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How to live stream a funeral

By Connie Cone Sexton
Covid-19 and restrictions on public events have led to a surge in families live-streaming memorial services. iStock

It was just a small camera set up in the back of the room, but it played a large part in sharing the story of Karen Newman’s life.

Knowing that not everyone would be able to attend her funeral, her husband, Peter, arranged to have the service live streamed.

Karen, a former president of the Vermont Association of Nutrition and Dietetics, died peacefully in her sleep at her home in South Burlington, Vt., after an 11-year battle with breast cancer. She was 58.

“Her life had become precious and short,’’ Peter says. Getting to live stream the service — watched by hundreds of others — brought him comfort. “It took away some of the angst,’’ he says. “It helped to know, that in the very moment we were celebrating her life, people were watching from afar.”

Why choose to live stream?

The pandemic triggered by the coronavirus has created a surge in families wanting to live stream. Before the pandemic, roughly one funeral home in five had the ability to stream services (according to a 2019 survey by the National Funeral Directors Association). Since the pandemic, interest has skyrocketed.

Some funeral homes charge for the service, others do not. And even if funeral homes don't offer the capabilities, some families opt to do it themselves.

With coronavirus-related restrictions on the number of people who can attend events, streaming "is really the only way we can do it. It’s become a mainstay," said John Wenig, a spokesman for the funeral directors association. "It can be very touching."

Even though friends and loved ones can't attend a service physically, streams allow them to attend emotionally and spiritually.

The technology is relatively simple, says Donald Woodard, director of Dynamic Productions, an event and video production company in Scottsdale, Arizona. “We literally have a mini broadcast camera in our pocket that can stream to Facebook or YouTube, he says. “The challenge is quality of communication.  The more important the event, the more important it is to make sure the audience can participate easily.”

Below are six tips Woodard offers about live streaming:

1. Prepare in advance

Sound, light, Internet connection and camera placement are key concerns, Woodard says. Having a family member understand how to stream is often daunting and frustrating, so planning is key. 

Talk through the service with the funeral home. To know where to set up your equipment, where will people be standing?  “You want to be close enough to see and hear but not so close that you need to move the camera around a lot to follow the action.  You do not want your camera to be blocked because people will be walking or standing in the way."

Find out if the home (or wherever the service will be held) has microphone and sound system for anyone who is speaking.  If you can, set up your device for a test run to see how well it picks up the sound and whether you need to adjust lights.  Have someone walk to the places where people will be seen and heard from at the service and record it on your device.  Watch the test recording with your funeral home associate and discuss what you see. 

2. Get the right equipment for streaming

You can livestream from something as simple as a smartphone or tablet. But for improved quality, you can use a better-quality camera, such as a DSLR or camcorder, connected to the Internet, likely through a laptop computer.

The best connection for streaming is a hardwire data connection with a lot of bandwidth. Also ask the facility about the strength of their Internet connection; if no hard-wired connection is available, check the speed and coverage of the location's WiFi.

If you’re doing your own streaming via your smartphone or tablet, decide whether to use a cellular connection or WiFi - and check that data connection at the location of the service. Signal quality can vary widely even in the same building, which can cause problems. If you use your a phone or tablet, find out if a friend or someone in the family has an updated phone and an unlimited data plan. 

Use a tripod.  Set up the device for landscape mode - a horizontal image that is wider than it is tall.  Be sure to have a power supply for your device (and don't forget an extension cord). 

If you’re planning on streaming on Facebook, create a “Live Video” test stream, setting your privacy settings to “specific friends” that you can have view your test.  Be sure to change the privacy settings back to “public” or “friends” before you do the actual service.  Talk to the camera from about the same distance as you plan for at the service. 

3. Select the platform for streaming

There are free platforms you can use - think Facebook, YouTube and Periscope. Others are paid services - Vimeo, or funeral-specific companies available through funeral directors. Explore the platforms before you choose one. Some may have limitations including what music you can use (Facebook and YouTube will turn off the audio of a livestream if they detect commercially licensed music is being played), how long your content is available or whether your content must be made public.

4. Get the word out

Be sure to start sending out notices to friends or family of when the service/stream will happen.  Keep in mind that they may be in different time zones.  Facebook will let you “Schedule a Live Video” in advance.  

5. Set up on the day of the service

On the day of the service, get there an hour or so early.  Run the extension cord for your power in a way that no one will trip on it (use duct tape to tack it down if you must cross any aisles).  Attach the device to the tripod, connect your power.  Check your power and internet connection on the device.  About a half-hour before the service begins make sure your sleep mode is inactive and log in to your chosen stream system.  Start your stream and then have someone else log on your page to make sure it is going out.  Once you’ve confirmed that you’re broadcasting, don’t change anything.  Let it run until everyone is leaving the service.

6. If you choose to hire a professional

Check their references, Woodard says. Ask for examples of their work.  Find out what their contingency plans are if there are problems.  Most professionals will expect a deposit. Use a credit card.  Ask if you can make final payment the day of the service or when they deliver your video copy.

More tips:Get help livestreaming a memorial

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