"We are in the teleportation business, not the television business." Graham Wallington, Founder of Wild Earth TV
Wild Earth TV offers viewers 3 hours of live 3D safari trips from Africa in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon. The company has plans to extent into other immersive 3D television experiences as well as extend its output to mobile devices, Cinemizer headsets and IPTV platforms around the globe. 3D news website 3dfocus.co.uk catches up with Wild Earth TV 3D founder Graham Wallington to find out more, especially how the company makes money. This exclusive feature also includes a video interview recorded at this year's MIPTV.
3D FOCUS. What is your role within Wild Earth TV?
Graham: I founded Wild Earth TV with my wife and I am the CEO of Wild Earth Media which is the broadcast and distribution side of the group.
3D FOCUS. Give the readers an overview of what 3D activity Wild Earth TV is involved with.
Graham: I think it is something which can be a bit confusing as we seem to be doing a lot of different things.
There are essentially two sides to our business. One is television and one is Internet. Within the Internet side I include both web and mobile such as iPad and iPhones and so on. The television side of the business is where the revenue focus is. It is the most important part of our business in terms of paying bills and making the business viable. However, we believe that the future is not just television. Internet will become more of a distribution medium so whether something is viewed on a television or mobile phone is not really the point; it will be delivered via the Internet.
On the television side we operate pretty much as a normal broadcaster in the sense that we licence our TV channel to pay based TV operators and at the same time we also licence out individual shows whether they are live or non-live. We deliver both the live and non-live content in 3D and 2D HD but to be very honest with you, the fact that we produce so much 3D content at such low prices means that we are far more interesting as a 3D channel than a HD channel. I guess that would apply to everybody who's doing what we're doing in the 3D space.
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3D FOCUS. How long has Wild Earth TV been going? Have you established a large back catalogue?
Graham: With 2D we haven't bothered to maintain our catalogue or archive our content. Primarily because what differentiates us from everyone else and a great deal of production companies that produce high quality 2D content in the wild life space, is that we operate live. In fact, Wild Earth's mission in life is immersive experiences in nature, so we are not in the documentary making business and we are not very good at it or claim to be very good at it.
Our primary interest or ‘flagship product’ is live 3D programming and we make that around giving people a sense of adventure and not knowing what is going to happen next. It is obviously unscripted and we use 3D as a mechanism to enhance that experience and make it more immersive which I think is really the whole point behind 3D. Obviously 3D has commercial benefits because there is so little of it which means if you have a lot of it you are in business.
In the coming years it will emerge that 3D's contribution to content is to make it more immersive and that is what we really are about.
Let me return to the Internet side of the business. The Internet side of our business is slightly different in that there we act as a distribution platform for many different producers. Obviously some of those producers we own, such as Wild Earth Safari, but that is a separate company. We act as a distributor for many other live wild life producers none of whom do 3D yet but all of whom are thinking about doing it. We will aggregate these together, archive their content and monetise it on their behalf through advertising and now also through subscription on iPad apps. We will also offer a redistribution service which we are about to launch which is where we distribute onto YouTube live, Justin TV or Ustream. So those are the three key services we offer – archiving, monetisation and redistribution. Those are the two sides of our business. TV licensing on the one side and then broadcasting and distribution on the Internet.
3D FOCUS: I didn't realise television was such a major part of your business. Do you have a dedicated TV channel?
Graham: Yes. It is called Wild Earth which is a trademark so we don't refer to it as Wild Earth TV. Wild Earth as a channel is broadcast on the Freebox in France at the moment. That is the only one that has been announced. There is going to be a couple of other announcements coming very soon. On Freebox you can watch 6 hours (3 hours in the morning, 3 hours in the afternoon) of live 3D safaris where viewers can email in questions and have them answered during the 3D broadcast. It is delivered as a side-by-side frame compatible signal at 6Mbps and we use an IP backend for that which took us a little bit of time to get in place but we've cracked it.
We are in negotiations with quite a large number of companies who are looking to take either the entire channel in the case of Pay TV operators or blocks of programming based around our live 3D programming.
In the following Wild Earth safari video, safari leader Mark has a close encounter with some butterflies on the Djuma Game Reserve. This is a You Tube 3D video so you can select a range of viewing methods to watch in 3D.
3D FOCUS: Can you give me a flavour of what would feature in a live 3D Wild Earth show? 6 hours of live 3D broadcasting sounds like a long time to fill.
Graham: Remember that our objectives from a broadcasting point of view are somewhat different to any of our competitors. We use live stereoscopic 3D to create an immersive experience. We are not trying to create high drama 3D narrative. Our narrative is nature and more importantly it is about what exactly it feels like to go on safari. It even goes down to the detail of where we position the 3D camera rig which is in the exact eye sight line as if you were sitting in the middle of a safari vehicle in Africa.
We only use a single 3D camera so we don't cut between cameras; this gives people the feeling that they are actually sitting on the back of the vehicle. What I like to say to people is that we're in the teleportation business, not in the television business. We are trying to teleport people to a location and give them a sense of tele-presence with the immersive illusion of 3D coupled with a layer of interactivity. Because it is live we can offer people the opportunity to ask a question and have it answered. When people see that “Susie in Idaho wants to know why Elephants have big ears” then the presenter turns to the camera and says “Well Susie, let me tell you…” – that makes Susie's day; it makes her feel like she's sitting on that vehicle and that is all we are after.
3D FOCUS: How much freedom of movement does the stereoscopic camera have?
Graham: The presenter is sitting on the front driving the vehicle. The 3D rig is mounted on the back of the vehicle and there is a camera person operating that – those are the only people on the vehicle. We transmit the live 3D side-by-side frame compatible signal to our final control which is a few kilometres from the vehicle which can move quite a few kilometres range away from our camp. At that point it is being monitored by a director who is in real time communication with the vehicle crew. The presenter and the camera person are also monitoring the feed and emails coming from the audience. His job, usually it's a 'him', his name is Craig, is to maximise the sense of interactivity between the audience and the vehicle as much as he can.
3D FOCUS: Any chance people in the UK will be watching live 3D safaris on Wild Earth TV anytime soon?
Graham: One of our biggest challenges has been that broadcasters can't quite put this in a box. Conventional wisdom says that if it is live then it is event led and if its event led then it needs to be dramatic and prime time. Our content is neither dramatic, nor is it prime time. The reason we make it live is not the fact that it is event led in the nature of a football match, but rather it is event led in that it is unscripted and the outcome is uncertain. We find it is what is not certain which engages the audience substantially more. For example, if we were to show a 3 hour safari programme where we drive around and we don't see something for four minutes and we hear the presenter telling us about the temperature of the day then that would be really boring if it was recorded, but if it is live you don't know you're going to wait four minutes before you see some compelling content. More importantly, when you do come across that compelling content after having waited not knowing what is around the next corner, it takes on a disproportionately higher value to you as a viewer because you feel that you are a participant in that experience. It could be a little buck, an antelope; or a pride of Lions about to kill something. You don't know and that not knowing means that you are there. You escape to Africa for a while.
3D FOCUS: Live 3D broadcasting can’t be cheap. How do you manage to monetise this? Even Sky 3D is free right now and not making any money.
Graham.Yes, it costs a lot of money to set up a 3D rig. If you go out a buy a rig and start producing content you would do well to get a couple of finished minutes a day, but in our case we have 6 hours a day of finished content all being produced from one 3D rig. So our return on investment as measured in finished hours of 3D programming is higher than anyone else is by an order of magnitude. Our 3D content return on investment is extremely high. This allows us to sell or licence 3D content at a much lower price than any other 3D producer in the world which in turn give us a competitive advantage. I think that is why we are continuing to get sales.
In terms of how we monetise it, we licence the content and all of our prices are fixed. All of our staff and crew are all full time employees. All of the equipment we own was developed by ourselves. Buying off-the-shelf equipment of this nature is very expensive and it would not have provided the solutions to our problems. So we managed to lower the costs and keep them fixed and by having long term licensing agreements with Pay TV operators rather than short one-off sales.
NEXT PAGE – HOW WILL WILD EARTH MAKE A RETURN ON ITS 3D INVESTMENT? PLUS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO! CLICK HERE.
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