BOZEMAN, MONT. —Polar Bears International is a non-profit organization dedicated to polar bear conservation and educating people on the effects of climate change on the arctic ecosystem.
For the past six years, I’ve worked with a team of PBI scientists and educators to produce a unique program called “Tundra Connections.” It’s targeted at schools, universities and community organizations, and provides information about polar bears in their natural habitat from climate and animal experts. In late fall, the polar bears congregate along the shores of Hudson Bay, waiting for it to freeze so they can start their seasonal migration. Once the ice forms, the bears venture onto it to hunt for their primary food source, ringed seals. While they’re waiting, we have an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with them.
The “Tundra Buggy” remote broadcasting laboratory As you might imagine, there are many challenges involved with streaming a live program to classrooms from such a remote location. The operation is based out of Churchill, Manitoba and we employ a rather unique vehicle supplied by Frontier North Adventures that’s referred to as a “Tundra Buggy.”
This “bus-on-monster-truck-wheels” conveyance carries our mobile studio throughout the Churchill Wildlife Management Area and Wapusk National Park located along the shores of the Hudson Bay. There’s no cellular data infrastructure, so we had to build our own custom microwave back-haul system consisting of 15 nodes to provide 20 Mbps transmission capability from any of the possible locations we visit. Some of these nodes are so remote that the only way to power them is via methanol fuel cells or solar panels.
We’ve set up a complete mobile studio with multiple pan/tilt/zoom cameras inside the buggy to cover panel discussions taking place inside the vehicle, as well as spy on bears outside. At the heart of this operation is Telestream’s Wirecast live streaming production software running on a Mac workstation. We use Wirecast to capture the camera feeds, audio, displays and graphics, and create the finished program to populate the Tundra Connections webpage, as well as those of Explore.org and other sponsors. Each program includes a panel discussion interspersed with polar bear live shots. The Web interface includes a chat window for viewers to send questions to our panelists.
KEEPING VIDEO OPS COMPACT
As there are usually six people occupying the Tundra Buggy, we don’t have a lot of extra room for production personnel; the operation is pretty much a “one-man band.” I run the cameras, mix the show, dress the set, set up the lighting and make sure that audio levels are correct. I’ve tried to automate as much as possible and keep everything prewired so the setup stays put.
The operation has evolved quite a bit since our first ever “point-to-point” videoconference setup first used a number of years ago. Our Telestream Wirecast webcasts are a lot more sophisticated now. Since implementing Wirecast our viewership has grown exponentially—on one occasion during the past year we had an estimated 250,000– 500,000 viewers watching our program.
BJ Kirschhoffer is director of field operations for Polar Bears International. He may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information, contact Telestream at 530-470-1300 or visitwww.telestream.net.