Lions, zebras, elephants. Let's face it, these exotic animals bring out our innermost childhood curiosities. But if you don’t live in Sub-Saharan Africa, the only chance you’ll ever get to see them is in a lousy zoo or a 20-hour plane ride to Kenya. And frankly ain’t nobody got time for that!
Lucky for us, Safari LIVE has us covered. Every morning at 5AM Central African Time (10PM Eastern), the safari guides are out in the jungle with camera-mounted open Land Rovers, streaming as they drive around and introduce the wildlife around them. The idea is to simulate a real, authentic safari experience, placing viewers in the backseat as the tour guides take us through the action. To say that these streams are entertaining would be a wild understatement.
“When we started off in 2007, we wanted to do something different from other wildlife shows,” explained Alex Voz, Systems Architect at Safari LIVE. “We wanted to provide viewers - who otherwise can’t visit Africa - an experience that was truthful, real and genuine. No scripts, no edits. Just live video of nature as it should be.”
And going the live path has been hugely successful for Safari LIVE. Thanks to their immense popularity online, their live program was picked up by Nat Geo Wild in 2014, with special live broadcasts every few months on international cable TV. They even have their own program on National Geographic’s Big Cat Week, which will begin airing live on December 14.
The Great Migration
But while the safari experts make the whole show look easy, the streaming infrastructure behind it certainly isn’t! In the months of December - March, the safari crew follows a huge wildlife movement called The Great Migration. During the migration, millions of animals make the journey from the Serengeti National Park (Tanzania) area to the plains of Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya). Part of this journey includes crossing the Mara River, where crocodiles prey on the animals making the crossing.
This is where a lot of action unfolds. The Mara River crossing is one of the most highly sought-after safari experiences in Africa, and SafariLIVE wanted to bring that experience to their live viewers at home. The challenge though is establishing a live feed between their location at an active crossing area on the Mara River and their control station, which is 18 miles away.
To get a video feed from the river crossing to their station, Voz and his team installed camera 4 posts along the banks of the river to house the broadcasting equipment. On these posts were the following:
- 4x Panasonic HE40 PTZ camera, 1 on each post.
- 4x Teradek Cube 205 video encoders, 1 for each camera.
- 4x Ubiquiti AirFiber 5 Gigabit Radio, 1 for each Cube.
- Solar panels on each post.
When the broadcast begins, the cameras are remote controlled from an operator at the control station 30km away, capturing the crossing as it unfolds at the river. These video feeds are sent to their Cubes, which encode the videos and transmits them via MPEG-TS thru the Ubiquiti AF5 radio.
At the station, the Ubiquiti receiver pushes the feeds to a Teradek T-Rax decoder, which goes into their main switcher for live production. From the switcher, the feed is mixed with audio and streamed directly to YouTube.
A Real Experience
By setting up a live stream rig at the crossing, the team at Safari LIVE are able to offer their viewers something that’s never been done before: a live broadcast of the migration. True to their goal of authenticity, Safari LIVE spared no expense to ensure that viewers can watch truly raw and unedited video feeds from the Mara River. And Teradek Cubes were a critical component to it.
“It was important for us to install transport devices that were reliable, sturdy and low latency,” Voz said. “The river crossing at the Mara isn’t exactly close by, and since we’re doing a live production with switching and broadcasting, we need the video to be at the station as quick as possible. That way we can provide a flawless safari experience to our viewers.”
The entire Safari LIVE infrastructure inside their Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya) zones are configured to send video over IP to their respective broadcast stations, and is really an incredible technical feat.
From 50 ft. WiFi repeater towers to Land Rovers equipped with IP radios and roving cameras equipped with Teradek Clips, the broadcast team have built a complete wireless ecosystem to give viewers the best live HD video possible.
Their live program on Big Cat Week starts on December 14 and will be available on YouTube & the National Geographic channel.
Check out their YouTube channel to see what they’re all about: