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Livestreamed Services Catch On At Funeral Homes, But Slowly

Ronald Jones adjusts a casket in his funeral home's display room. (May 16, 2018)
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Ronald Jones adjusts a casket in his funeral home's display room in 2018. Jones is considering investing in technology to livestream services in-house.

Livestreams have allowed people with compromised immune systems or out-of-town family members and friends to safely attend funerals during the coronavirus pandemic.

St. Louis-area funeral homes started offering to livestream services in April as capacity limits and social distancing reduced the number of people who could attend services.

Funeral directors now say the technology will become a permanent fixture in the industry.

“It's a regular part of our repertoire now,” said Dan Flynn, general manager of Jay B Smith Funeral Homes in south county.

While livestreaming was a temporary fix at first, funeral directors see the technology as an option to broadcast to family and friends who cannot attend services, even after coronavirus restrictions end.

Some families choose to broadcast on Facebook pages. Others use Zoom or tape the recording and send it to people afterward.

But livestreaming is still catching on, partly because it is a developing technology.

Most people prefer to grieve in person, Flynn said, adding that fewer than 10% of families request livestreams for his funerals.

“People don't either realize they can do it, or it's just not in their mindset, because they've never seen it done in the past,” Flynn said. “When it comes to things like funerals, people tend to be just rigidly traditional.”

Some families find livestreaming too expensive. Many smaller funeral homes outsource streaming services, and it can cost up to $500 to hire a wedding videographer or event company.

Ronald L. Jones Funeral Chapel in north St. Louis is considering investing in livestreaming technology. The in-house service could be cheaper than hiring professional videographers for customers, owner Ronald Jones said.

“I think the fact that people need to take this pandemic seriously," Jones said, "they should consider [livestreaming] more so than trying to do all this traveling and put themselves at risk.”

But some people might not have the technology to watch livestreams on Zoom or other platforms, Jones said.

Professional Production Enterprises Events in Maplewood began to livestream funerals in July. But co-founder Josh Horn said many families are either deciding to stream visitations themselves on iPhones or tablets or use cheaper streaming options from the funeral homes themselves.

“The families, who first of all are not expecting that unexpected expense of a funeral, are just kind of utilizing what’s in-house,” Horn said.

As more people use livestreaming, Horn said he expects costs to drop.

Baue Funeral Homes in St. Charles County and Hutchens Funeral Homes in Florissant offer free livestreaming.

Families at Baue frequently use the service, prompting the venue to invest in better-quality streaming, which it will start charging for soon, a spokesperson said.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.