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Stations’ Web cams doing double duty

Jul 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

As almost any zoo can attest, there’s just something irresistible about polar bears. That’s what TV station WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I., will tell you.
The NBC affiliate has seen traffic to its Web site grow by 20 percent since April, when it began featuring a live, steerable polar bear cam on its Web site, offering a window into the polar bear exhibit at the local Roger Williams Park Zoo.
The technology behind the tundra voyeurism is courtesy of LiveWave, a Newport, R.I.-based company that sells and licenses remote-control live video systems, including the ConvergenceCam used by WJAR.
The station’s Web site, at www.turnto10.com, has averaged 12,000 visits a day since it installed the polar bear cam. That figure is up from 10,000 per day, said Christopher Van Vleet, manager of interactive and new media operations at the station. The polar bear cam itself registers about 2,000 page views each day, and the length of time spent on the page is more than four minutes, which is nearly 10 times the average for the site, he said.
Mr. Van Vleet said this type of traffic is equal to that generated by weather, the site’s most-viewed category. The station sells sponsorships for the polar bear cam and planned in mid-July to add three cams for viewing traffic and weather.
The ConvergenceCams provide a window into the world of weather, traffic and wildlife for Web users and the subjects are featured during the on-air broadcasts.
“We can make full use of it in real time for our TV station,” Mr. Van Vleet said. That’s because the LiveWave cams are broadcast-quality. “With a traffic camera, we can break from news not to a Web cam but [to] a broadcast cam,” Mr. Van Vleet said.
LiveWave typically relies on broadcast architecture to distribute the feeds, which is why the cameras are used both online and on-air, said Peter Mottur, the company’s president and CEO. LiveWave was founded in June 1999 as a reinvention of a TV production company called HydroActive, which had produced marine-related documentaries. Mr. Mottur, one of the founding partners, is a marine biologist by training but has earned a living in TV production since graduating from college in 1991.
During the early days at HydroActive the company installed a camera at a local Newport, R.I., hotel and transmitted pictures of Narragansett Bay on its Web site. The camera was controlled from the company’s office and incorporated such functions as pan, tilt and zoom. HydroActive’s Web site included a chat room, and users began to request different camera views.
The cam became so popular that about 95 percent of the traffic to the site consisted of requests to drive the camera, Mr. Mottur said. The site was generating about 100,000 visitors per month. That was enough to attract venture firm Zero Stage Capital in Massachusetts, which wanted the company to focus its efforts on the live cameras rather than on documentaries.
Mr. Mottur knew the investment would pay off if Web users instead of LiveWave employees controlled the cameras. “What we really wanted to do was give control to users and give them more of an interactive experience and control the viewing, and that’s where LiveWave really took off,” he said.
Customers for the ConvergenceCams include Discovery Communications and FM Global, an insurance firm in Rhode Island. Deals are in the works with TV stations in Asia and Latin America, Mr. Mottur said. The cameras are robotic, so a station can obtain video from the camera rather than dispatching a crew to the scene, he said.
The licensing cost for a camera is $1,000 to $5,000 per month, while the purchase price is $6,000 to $30,000. Since last year, Discovery.com has featured LiveWave cam shots of gorillas at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and sharks from the New England Aquarium.
The Web site showcases about 36 to 40 live cams, but only three of those, including the two LiveWave cams, feature streaming video, and the rest serve up static images, said Randy Rieland, content director for Discovery.com. “We felt with our [emphasis] on video, we needed to offer streaming cams,” he said.
During last summer’s Shark Week promotion on the Discovery Channel, the Web site included a LiveWave streaming video presentation twice daily in which divers in the tanks talked about caring for the sharks. The shark cam is the site’s most popular offering, attracting 50,000 visitors per week, Mr. Rieland said.
Web cams have blossomed over the past few years, said T.S. Kelly, principal media analyst with Nielsen//NetRatings in New York. LiveWave’s cams offer a more robust set of tools that take cams to the next level with increased interactivity, control and quality. “It’s a perfect fit with lots of broadcasters and can add value to a TV station’s Web site,” he said.