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The Best Live Streaming App for Private Events and Social Distancing Broadcasts

As you can see, this was one hot ticket!

This January, when I had my daughter baptized, I couldn’t invite any friends or family because of the pandemic. I still wanted to invite folks to see the ceremony and join with prayers remotely. This seems like a really common circumstance in 2020 and 2021 but I struggled to find an app that solved this simple problem. All I needed was:

  • An easy-to-access live stream — I couldn’t put older relatives through software downloads and didn’t want to sack folks with social media account sign-up hoops. I just wanted a link they could go visit on any device.
  • Free or inexpensive — being a very small audience, I couldn’t justify a large cost (although after hunting for solutions for hours, I got pretty close to paying whatever it would take)
  • Mobile-friendly — honestly, my iPhone 12 is probably the best all-around camera I own so the software had to be a mobile-friendly app
  • Private — I don’t want to share this stream widely — it’s basically an invite-only, private virtual ceremony I want to email to only family and friends

I went to all the usual suspects but none came even close to fitting the bill:

  • CONFERENCING SOLUTIONSZoom, BlueJeans and Google Meet are kind of the first thing you think of during these social distancing times but all of them are really optimized for two-way communication and I didn’t want folks talking amongst themselves or to require people to download special software.
  • CREATOR PLATFORMSTwitch and YouTube are known for quality live streaming but because they cater to creators, they didn’t work. YouTube doesn’t allow mobile live streaming unless you have thousands of subscribers. Twitch wants you to reach an audience so their interface makes you share the broadcast into a channel — last thing I need are gamer trolls watching my baby’s baptism.
  • SOCIAL SITES – I tried Instagram, Facebook, Periscope and Twitter but all of them required you to broadcast to a select “group” for a private stream. It’s all part of their growth hacking obsession and switching cost manipulations: they want you to invite friends to make an account or continually prove the value of their network effect to folks who are already signed up.

The winning solution

I was shocked at the ultimate perfect solution: IBM Watson Media Live Streaming. I love it! I haven’t thought of IBM as a go-to problem-solving purveyor in years. You may as well tell me that the best solution is a product from Texas Instruments.

I believe the product is meant primarily for corporate live streaming but that pretty much made it an even better lock for private, secure, reliable streaming. That also means it’s probably outrageously expensive — but that’s okay for you and me and our one-off private events because they have a free 30-day trial!

IBM bought Ustream years ago and this mobile app and desktop interface is the result of that acquisition. Here’s what you get:

  • Private place to stream — generate your own private link where the stream will live, in advance, and you can even password-protect it
  • Seamless mobile app — so I can take advantage of the great camera (and decent audio capture) on my iPhone
  • Customize interactivity — you can allow or remove comments and social sharing to your liking

One important downside: the free trial only lets you have 5 live viewers of your stream. But this should be plenty for a small event where grandmas and grandpas are probably sharing devices from home anyway. You can also publish the video when it’s through which allows unlimited viewing afterward, on-demand. If 5 viewers is still too restrictive, their full account is $100/month.

Other solutions that came close

I’m sure there are others out there Googling and researching desperately as I was. If IBM isn’t the right fit, here’s what else I considered:

  • Livestream — Livestream.com was purchased by Vimeo and actually, many churches use their service because it’s so great for this use case. For whatever reason, Vimeo has bundled this in with their highest-tier $75/month account, which I came close to plunking down for, even with my small event.
  • Microsoft Stream – From what I understand, this is included free in business Office accounts, which nearly every professional has. I, unfortunately, have a “home” subscription so it wouldn’t work for me — even though that’s nearly the same cost as the business version. Microsoft should seriously reconsider this policy because it would be a nice add-value for families.

Mobile De-Vices

Update (9/24/08): It seems that the Chronicle of Higher Education got wise to this story as well. Unfortunately, no mention of the article that started it all. Read their story here: Wired Campus: Neighbors Blame Microblogging for Wild Partying at Loyola Marymount.

The Westchester community is charging my dear university and peers for such vices as: drunkenly cussing at them, having sex on in their bushes and pissing on their lawns. Fair enough. I expect such behavior near a university and so should they.

Independently from the controversy, I wrote an article in the Loyolan about how micro-blogging will get you into parties. I still quite like the article. The idea is that you could more efficiently plan out your weekends by coordinating things with Facebook and Twitter. This is what I did in San Francisco and it lead to many new connections as I discovered parties I never would have otherwise attended whilst avoiding the charlie foxtrot of coordinating a hundred people.

The key here is that you could use it for efficient parties. Unfortunately for geeks like me, nobody actually does this in college.

A still from the KNBC story that covered my article

A still from the KNBC story that covered my article

But if you talked to a non-student you might think otherwise. A mention of my article was the sole appeal to the students in a remarkably journalistically irresponsible news story by KNBC about LMU parties in Westchester. This video actually features a policeman who doesn’t seem to know what a cell phone is, stating, “As soon as the 100-150 kids came out of the house, I saw all the things lighting up in their hands.” Then came a blog post by Living90045 (I suppose, as in “Martha Stewart’s Living” – what a laughable bunch of yuppies) which purported the same misconception. And then another from anonymous “westchester dad” – who won’t even put his name on a blog post.

Another shame behind these misconceptions is the same-old whine from curmudgeons: “I don’t understand technology! Get me out of here! Give me back my AOL!” Think about it for a second, Westchester. Wouldn’t you rather have people privy to every party and get-together in the neighborhood – spreading students broadly – instead of seeing 500 kids crash the single frat party that has a monopoly on party word-of-mouth? Once a party gets rolled by the cops, would you rather have the students quickly find something else to do or wander around on the sidewalk outside your home?

But all this feedback is fantastic. Maybe this will catch on and students will actually use it. Read the article to get a good rundown of how to party with microblogging.