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The Humane Society Streams Lifesaving Missions Live to Supporters

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If animal lovers wanted to catch the Humane Society’s recent live stream on Facebook, they needed to have their evenings free.

A crew of eight employees from The Humane Society of the United States (The HSUS) flew to South Korea in late March to rescue dogs living on a dog meat farm. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. This was the group’s seventh trip to that country for the same purpose. These aren’t PETA-style guerilla missions; the Humane Society works with farm owners who want to get out of the business. It destroys all the cages and shelters, brings the dogs back to America, then helps the owner transition into a new type of work. The group streamed early in the morning local time, so videos played on the East Coast around 8 p.m. the previous day.

Hearing about a mission is one thing, but seeing it is even more powerful. The Humane Society’s supporters agree, because an average of 1,000 viewers tuned in for the group’s three live broadcasts from South Korea, delivered via Facebook Live. On-demand views pushed that number higher. Viewers saw the grim conditions that the rescuers faced, with grimy cages stacked one on top of the other. They also saw the faces of the rescued animals, some shy, but many hopeful.

After 7 days in the country, the Humane Society’s crew flew back on March 26 in a plane full of 55 rescued dogs. The lucky pups are getting forever homes in the U.S., while The HSUS got national press for its work.

“Obviously, some people are very sensitive about people eating dogs,” explains Frank Loftus, senior director of video for the Humane Society. “We don’t get into that at all. We keep everything on the positive, because these farmers are changing their lives. They probably got into it years ago and they want to get out of it, and so we’re helping them. We don’t portray the farmer as bad. We portray the farmer as a good person changing their life.” Loftus has been with the Humane Society on and off since 1997.

In March, Humane Society employees flew to South Korea to rescue dogs living on a dog meat farm, and streamed the rescue live on Facebook.

This wasn’t The HSUS’s first experiment with live video. It’s been streaming for decades as a way to bring people into its work, but it’s still learning and improving the process. In South Korea, it used LiveU Solo cell-mux devices to upload from remote rural locations, and achieved a 5 Mbps stream. A team member in Maryland was able to connect to the LiveU event, start the live stream, and send it to the Facebook Live account. She was also able to communicate with the remote team members so everyone knew what was going live. That setup was new for the team, and the process made streaming a lot easier for the people on location.

A Long History of Streaming

The Humane Society first livestreamed in the late 1990s, when video was postage-stamp-sized and ultra-low-resolution. In 1999, it streamed live video from a fur-free fashion show using RealNetworks and CONUS. To send the 176x132-pixel stream, it needed a fiber uplink to RealNetworks in Seattle, where the video was sent out across the world. The HSUS ran a Real channel back then called Animal Channel. When it first began streaming, skeptics wondered who would watch video on a computer.

Live video was far costlier in those days, especially when shooting in remote locations. After the fashion show, the Humane Society’s shoots were limited since it didn’t have the funds for a satellite truck. It began offering more live video when Telestream Wirecast came out with a live YouTube app for mobile devices in December 2015. After that, it experimented with Periscope and many of the other live platforms that have cropped up.

Only in 2016 did the Humane Society begin using the LiveU Solo. That was a big upgrade, since streaming from remote locations previously required shooting with a cell phone, but connections weren’t always strong or reliable.

Frank Loftus, senior director of video for the Humane Society, says that live video “has a totally different feeling than a produced piece. There’s no music, there’s nothing. It’s just raw." 

“A lot of our rescues are in remote areas where the cell signal is not the best, and so we had tried to use it on our cellphones before LiveU, and it was very iffy,” Loftus explains. “I remember standing in one spot where I had one bar, being able to do a live shot from a rescue, and we couldn’t even see anything due to the fact that we had to stay right there for that signal. With LiveU, using their bonding, we’re able to pretty much feel confident that we’re going to be able to go live, especially if you’re using different carriers.”

Loftus has learned a few things about successful livestreaming. Since it takes a while for people to discover and share the stream, he tries to keep events going for more than a few minutes. As long as the content is compelling, he says, he’ll continue to stream. The organization has had streams for up to 20 minutes, although Loftus admits it’s hard to keep an event interesting for longer than 10 minutes. Mostly, they run between 5 and 15 minutes.

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