I tech produce a weekly live webcast. Although we occasionally toy with the idea of sponsorship, it's a not-for-profit show mostly intended to inform and entertain a particular IT community. This means we try to do everything for free, or at least very cheaply. How do you live stream a web show for free? Ustream.tv! There is also Justin.tv, but I have not used it.

Ustream had several annoyances for us for the couple of years we used it, but it mostly worked and was free. Also it was quite simple to use as a broadcaster. Over time the ads became more intrusive, with a start-of-show video commercial and slide-up flash ads during the video that would block the lower part of the show until the viewer clicked the "hide" arrow. Then a couple of months ago viewers started screaming that they were getting video commercials that actually interrupted the show. After some testing we figured that the commercials are interrupting most viewers at random times, but not all at the same time so it's not like we can stop the show and then start talking again when the commercial is over. That makes Ustream pretty much useless for any live web show that involves any sort of discussion or explanation, so as tech producer I started looking for other options.

First option was to see what it would cost to stay with Ustream and eliminate the commercials. Easy, not free, but is it cheap? From the viewer side, they could each purchase premium memberships at $4 per month, but as a small show that would like to attract more viewers, requiring each viewer to pay $4 per month doesn't seem the way to go. As a broadcaster the fee structure is based on viewer-hours. We live broadcast 2-3 hours per week. We would fall between the $100/month plan (plus extra for going over the limit) and the $500/month plan. That is not what we consider cheap for our purposes!

I briefly looked at other video service providers, but I didn't find anything that would be cheap and fit our purposes for live video broadcast. However, I do have 25mbps unlimited upstream at home and a static IP. I figured I could support about 40-50 streaming viewers of a 512kbps webcast from a home server, and if we gain more viewers we could either lower the quality of the broadcast or buy more bandwidth. I already have a Windows server and a Linux server. All I need is the streaming server software.

But it is not that simple. Do your viewers have Windows Media Player? Flash? iPads and iPods? Do they use Firefox or Chrome instead of IE? The server software, codecs and protocols weave quite a tangled web where you can easily get lost and be unable to serve a significant portion of your intended audience. I try to write about topics I feel I am very knowledgeable in, but I am lowering the bar a bit for this live video streaming series of articles partially because I think I can still be helpful and partially to better understand and remember it all myself.