Go on safari without leaving home

Q&A with Paul Penzhorn, CEO of Africam

  • How did the idea come about? 

The original idea was to share the African wild with anyone who has an internet connection! Since then we have seen the power the live streams have for conservation and education and this is now becoming our main focus. AWS cloud allows us to get our live streams into the AWS Eco-system close to source – this ensures that we can stream in Full HD to any person in the world.

The cloud and virtual servers also allow us to add more servers to handle spikes in traffic without them crashing. This was a big problem in the past.

The cloud also allows for effective storing of all video highlights and snapshots taken from the cameras.

  • Is it designed to promote tourism or give a visual experience without having to leave the comfort of home? 

Yes for sure – not even 0, 5% of the world’s population can afford to come to Africa on safari so we take the nature to them! The lodges use the live streams as part of their marketing and retention strategies which has been very effective.

I would say that they promote conservation more than tourism at the moment but we hope to find some ways we can help tourism too in the future.

  • How do people sign up for Africam?

A famous African Proverb says ‘to travel is to see’. Now with the introduction of new and exciting technologies, the world can now have a live window into Africa without physically travelling to the continent.  

South African startup ‘Africam’ is a media company that live streams HD footage from waterholes from various locations in Africa. The free streams are aimed at connecting people from around the world to African wildlife and create an online community focused on education and conservation. Africam is free to anyone. At the moment you don’t need to sign-up but as we add more features like live chat you will need to sign-up (for free) so we can moderate users and make sure the environment is safe for everyone.

Described as a ‘sensory experience’, viewers can see and hear the Big 5 (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Cheetah, Rhino) and many other rare animals in their natural habitat, live and unscripted. To bring this platform to life, Africam has a large community of camera operators from around the world who “move and zoom” the cameras and monitor the system.

We also have a real-time alert function that pushes alerts to email and social media. Each sighting is recorded and sighting photos are distributed via a Daily Email to their users. In addition to the live streams, they have an iOS app where we can send alerts based on user preference selection.

Africam is underpinned by AWS cloud. AWS allows us to scale with the confidence that all the “moving parts” are scaling with us within the AWS / Elemental ecosystem.

With AWS’s large global footprint– we also feel confident that we are getting the best value for our service and that AWS will always be at the forefront of new solutions In terms of next steps, Africam will be gathering lots of data and security and encryption will play a big role in keeping it safe from poachers and other parties. Last, but not least, AWS is not just a tech partner but opens up more commercial opportunities that were never there before.

  • How long does it take to produce a segment?

The cameras are live and we record every sighting. All the cameras are unscripted so you never know what to expect – that is almost the romanticism of it all. 

What operating systems does it take to make Africam function?

We use AWS from source to distribution now which has made our streaming platform more robust, scalable and cost-effective. With a real-time approach, AWS offers benefits around cost, scalability, and security in the following ways: 

Cost: AWS incorporates many of our services and puts them “all under one roof” reducing costs due to the scale of AWS. You have the confidence that you are getting the highest quality at the best price. AWS also has reporting tools that help you manage your costs in real-time which avoids any surprise bills at the end of the month. What matters to most start-ups is transparency and trust in your technology provider and AWS are leaders in this.

·      Scalability: We can add more cameras and outputs to customers as we scale our camera infrastructure or our viewership – AWS scales all the moving parts making it seamless. In the past we had servers crash with peaks in traffic and AWS solves this important problem for us. AWS can also monitor various critical points in the system infrastructure that allows us to diagnose any problems fast and reduce down-time on any camera. As we scale this becomes vital to manage effectively. Using AWS gives our partner’s confidence that we can deliver a Full HD  stream to any device to any person anywhere in the world with no limitations. This is vital from a commercial standpoint when dealing with large media platforms. 

·      Security: With everything within AWS your eco-system is safe and protected. We had huge problems with DDOS attacks when we were with another provider and had to install expensive hardware solutions which did not work. By moving over to AWS – DDOS protection is free and we have not had any more problems allowing us to grow our business without having to worry about security. For any start-up, this can be the difference between succeeding and going under as it almost happened to us.

Feature image from Africam.com