Reflections on live-streaming Commencement

It’s Commencement season in higher education – the time of year that many of us are given the unenviable task of live-streaming our commencement exercises.

We’ve come a long way in our streaming abilities and quality here. My first Commencement at JCU, in 2010, I dragged my iMac outside in 85˚F weather and physically connected it to a camera. The second year, it took my boss’s antiquated PC laptop connected to an old video converter box. For the last three years, we’ve received a feed from the video production company that shoots the event. The last two years, we give them our Flash media streaming settings and they send the feed right to the provider for us.

Our provider as well has changed over the years. We started with Ustream, since it was free, then their private-label Watershed product, then back to paid UStream.

This year, we tried something different. We used YouTube to stream our Commencement.

The experience was, well, good and bad.

First, the good. You can’t beat YouTube’s infrastructure. Our commencement with maybe 100 concurrent users tops was never going to put much of a strain on the network.

Creating a live event was simple, and setting up the technical backend was easy as well. We chose not to use a Google Hangout and instead send them a stream to ingest and broadcast. It gives you both settings to use and downloadable files to load into a Tricaster, Flash Media Encoder or hardware/software platform of your choice. Here’s what that looks like:

Live Stream for Commencement Settings
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The real stream went fine. It was rock solid, looked great and I liked the fact that you could  mark in and out points during the stream for separate uploads. This allowed me to easily separate out our Commencement speaker. You can see that video here. That feature alone saved me a large amount of time in post-production.

YouTube also provides good analytics, including concurrent users, total hours streamed, and country of origin. Here’s what that looks like:

Commencement Live Stream Stats
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I was watching on campus, my wife was watching from home and my friend Adam was watching from the UK, and all reported back that it was looking great and sounding perfect.

I was pleased with the production aspect of using YouTube to stream our Commencement.

Now, for the bad parts.

One word: copyright.

We have experienced two issues with YouTube’s vile Content ID system in the last two days.

The first was on us. The production company streaming for us used the audio feed they were piping into the quad. That audio feed was playing copyright music, and it didn’t take long for YouTube to recognize that and after 30 seconds, completely kill our feed. Our bad – we didn’t think about this and didn’t alert the production folks to not use the audio feed from the quad. We know now – but this wouldn’t have been an issue if we had used UStream or a private-label stream.

Here’s the quickly banged out text message I sent to our team member working with the production company:

I was typing fast on my phone, hence the terrible spelling.

Luckily, we saved our settings so we created a new live event, downloaded new config. files and got them to the truck. This is why you test things, and this is why we know not to broadcast any type of pre-recorded audio. It’s turning into a thing with YouTube where it’s safer to just have no audio and not risk upsetting its overzealous Content ID system.

The second problem is now after the event. YouTube records the entire stream for viewing later, and I made it live after the ceremony for replay. This morning I came in to check the stats and found three Content ID copyright hits on our Commencement – the one with no copyright audio. Three hits.

Copyright hits on our commencement stream
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First, let’s state that Pomp and Circumstance is in the public domain.

The first was claiming we were using a recording of Pomp and Circumstance. No, our version of Pomp was played live by a brass band. Not the best rendition I’ve ever heard, but I will give them credit that they had to play the song for nearly 25 minutes.  But, sorry, no recording.

The second claim was in all Chinese and I had no idea what it was asking about. It was linking to Pomp and Circumstance. After disputing, they dropped their claim.

Third, is a claim by a company called “AdRev Publishing” claiming we have illegally used their track called “Journey to India Megatrax.” This claim links to Pomp and Circumstance. Sadly, our version of Pomp was done with a brass band and had no sitars and tablas. That would have been awesome, by the way. You can hear “Journey to India” on their webpage and hit the play button. Not only did we not use it, it didn’t contain any similarity to Pomp and Circumstance.

I have contested them all. One’s already been dropped and YouTube’s broken system gives the claimant 30 days to respond. I’m not a fan of seeing this:

Your dispute awaiting response by 6/18/14. 

I understand YouTube’s need to have a system for managing content claims, as there are hundreds of videos uploaded every hour that use copyrighted music. YouTube’s system, however, put all the onus on the video creator to prove they are doing things the right way. We’ve bought music through 3rd party services for videos and often they get marked as using copyrighted music. We dispute them and often get the claims removed but we’re fighting one where it’s just easier to buy a new track, a second purchase, to get around a claim that keeps getting re-instated, though we’re clearly in the right in this case.

The system is broken, and it needs fixed. There are many YouTube videos made by content creators decrying the system because it costing them money, even when they’re in the right.

Music owners have been empowered by YouTube to just spray out notices based on automatic matches, and I would assume these owners see this as a revenue opportunity, because as a YouTube content creator, you can sometimes keep using the copyrighted tracks, but the rights owner can put ads on your content, and the revenue goes to them, not you, even if you are in the clear and have done everything correctly.

The live-streaming tool is really good. The Content ID system is bad.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on live-streaming Commencement”

  1. My streaming commencement history is very similar to yours. We used YouTube live events this year also. Mostly, I liked it. Was my easiest year streaming to date.

    One oddity is it seems to have lowered the voices on the archive an octave or two.

  2. Miguel Gutierrez

    We’re on the same boat as well, we decided to stream live through Youtube this year, we don’t play any pre-recorded music.

    We got hit with the exact same Journey to India Megatrax claim. Come back later and found we also got hit by pomp and circumstance as well? Both claimed by ad rev.

    Disputed them as well.

  3. Michael Jernigan

    Likewise here. We streamed our commencement ceremonies for the first time on You Tube and was hit with the Pomp & Circumstance copyright notice. The streaming went fine on the first of two ceremonies. We had audio problems (our own situation) on the 2nd ceremony. I was pleased with the stats given and a feedback from a father in Brazil who got to watch his son’s graduation via You Tube.

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