Video Streaming

BY RICHARD YOST | Contributing Editor

A unique marketing tool that goes with the flow.

LOOKING FOR A MARKETING TECHNIQUE where you can get an extra hundred people into your store every day? A thousand? Ten thousand? And as long as we are dreaming, let's say this technique will cost you less than $100 and maybe an hour of your time.

Actually, this isn't dreaming, it is video streaming, and if ever there was an industry made for this type of marketing, it is the birding business.

Video streaming is one of those phrases that nobody had even heard of a few years ago - kind of like NetFlix, and FaceBook, and Social Media - but which has exploded into everything from the political and entertainment scenes, to religion, sports, and pets and wildlife, too.

At its most basic, video streaming involves mounting a video camera, aiming it at something, connecting the camera to a television in the shop, and letting nature do the rest.

The slightly more complicated version is to connect the camera to a computer, log onto a streaming host on the Internet and streaming the live video to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of people around the world. Copying the web address and e-mailing it to store customers makes it easy for them to log on and see what is going on at your shop. You can even set up a chat room where you and your customers can discuss what is going on.

"We put a Hawk Eye Nature Cam on a feeder outside our shop, a month or so ago, and the customer reaction has been huge," says Judy Gasvoda, owner of The Wild Bird Shoppe, in West Lafayette, Indiana. "Our customers are fascinated watching the birds line up and jockey for position, and then feeding. We, and our customers, are seeing a lot of behavior we never realized was going on before."

Judy's husband, Glenn Ward, the technical guru at the shop says they plan to soon start streaming the feeder cam onto the Internet, and later, during nesting season, beam the live video of nesting birds.

"This is really going to be huge," Judy says.

Assembling the pieces

To stream video into your shop, you only need a miniature video camera, a connecting cable long enough to reach into the shop, and a television. For the most versatility and added impact, the camera should have infrared night vision and a built in microphone.
Once the camera is mounted, run the connecting cable into the shop, plug it into the TV and watch customers' reactions when the critters the camera's capturing begin to perform. And perform they will.

"We had a camera inside an owl box," said one store owner. "A pair of squirrels moved in and had their young inside. We'd often have a crowd of people three or four deep, just watching. We could hardly get them out of the store."

Going Global
If a couple dozen customers hanging out at your store isn't enough, you can go global and stream your video onto the Internet. To do this, you need to run your camera into a computer, and an on-line streaming service.

The computer must have audio- and video-in ports into which the camera is plugged. If your computer doesn't, you will need to buy an adapter; a small box with RCA (audio- and video-in) jacks on one side, a USB cable coming out the other.

Three adapters that are the most trouble free are Pinnacle System's Dazzle, Hauppauge's WinTV-HVR, and the HomeTech Adapter sold by Cyberguys.

These adapters not only allow you to connect a camera to the computer, but equally important, come with powerful video capturing software that allows you to record video to the computer hard drive and then edit the video for in-store display.

One other option is to simply use a computer web cam that plugs directly into the computer's USB port. Although a simple plug-and-play camera is nice, it can only be used five or six feet away from the computer unless a powered USB extension cable is used, in which case there will be no sound. Most web cams also do not have variable focused lenses, or infrared night vision.

Once the computer and camera are talking to one another, go to www.ustream.tv and sign up for a free membership. It takes less than five minutes, and once logged on it takes a simple click of the "Go Live" button, and what your camera sees can be watched by anyone, anywhere in the world.

And don't forget, video streaming need not be limited to just birds. Broadcasting everything from koi ponds to dogs and horses is only a click away.

Richard Yost is the president of Birdhouse Spy Cam (www.birdhousespycam.com) and has developed a variety of wildlife monitoring cameras.