Grieving families are opting to watch funerals online instead of attending a service in person because of the high costs of travel and living, Southland funeral directors say.

Distinct Funerals funeral director Anneke Campbell said 75% of the Invercargill firm’s clients were using its live-streaming service.

The technology allowed people to watch a funeral service online in real time, and the footage could also be available to watch for a month afterwards.

She attributed the rise in part to Covid-19, saying the pandemic had changed how people travelled.

“They used to travel in a hurry to come down to services because live streaming wasn’t available.”

The online access helped people to feel connected, Campbell said.

“They can still feel as if they’ve been there but haven’t had that rush or the financial stress to have to try and attend a funeral.

“Or if they’re sick and can’t make it … they can still view it.”

Funeral director Nigel Edwards owns Avenal Park Funeral Home, also in Invercargill. He said about 90% to 95% of the services the business did involved live streaming.

“There’s still some people that are wary about being in crowds,” he said, referring to the pandemic’s impact.

In addition, the cost of “people coming from overseas – or Auckland even – is not a cheap exercise. So it’s an easy way to bring them into the service.”

He said live streams could be made either publicly available or private, depending on the family’s preference.

People watching the live stream said they felt as though they were part of the service, he said.

“Yes, they are missing out on the connection with the family members, but they’re talking over the phone.

“And then later on special occasions, they will get together anyway, like if they were interring ashes.”

Gillian Boyes​, the chief executive of the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand, said 54% of members’ funeral services around the country were live-streamed at present.

People from overseas were watching the services online, but even people from the same city were logging on if they were working from home or fitting it around their workday, she said.

Boyes said that while live-streaming of funerals did happen before the Covid pandemic, “it’s fair to say that the technology wasn’t as good as it is now”.

“There are now [service providers] in New Zealand providing really great live-streaming facilities that are really simple for the funeral homes to use and deliver a really great quality picture.”

Boyes said some funeral homes in Southland that did not have a live-streaming setup in their chapels were using contractor services to stream from different locations, even the beach, including the use of drones.

She said the family would generally receive an edited copy of the footage as part of the service.

Everything from the network on which services were streamed to the cameras had evolved, contributing to the increase in live streaming’s popularity, she said.

Funeral businesses were also investing in technology or tying up with service providers, making it a nice package for families, she said.