Using Google Hangouts On Air to stream a keynote

On May 7, 2012 Google opened up Google Hangouts On Air (HOA)—a free service for broadcasting and recording live video with up to 10 participants—to all Google+ users. Six weeks later, the night before edACCESS 2012 started at the Peddie School in New Jersey, I decided to try using Google Hangouts On Air to stream and then archive the conference keynote. A couple of edACCESS old-timers who couldn’t attend in person this year had asked me if there was any way we could stream any of the “public” conference sessions. I had nothing to lose by trying out this new technology.

Here’s what I did, what I learned, and how things turned out.

Google Hangouts On Air preparation
First I created an empty Google+ Circle and went through the process of creating a test Hangout On Air. This allowed me to get familiar with the process and check in advance for any potential problems. I was able to successfully view myself streaming, and see how the stream turned into a YouTube video once I ended the Hangout. This gave me the confidence to announce through social media channels that the stream would be available. (Though I neglected to figure out how to provide a link to the stream in advance).

Peddie’s charming and efficient Director of Academic Technology provided a laptop with a decent external webcam and we circled each other on Google+ so I could add her computer to the hangout on the morning of the keynote. (Important note: you cannot invite people to a hangout unless they’ve added you to one of their circles first.) I decided to use her computer to stream video and audio of the keynote speaker, and my trusty 17″ MacBook Pro with built in webcam to setup the hangout and publicize and monitor the feed.

To broadcast Hangouts on Air you must have a linked and verified YouTube account associated with your Google login. This linked account will be where the broadcast stream, and later the video recording will appear. You only need to set up this linkage once, but I strongly suggest you do so (and test it) before your first HOA. Verification is apparently necessary if you want to save a hangout that lasts longer than fifteen minutes!

Ten minutes before the keynote was due to begin I started a hangout in the usual way by clicking on the START A HANGOUT button on the Google+ hangouts tab. Then I added Emily to the invitee list, named the hangout, checked the option “Enable Hangouts On Air” (and agreed to the warning dialog), and clicked the Hang out button. This led to a normal-looking hangout window, with the addition of an Embed link and a Start Broadcast button at the top right.

Once Emily accepted my invitation, we were nearly good to go. The big picture feed in a hangout is switched to the webcam with the loudest audio. I wanted to avoid having the stream switch away from Emily’s webcam so I muted the microphone on my computer by hovering over my small video window at the bottom and clicking on the microphone icon.

But I still needed to share a link to the stream so that anyone could watch. Clicking the Embed link on the Hangout page I obtained the embed code for the stream and quickly created a blog post with the embedded keynote stream. This embedded a YouTube player onto the page. Visitors could watch the live Hangout On Air directly from the page, as well as on Google+ and my YouTube channel. (Note: once the broadcast is over, this link points automatically to the resulting YouTube video post.) I checked the blog page to ensure the video looked OK before we went live. Then I tweeted the page link to the blog page.

[Later I discovered that when the hangout is starting, if you right-click on the timestamp of the Google+ post that announces the hangout you will also get a link to the stream.]

We were ready!

By this time the speaker was being introduced. I clicked the Start Broadcast button and we went live.

While hosting the hangout on my computer I could watch the broadcast stream, delayed by 5-10 seconds, in another browser window. Pretty cool! I also noticed that an updating count of stream viewers was displayed on the hangout page. Also cool!

After a few minutes I realized that seeing my face at the bottom of the hangout was distracting, so I turned off my camera.

Then I received a tweet from my friend Ruud Janssen in Switzerland(!) who was watching. He asked if I could use my camera to show the slides as the main video, moving the video of the speaker to a small window at the bottom of the screen. This made sense, so I turned my laptop round, pointed it at the slide screen, and clicked on its window to make the slides the main video for the stream. This worked well. (I should have thought of this earlier. Next time I will explore using a tool like CamTwist to pipe presenter slides directly into a hangout feed.)

Unlike a regular hangout, where any participant can override the camera switching that Google normally does, the main window for a Hangout On Air is either determined automatically from the webcam with the loudest audio or by the person streaming the hangout. So I became the camera operator. When the speaker asked for and answered questions, I chose Emily’s webcam. When he began speaking again, I returned to the slides as the main video.

We had no audience microphone, so I asked the speaker to repeat audience questions. That allowed stream followers to hear questions and they’d be included on the final YouTube video. Next time we could add a small netbook webcam to the hangout and have a volunteer run it round as a mike (and video) for audience questions.

When the keynote was over I simply clicked End broadcast. After about ten minutes, a recorded video of the 105 minute hangout automatically posted to my YouTube channel as well as the post on my Google+ Page, and the embed post on my blog. At this point I was able to edit the video information on YouTube. Now it appeared in my YouTube Channel with the same title I had given the hangout. Apparently you can use YouTube’s tools to edit the video itself, but I didn’t do this.

Broadcasting this impromptu stream only required a small amount of preparation. Upon completion the stream automatically turns into a standard permanent YouTube video. The ease and quality of the result pleases me. Sure, it’s not a professional broadcast and recording. But for the cost (free!) and minimal effort required, Google Hangouts On Air provides an attractive solution for streaming and archiving events that will fill many needs. I recommend you try out this approach for a low-profile event.

Tips and resources for Google Hangouts On Air
Here are a couple of useful tips from a longer list of Hangouts On Air tips by Fraser Cain:

– You can join a Hangout twice from two different devices. This will let you put up screenshots, videos, etc in another pane.
– Create an intro screen graphic beforehand that introduces the Hangout. Run this in your hangout for the first 5 minutes before you start.

And here are two useful resource guides for learning more about Hangouts On Air:
Hangouts On Air Technical Guide <pdf>
Google+ support page for Hangouts On Air

Got any questions? I’ll try to answer them if I can. Have you run a Google Hangout On Air for an event? Share your experience here!

26 thoughts on “Using Google Hangouts On Air to stream a keynote

  1. This looks very cool. Would you tell me more about the audio set-up you used. It looks like the guest speaker is using a wireless mic, and it looked like there was also a mic at the lectern. What can’t I see about your sound setup?

    1. Sure Brian. Sadly, nothing high tech here. The speaker used a wireless lav that fed into the room’s sound system. The audio for the hangout was that picked up by the mike on Emily’s external webcam. The lectern mike was live but not used (except perhaps? by Joel who introduced the speaker).

  2. Great post and dito experiment Adrian. Practical application and trial and error are must do’s as we’ve seen. On the audio, i just started experimenting with various microphones, from lowend 7€ versions to the iM2 from TASCAM which turns your iOS5 device into a professional recording studio. Will keep you posted on progress and lets push the process! Great writeup, immediately sent it to 5 people who i’m sure will now know “howto”….

    1. Thanks Ruud! Loved getting good advice from you in Switzerland via Twitter during the live stream. I suspect/hope that more people like you will share their findings on the best ways to improve the quality of the Hangouts On Air stream and recording.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience with this experiment, Adrian. This is a great framework for me to begin exploring using Hangouts On Air for conference sessions like you’ve captured here.

    Can you share what external webcam you & Emily used?

    1. Emily Jee was kind enough to respond to your question. She writes:

      The webcam is a Microsoft LifeCam Studio (1080p)

      and adds:

      FYI the Microsoft LifeCam for
      (1080) has the same specs but costs less (it comes with a CD and the Studio model one
      has to download the software- I’m not making this up!)

      1. Thanks to you both!

        I have a Logitech C920 which seems like it would be the equivalent of the Microsoft LifeCam in capability, but trying to determine whether I would need some type of digital video camera for streaming & capturing footage in a conference setting like this.

        I’m impressed by the level of video quality you were able to get from Hangouts On Air and that webcam in this instance.

  4. This is great information, thank you for sharing your experience… Can you tell me if you can download the video from you tube?

    1. Absolutely! Once the Hangout On Air is closed, after a short processing period the video becomes permanently available at the same URL used for the stream. (That’s what you can now see at the top of this post.) The recording is now available as a video in your YouTube channel, just like any other video you upload there.

  5. Great post. When the video is automatically posted on our YouTube channel, is it private at that stage? Before you get to edit it?

    1. From Google’s Hangouts On Air Technical Guide :

      “Once your video is done processing, it will appear as a public video in your YouTube channel as well as in your original Google+ Hangout post.”

      This makes sense because the stream was public while you were broadcasting. At this point you can choose “edit settings” for the video and make it private if you wish, but the video will be public until you do so.

  6. This is fantastic. I frequently conduct interviews with bands and artists, so this would add a fantastic new live element to the interviews. Skype is nice, but I have to use a third party software program to record my screen and audio. Thanks for the very detailed post! Excellent information!

    1. Sure. I had two computers on the hangout. One of their cameras was on the speaker, the other on the slides. When you run Google Hangouts on Air, by default the large hangout window at the top of the broadcast screen shows the camera with the loudest audio, but you can override this.

      I turned off the microphone for the camera viewing the slides. This put the speaker in the large window. When I wanted to display the slides I clicked on the small window underneath showing the slides which made that window the large one. When I wanted to switch back to the speaker I just clicked on the speaker camera small window.

      The small windows thus act as crude but effective camera switchers for the broadcast feed.

  7. As I was researching a way to stream a dance rehearsal from our dance company, i came across your article. This was excellent and thank you for taking the time to share your experience. Very informative. Three thumbs up!

  8. This is incredibly useful – thank you for posting all of this. Do you know if there is anyway to do exactly what you did above but restrict those who can join the hangout?

  9. I’ve presented a few times using Hangouts on Air – but the issue I had was that they went into a public lobby – and with presets it allowed various trolls to comment on the live stream – there was no option to make it a private presentation. Of course when it went to YouTube after recording I could disable comments – did you have any of these problems?

    1. I haven’t had a problem with adverse comments during the streaming, but the times I’ve used Hangouts On Air have been for niche events where trolls are unlikely to appear. But that’s the reality of being public these days—people can and will comment as they please.

      I can see why Google doesn’t give the option to make the presentation private; if they did they wouldn’t be able to use YouTube to stream unless they provided a way to create a private streaming channel.

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