Wednesday, 3 September 2008
With so much going on in the world of Natural History media at the moment I've been having difficulty deciding what to post on first!
If you're in any way interested in wildlife television you should be aware of the new live multimedia project the BBC is preparing to launch later this year: Big Cat Live.
Big Cat Live is going to be in a similar format to the groundbreaking project "Springwatch" which first aired in 2005. Springwatch involved (and involves) an overview of live camera feeds from nest boxes and animal burrows, allowing us to follow stories of British wildlife. Its huge success with viewers here in the UK has been partly due to the way in which they were able to follow wildlife in their own back gardens and feedback to the programme online.
Big Cat Diary (which preceded Springwatch) and Elephant Diary also highlight the way in which these programmes engage viewers by following individuals of a species.
I think it's something to do with human empathy. We are drawn into stories when we start to become familiar with and care for the individuals involved. Thus, viewers are encouraged to tune in to find out how that batch of coal tits or those young lion cubs are doing. It's similar to our affinity for sitcoms and series such as Neighbours - we want to know what's happening in their lives next!
Springwatch was highly ambitious in relying on participation from the public to look out for their local wildlife and aid in the wildlife surveys conducted; but most notably it was a pioneer in multimedia effort. Springwatch on television ran in conjunction with an online British wildlife survey and programmes on Radio 2 and Radio 4 as well as providing an online blog and online live feeds from selected cameras.
Big Cat Diary is possibly the BBC Natural History Unit's biggest venture yet. Live feeds from cameras strategically placed across Kenya's Masai Mara reserve will be brought to us here in the UK on our screens. Aside from the obvious difficulties with streaming live content reliably across the world on the presenters' cue, this project will also attempt to bring 24hour surveillance to its website for the superkeen to access!
Big Cat Live intends to give the public a lot more behind the scenes footage to envelope us into the project itself. There'll be an interactive website available two weeks before the launch, and the three week long event will run in conjunction with a programme on CBeebies (Little Big Cat) although unfortunately there does not appear to be any Radio production planned. Obviously most of us won't be able to follow the species in our own back yards, but the programme will bring us an overview of daily life on the reserve with information on the activities of a wide variety of species; and unlike Springwatch, Big Cat Live's feeds will continue streaming beyond daylight hours for more exciting behaviours!
To me the technology involved for the video streaming across the world is enough of an obstacle, but if you think about it the programme will face many other hurdles!
For one, lions and antelope and hyaenas don't breed as often and regularly as the birds we see on springwatch and have much wider territories: we can't simply slot a camera into a cheetah's den to see how the cubs are doing.
Two: A bird's daily life involves much flitting and feeding, whereas a lion spends about 20hours of the day resting!
Three: This is no sofa-in-Norfolk jobby (Springwatch reference!)! Kate Silverton, Simon King, Jonathon Scott and presumably a whole host of production team fellahs will be spending the duration of the programme in the heart of an African reserve! Just think of the health and safety issues!
It's going to be a huge challenge for all involved at the BBC and I can't imagine any other production company or channel being able to host something at this scale. The BBC say it's a test-run for future 360-degree productions to see if their technology is robust enough to move to the next level. I for one can't wait for Autumn!
(BBC Press Release. Big Cat Live is to be produced by Colin Jackson, series producer Nigel Pope.)