait until next and the slate is clean, you don’t need to delete anything, just add new episodes. They even include a blog for show notes and an iTunes ready RSS feed. For audio podcasts, this is almost a no-brainer. Since video takes up so much extra space, you should do the math, but it makes a lot of sense for popular shows.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div. has been a tech volunteer with Quest Community Church in Lexington, KY since 2000 and is the founder of TrinityDigitalMedia.com, llc. He became part of the technology in ministry team when his church’s attendance was around 200 in one Sunday service and has witnessed it’s growth to 5,200 average weekly attendance in one Saturday service, four Sunday services in one online and two physical campuses. He literally wrote the book on podcasting in churches, twitter in churches, & servant-hearted volunteering, as well as writing various articles for publications like “Church Production” and “Technologies for Worship” magazines.