ClearCaster Customer Spotlight: The Wild Animal Sanctuary
December 12, 2017 by
Case Study Snapshot
Live event broadcasting
The Wild Animal Sanctuary near Keenesberg, Colorado is a 720-acre wildlife refuge that’s home to over 450 rescued large carnivores, including lions, tigers, bears and wolves. The Sanctuary regularly live-streams videos of its animals in their natural habitat to the Facebook page of popular animal-advocacy website The Dodo.
Live-streaming from a remote location such as this is challenging, and the Sanctuary struggled with quality and reliability issues when streaming to Facebook Live—until the Wowza ClearCaster came along.
Wild Animal Sanctuary Struggles With Quality, Reliability on Facebook Live
In their early days of streaming to Facebook Live, The Wild Animal Sanctuary faced challenges with unstable network conditions, slow connection speeds and poor video quality. Even getting a reliable cellular signal was difficult, given the distance from a major metropolitan area.
“Our goal was to do higher-quality video, and upload a much clearer image,” says Executive Director Pat Craig. “We have higher-end equipment ... but we couldn’t offer much because of the bandwidth we had to upload, so we struggled for a while.”
To work around this issue, the Sanctuary team created a custom mobile system using mobile WiFi units and network connection bonding software, which combined the signals from three different cellular tower-based WiFi access points into one, more robust signal. This provided greater bandwidth and allowed the Sanctuary to live stream at faster speeds.
However, stream quality remained an issue. The Dodo was using Google Hangouts to route the incoming live video from the Sanctuary’s feed to the Facebook Live platform. So, even though the Sanctuary was providing a high-quality stream, the “extra hop” of streaming through Hangouts introduced last-mile congestion and downgraded the video quality being delivered to Facebook Live. Even after The Dodo granted administrator access for streaming directly to its Facebook page, the team's setup remained cumbersome and unreliable.
“The interim bonded cell connection solution we came up with had a lot of moving parts to it, and a lot of points of failure,” Robbins explains. “All the mobile WiFi units had to be up and pointed in the right direction, and it was dependent on a laptop running the bonding software ... Basically, one problematic Windows update would be enough to put you out of business. ... We’ve always been searching for a better solution, and that’s what led us to you guys.”
These lions grew up in captivity in Spain, but now they get to...
LIVE: These lions grew up in captivity in Spain, but now they get to roam free together at a sanctuary in Colorado ����Posted by The Dodo on Thursday, February 16, 2017
Live stream of lions at The Wild Animal Sanctuary, from The Dodo’s Facebook page
ClearCaster Simplifies High-Quality Facebook Live Streaming
According to Robbins, the Sanctuary staff tried just about every product they could find to address their quality and reliability issues, including solutions by Livestream and Ustream. From problems getting and staying connected to an inability to monitor the outgoing audio and video quality, they struggled with each one.
Throughout their search for the right product, the Sanctuary was using Wowza Streaming Cloud™ to deliver RTMP streams to Facebook Live through whichever device they were currently testing. While this was an effective workaround, ClearCaster provided the solution they’d really been looking for.
“When [ClearCaster] came along, it really offered an ability for us to have a better, consistent video image that uploaded easily and didn’t seem to be compromised, as well as simpler, quicker and more reliable access,” Craig says.
While solving for quality and reliability was the Sanctuary's biggest need, ClearCaster offered some additional benefits the other solutions didn’t provide. The Talent View display allows the film crew to connect an external monitor and “see what ClearCaster sees,” including on-screen monitoring of audio and video levels. This way, they’re no longer unpleasantly surprised by poor video quality or inaudible narration.
Another ClearCaster feature the Sanctuary loves is the integrated countdown clock, which offers a “preemptive warning when you go live—because you always have that awkward moment where you’re not sure,” says Robbins. This helps the team create more professional broadcasts for The Dodo’s over 17 million-strong follower base on Facebook.
Rock-Solid Streaming You Can Take With You
Since the Sanctuary team primarily shoots out in the field, they were delighted to discover that they could take ClearCaster with them. Robbins installed ClearCaster in a protective cabinet, connecting it directly to the camera as well as to the bonded WiFi solution—and the team now transports the device wherever nature calls.
“It’s small enough, light enough and so well-built, we didn’t see a problem with mounting it into a mobile cabinet that could be taken everywhere. We’ve taken it into manlifts, in baskets that lift up into the air, and filmed from there,” Craig says. “That’s one of the things we liked about it: It wasn’t this gigantic piece of equipment.”
Not only is ClearCaster transportable, it’s also so easy to use that shoots once requiring a multi-person film crew can now be reduced to a one-man operation.
“Normally, Bill is running ClearCaster while I’m dealing with all the video equipment, whether we’re using a drone, the lifts or whatever we’ve got, and I’m the person who has to do the narration,” says Craig. But on Thanksgiving Day of 2017, Craig was alone at the Sanctuary, and was the sole person responsible for filming—a task that would have previously been impossible.
His first solo shoot “went very well,” he says, thanks to ClearCaster’s ease of use and monitoring capabilities.
“The setup is simplistic, once it has the codes in it. … I had to do everything from a basket up in the air, and all that stuff, it was miraculous. Normally, it would take three of us [to shoot a live video] before using ClearCaster, and it still normally takes a number of people ... but it’s nice to know that one person can basically do the whole thing, because ClearCaster makes it easier.” —Pat Craig, executive director at The Wild Animal Sanctuary
ClearCaster Allows Sanctuary to Scale Social Streaming
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is extremely happy with ClearCaster and the benefits it has brought for their Facebook Live streaming, including:
- High-quality streaming video delivery, with up to 1080p30 resolution.
- A reliable connection to Facebook Live that doesn’t buffer or drop, even in poor and changing network conditions.
- Ease of setup and use, which allows them to reduce manpower on remote shoots.
- The ability to monitor outgoing video and audio.
But perhaps most importantly, implementing ClearCaster will now allow the team to achieve a long-desired goal: scaling their own Facebook Live video production.
“We always wanted to do a lot more [live streaming] on our own social media, but The Dodo always a priority because they have a much larger audience,” says Craig. “Now that we have this down to a more reliable system, we can start to do a lot more of our own social media broadcasts.”
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is anticipating this future growth with plans to upgrade to an enterprise-level internet connection, which will provide faster speeds and greater bandwidth. At that point, they will likely install ClearCaster in an onsite studio. They have also purchased a professional 360º/VR (virtual reality camera) for future live broadcasts. Since ClearCaster is 4K- and 360º-ready, there’s no limit to the kind of immersive Facebook Live experiences the team will be able to provide.