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Thoughts on live video streaming
I finally got the basic setup configured for streaming - a webcam, a laptop, Windows Media encoder, a streaming server account, and an aircard connection. My first test stream, which was during the Building 82 implosion on March 28, seemed to go off without a hitch. However, I am not optimistic about doing much streaming during expeditions this season, if at all, for the following reasons:
The first thought about streaming sounds fun and a nice feature for this site, but then I think about what I have to spend to make it work well, and what I need to do during an expedition to keep it running (adjusting the camera, monitoring the cell connection). I have to keep reminding myself and everyone else that unless you're a Timmer, Samaras or a Hill, no one really cares that much about your observing activities except close friends, family, other storm observers, and maybe a small handful of people who may keep up with you on your web site. During storm season, most other storm observers are going to be *observing*. Your friends and family aren't going to sit and watch your stream even if they did have the time to do it. Neither are most of your web readers. I just can't see the cost and hassle being worth the effort. There is *no* profit, or even breaking even, with tornadoes for the majority of storm observers. There never has been, and the chances that there ever will be don't look good. I can see many enthusiastic storm observers blindly spending the money on a nice streaming setup, dreaming of financial success, without thinking if the business numbers will realistically work.
- Cost outlay for good performance. At last check, a good cellular amp/antenna setup was running upwards of $400. Without an amp, cell connections are too unreliable for streaming. Last year, I had trouble keeping a static webcam image uploading every 30 seconds - I can't imagine a video stream working well at all. That is, unless I shell out the bucks for an amp. That amounts to spending a good amount of money, for a:
- Small audience. I'd be curious to hear how many people are actually watching a particular stream at any given time. I can't see more than a handful for anybody, unless you happen to be the only observer on a huge event. Too many streamers, not enough people who care enough about storms to watch. 5 people watching my stream isn't enough. I do appreciate every viewer or web visitor I have, but at what cost? Some of the early-season events where only a few storm observers are out seem to have better audiences (30-35 viewers on each stream). For all that's involved though, even that seems like a small number. It's like putting on a Broadway show or producing a short film for 10-20 people a day - just not worth the effort in my mind.
- Adding another task to attend to during the expedition, on top of everything else. I'm lucky to get my primary video camera and my DSLR covering a storm without worrying about keeping a third camera properly framed and focused.
- Nothing worth streaming for 95% of the expedition. Even on my best tornado days, my total 'tornado viewing time' averages maybe 10 to 20 minutes per event. Someone is going to have to watch my stream all day, including the hundreds of miles of driving and hours of waiting, to see those fleeting few moments. Who is going to sit at their computer all day waiting for that brief moment in time?
- Prospect of overloaded cell towers during the height of storm season, including even those who bought the expensive amps. This issue is a 'biggie' that I wonder about. During peak storm season, there are hundreds of storm observers in the vicinity of storms, with potentially dozens attempting to stream video simultaneously. Will providers start implementing technology to limit bandwidth if mass streaming starts routinely affecting network performance?
- Too much competition to realistically expect to recoup costs via stream sales, or garner a worthwhile audience. If 20 other storm observers are streaming the same scene as I am, why would anyone tune into my stream?
I could be wrong, but I see streaming as largely a tool for the more successful segment of Plains-based storm observers who already have established local TV connections. For the rest of us, I can't think of it as anything else but yet another time-consuming, costly and unecessary fad that sounds fun, innovative and interesting, but in the end, doesn't have any real benefit for anyone involved. For me, it would boil down to spending $500 on amps and antennas so that 3 people could watch me drive down the interstate for 5 hours, and *maybe* have 10-15 people watching when I saw a tornado. I doubt that the streaming would bring in the additional $500 in sales to cover its cost, over and above what I already have available through my current arrangement with a breaking news video agency. Again, unless you're a storm observer with a TV show or existing station contract/relationship - which 90% of us don't have.
All told, I think that streaming is a very cool technology that has some potential for a select demographic. All I'm suggesting is to be realistic in ones reasons for making the decision to spend money or effort to stream. In reality you're probably not going to get much notoriety, viewership or income from live streaming. As I've said before - in the end "nobody cares", so do it only if it's for your own enjoyment.
That said, if I'm sitting waching a slow-moving, cyclic tornadic supercell - and my other cameras are set up and rolling - and I have a spare minute to start a stream - you may see a few live shots from me on here. I will probably add a static live video link on here during the Plains trips, the only thing is that visitors will just have to keep clicking on it to see if the stream is active.
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