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Empowering Forest Service Scientific Experts to Educate the World Using Live Video

In July 2013, U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologist Pete Schneider launched a YouTube Live video event from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Alaska. The goal of the project was to not only deliver a reliable 2-month long, 24/7, live video stream where an international audience could witness spawning Sockeye salmon, hungry Dolly Varden, cunning Cutthroat, and schools of disorientated Coho fry, but to also use the platform as way to collaborate and converse with viewers.

Watchers of the live salmon cam welcomed the opportunity to collaborate, too. They shared experiences such as recognizing a familiar fish hovering in front of the camera, bear sightings, and their observations during the Sockeye spawning ritual. Numerous questions were asked on the commenting thread, located adjacent to the live video stream canvas. Sometimes users would answer another’s question, but Pete would frequently engage and educate the audience as to what was happening; for instance redd building by a Sockeye salmon, or to help someone identify an unfamiliar species of fish.

A few weeks into the project we quickly realized the power of what had been accomplished. We had just delivered a small piece of Alaska, live, to the world over the Internet.

Success wasn’t obtained only because we could stream live video on the Internet, rather the technology enabled and propelled the project to a new level. The true ingredients for success were:

  1. An engaging subject matter expert, Pete, with the personality, passion and desire to educate anyone who had an interest.
  2. The content, an ecosystem of teaming fish, occasional river otters and a few hungry bears, provided the hook to captivate a broad audience interested in seeing a small piece of Alaska up close.
  3. A nimble project team of two that left out any unneeded bureaucracy and overhead. The team possessed the right amount of knowledge and background to work through any technical obstacle. After a reliable live video stream was established, communications staff helped with messaging through email, the Internet, and social media. The project team developed a simple technical diagram for others to enjoy.

Here are a few lessons learned from our live video experience thus far:

  • During live video events, do not stream copyright protected music, even if you have the rights to it. YouTube will flag your account with a violation.
  • Both audio and video need to be included in the live video stream. Our focus was on video and we really didn’t have a need for audio. But, we realized that when using Flash Live Media Encoder with YouTube’s Live service, both audio and video had to be used in order to obtain a reliable video stream.
  • Some audiences in other countries, such as Germany, do not have access to YouTube’s Live service.
  • In July 2013, we reached a peak of 164 concurrent live video viewers.

YouTube Live is a free video service as long as your channel has been enabled to use it. The service is being incrementally rolled out by Google to YouTube accounts that are in good standing.

In early July 2014, when the Sockeye start their annual run, the Forest Service will turn the Salmon Cam back on, broadcasting a live video feed from Steep Creek in Juneau, Alaska, and with Pete taking questions and educating us all.

Note: The live feed is seasonal, it runs from mid-July through early October…so, it’s currently offline since there’s no fish in Steep Creek (plus, due to weather, snow, ice, etc). So, the #SalmonWatch live video feed will come back online in July 2014.

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