Virtual events and the platforms that power them have seemingly grown and matured more in the past 12 months than the past 12 years. PheedLoop itself, a hybrid events platform from the start, invested 90% of its development time and resources over the past 12 months in virtual events engineering instead of the originally planned 20%. That’s saying a lot.
The one arena that we’ve seen constant improvement and development in is content streaming. A centerpiece for nearly every virtual event is the content, and several platforms have emerged to improve the production value, stability, functionality, and cost associated with creating high-quality streams.
Using PheedLoop, for example, there are essentially 4 key streaming options available. This blog post is just as valuable if you’re not using PheedLoop, of course, but it helps to add a bit of context as most well developed virtual event platforms offer similar options to ours. One key difference, however, is that the majority of platforms offload streaming ingests and playback to third-party integrations, which makes things harder on the event planner.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to be focusing on the third option, Direct RTMP, which at this point any virtual event platform you use should support natively.
The rise of the importance of RTMP in the events world has been meteoric. It is absolutely the most widely used and supported streaming protocol currently available, which is why just about every platform offers some way to stream to and/or from it.
Why are we talking about RTMP? It’s because all the platforms we’ll be talking about in this article, be it StreamYard, OBS, Restream, or any of the other myriad of platforms out there all ultimately stream out over RTMP. Platforms like PheedLoop accept RTMP streams, and that’s how the connection is established between these two categories of platforms.
RTMP stands for Real-Time Messaging Protocol. We’re not going to get into too much technical detail here, but RTMP is widely used which makes it ideal for the virtual events world from a compatibility standpoint. Any RTMP service you use will include a streaming delay of 10 - 30 seconds, typically.
The technical answer is, no, you don’t. When you’re using a platform like PheedLoop, everything is already built-in. With that said, there are a few major benefits of connecting a third-party streaming service to your virtual event platform:
These tools are also not just designed for virtual events (for example, YouTubers, podcasters, and gamers use them extensively), but they have been adopted at a rapid pace by the events industry. Based on our experience, the first benefit is really what event planners find most valuable. In case you’re a PheedLoop user, connecting any of these tools to our Direct RTMP ingest (per session, so you can run unlimited concurrent sessions) can be done in less than a minute via the backstage/green room.
It’s important to remember that these tools don’t actually stream the content themselves to your attendees. They just help you produce the stream and prepare it for distribution through a platform like PheedLoop.
Restream is a the original and most robust member of the cloud-based streaming scene, but it’s a workhorse and is arguably the industry standard at present. It's simple and easy to use for individuals and small teams in particular, and great for virtual events. It does all the basics with ease with powerful studio features like overlays, logos, and captions, but also has some key features which make it especially well suited for hybrid events (discussed later in this article). Restream has been moving at a faster pace than its competitors with new features, and it looks and feels like a more polished platform at the moment. We've used Restream extensively in conjunction with PheedLoop, and can vouch for it being the best tool to use for events looking for slicker looking streaming over RTMP. Restream also supports an ecosystem of broadcasting tools that drive audience engagement, analysis, monetization, and growth.
The Restream team also reached out to us with a promo code for PheedLoop prospects and customers, which was pretty cool of them! Use the code "PHEEDLOOP30" to get 30% off!
StreamYard is newer than Restream, also cloud-based, has great features, and certainly worth considering. Its web studio has some niche features that we like as well that we'll note below. It was recently acquired as part of an integration initiative, so it's unsure the direction StreamYard may be going in over the next few months (product development may slow down, the platform may cease to exist for public use, etc.). This news broke days after we initially published this article, so we'd be cautious about choosing StreamYard until there's more clarity about the product's future..
Compared to StreamYard and Restream which are quite similar, OBS is actually a very different platform. OBS is free, open source, desktop-based, is the old guard of the streaming world and is used extensively by professionals. It’s not cloud-based and does not share almost any of the out of the box features StreamYard and Restream do. OBS is a sophisticated piece of software that certainly requires more experience to master. However, it offers an unlimited amount of flexibility and potential. We see OBS used most often by professional event producers who are developing events in-studio or on-site and its ideal for hybrid events in particular for a few reasons we’ll cover later.
At the end of the day, relative to the cost of a virtual event platform, the price for any of these streaming tools is pretty insignificant. OBS is a completely free piece of software, in fact, and free is always good. Both Restream and StreamYard offer free options that are significant enough to test out the platforms. Beyond that, StreamYard offers two subscription levels at $25/month for Basic and $50/month for Professional. Restream offers similar levels at $20/month for Standard and $50/month for Professional, but also has two higher-priced tiers which we don’t think most events will need to consider. The two also offer annual subscriptions at a discount, but we find most events only need these tools in short bursts so monthly purchases make more sense.
Winner: OBS if you do not need a cloud solution, Restream if you need a cloud solution because of the 30% off promotion code (above).
Although we mentioned earlier that most virtual events don’t tend to need multistreaming (that is, streaming to more than one platform at a time), some might. Restream currently offers over 30 platforms you can stream to plus any custom RTMP endpoints. StreamYard currently offers only 8. OBS does not offer multistreaming at all. In fact, the recommended way to multi stream using OBS is to stream to Restream and then multistream out from there.
If multistreaming is important to you, hands down Restream should be your choice. It’s one of its biggest advantages and part of the platform’s name!
Restream and StreamYard both allow for scheduling your streams ahead of time. This is a powerful function that helps you sync up the pre-scheduled sessions that you’ve created in your virtual event platform ahead of time.
OBS does not allow for this sort of functionality as it is not a cloud-based platform and is self-managed by you.
Winner: Restream and StreamYard
Update: PheedLoop's built-in Meet & Stream now supports its own custom backgrounds. Learn more here!
This set of functionality is probably the most valuable aspect of Restream and StreamYard. If you’ve used PheedLoop Meet & Stream, you’re familiar with PheedLoop Meet where speakers can get together, share screens, etc., and stream to attendees. Restream and StreamYard take this to the next level for events looking for that extra glitz and glamour and plug right into platforms like PheedLoop.
Both of them offer powerful web-based live studios, and they allow you to easily create overlays, banners, calls to action, share screens, and more which you can apply to your streams in real-time. They also allow you to invite guests to your streams (i.e. speakers for virtual events), so they simply click on a link and pop up in your stream. Both platforms allow up to 10 guests in a single stream.
StreamYard is a bit better than Restream in some subtle ways with its live studio options that are particularly important for the use-case of event streaming. StreamYard allows you to private message guests, which is a nice function if you need to quietly ask your speakers to adjust something on their end. StreamYard also allows you to better control the layout of the guest video tiles, which lends itself to some creative arrangements. Finally, StreamYard has a built-in green screen function, so if you or your guests have a physical green screen behind them (does not auto blur or adapt like Zoom or Google Hangouts), they can change their backgrounds. Restream depends on the stream coming from an encoder like OBS if you need this effect.
OBS is fundamentally different from Restream and StreamYard here, again. It’s not web-based, but that’s it’s only weakness. In terms of sheer functionality with what you can do with your stream, it’s hard to beat. But for the average streamer or event planner, it’ll be too complex to set up, especially if multiple guests need to be handled.
Winner: StreamYard (by a bit)
Restream’s analytics are significantly ahead of StreamYard’s. You get access to stream health monitoring, viewer counts, engagement metrics, and more. StreamYard offers little when it comes to analytics. Normally this would matter, but if you’re using a virtual event platform to actually stream the content from these tools, the analytics are less valuable. OBS itself doesn’t offer much when it comes to analytics, but if you pair it with Restream then you get all the analytics Restream has to offer.
This is an incredibly valuable feature for most events, especially because a fairly significant chunk of them use pre-recorded content instead of going live for various reasons. Restream has a powerful built-in feature that allows you to upload videos, and schedule them to be live-streamed at any time using their event scheduler. StreamYard does not offer anything when it comes to streaming pre-recorded content. OBS actually makes this quite easy to do, as you can use your media player as a source in OBS and simply stream out to any RTMP ingest.
One thing to consider here is if you’re using PheedLoop, our free Upload & Stream option means you can just stream from PheedLoop itself and skip the expense and logistics of using a different tool plus the cost of RTMP streaming.
Both Restream and StreamYard offer this option natively, which is great. Remember that if you’re using something like StreamYard, Restream, or OBS, you’re still using PheedLoop’s Direct RTMP ingest to broadcast the stream to your attendees. Built-in to PheedLoop’s RTMP ingest is an automatic recording feature, so this is taken care of for you. We expect most virtual event platforms to offer this, and if they don’t, it’s a critical feature that you are missing.
The reason being able to download recordings for virtual events, in particular, is super important is because you want your content to be available on-demand for people who may have missed it live or want to re-watch it, or if you want to keep monetizing it. In PheedLoop, you can just re-upload your live content anytime and use our free Upload & Stream option.
A lot of what we’ve said about Restream and StreamYard makes it seem like they’re very similar platforms. For the most part, they are, but Restream is actually a lot more than a StreamYard alternative or competitor. Most of what it offers is less relevant to the specific use-case of virtual events, but accepting RTMP streams is very valuable.
Restream, as its name implies, is meant to re-stream content that is fed into it. We believe the Restream team only developed their web-based live studio and other offerings to meet the demand in the market, but at the end of the day, its initial purpose was to re-stream content. Unlike StreamYard, Restream allows you to stream into it as if it was any other RTMP ingest (like PheedLoop).
When would this be useful? Say you are using OBS, especially for a hybrid event scenario. You want to multistream your content, and feed it into PheedLoop at the same time as well for your virtual attendees. You can be sure for hybrid events, the OBS + Restream combination is going to be a winner. Of course, if you are using PheedLoop you can stream from OBS from your on-site event directly to PheedLoop.
TL;DR - If you are running a virtual event yourself (i.e. without a professional production team) and strapped for time/resources/skill, use the tools built-in to the virtual event platform of your choice instead of any of the options we discussed (e.g. Meet & Stream in PheedLoop if you are a PheedLoop user). Otherwise, Restream is currently the best platform out there for event planners looking to level up their streaming for virtual and especially for hybrid events.
The Challenge - Most event technology platforms don’t have their own tools the way PheedLoop does and rely on third-party integrations anyway. If this is the case, or you are running a virtual event yourself and feel you are comfortable with taking on a bit of extra effort to create customizable streams, then use Restream. or StreamYard. Both will work very well for you but if multistreaming is important to you or you are running a hybrid event, then use Restream for sure.
Due to StreamYard recently being acquired and the uncertainty that brings as it is going to be integrated in another product, if you're thinking long term, then Restream is probably a better idea and based on our analysis, currently the best platform.
If you are running a hybrid event yourself, then OBS is almost certainly going to be your best bet. Your choice will then be whether you want to RTMP stream from OBS to your virtual/hybrid event platform (assuming, like PheedLoop, they have a high quality RTMP ingest), or y stream to Restream and then add your virtual/hybrid event platform as one of its channels. You’ll then get all the benefits of OBS as a highly malleable tool for assembling streams from multiple sources beyond just webcams, and you’ll get all the benefits of a cloud platform. We don’t recommend StreamYard for hybrid events because it lacks the features necessary to be a viable option (as of January, 2021).
Although there’s a lot to consider, we know streaming and virtual events are new topics for many event planners. Restream, StreamYard, and OBS are powerful tools that you should, at the very least, experiment with. They plugin nicely with PheedLoop if you’re looking for a little bit of extra oomph for your events at a low price, and they’ll certainly set you up for success as you transition to hybrid events in the future. Understanding how they work will also help you become a smarter event planner in the midst of all this digital transformation.