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Challenges on Broadcasting Live Stream of the Total Solar Eclipse

Challenges on Broadcasting Live Stream of Total Solar Eclipse

Posted on September 25th, 2017 by juliett

Our team successfully transmitted NASA’s streaming of the 2017 solar eclipse to 36 million online viewers, smashing previous records exponentially. We are proud to support our friends at NASA and this achievement!

Here are some of the challenges we faced along the way and how they were addressed.

What did it take to prep for the eclipse?

NASA approached Encompass in early 2017 after deciding they wanted to live stream this rare event. We have long-standing relationships with key NASA personnel and have transmitted other events for them, including the first live 4K stream from the International Space Station.

But a rare total solar eclipse is a completely different ball game. Over the course of 2017, we faced numerous complicated challenges:

  • Weather
  • Satellite availability
  • Difference in time zones across the country
  • Remote regions for filming along path of totality
  • Unpredictable number of people watching live stream

How do you plan for the mother of all live events?

With such a popular live event, satellite availability was high on the to-do list. We worked with Intelsat to reserve that real estate early on.

This total eclipse traveled a vast distance between Oregon and South Carolina, which presented challenges not normally faced by other live events. Crossing over 3 separate time zones, clear instructions about timing were crucial to avoid miscommunications.

Some locations were quite remote, requiring generators for power. Housing and food for crews in those locations were non-existent in some cases, which forced them to seek accommodations an hour away. Each location’s setup began 2-3 days in advance and equipment was trucked in farther than usual.

Each location had to be on the same page, using the same terminology, calling for the same things. And of course, trying to capture the sun on a camera requires a special lens and exposure could be either really dark or really hot. We had to take precautionary measures and plan for that.

One shot at capturing totality

Having only one shot at capturing complete totality presented challenges we normally don’t see on everyday events we work with. Very short windows of less than 2 minutes did not allow for any wiggle room in coverage, whereas with other live events you can extend, delay or fit a stream however you need to.

This eclipse was happening whether we were ready or not. We approached it from a “the show must go on” mentality, fully testing everything in advance. There were no re-do’s. Our next chance is decades from now. When Oregon experienced the first totality, we had to be ready.

The path of totality LIVE

With so much news coverage, satellite availability was limited so we played hopscotch with the transponder space. It was like playing an air traffic controller – no 2 locations can occupy the same satellite space, so one link went up with the next location on standby. The truck in Oregon came down and Wyoming’s truck went up. And with a lot of unpredictable cloud coverage, some locations stayed up longer than anticipated.

While ground coverage wrapped up in Oregon, NASA provided a Gulfstream 3 with live images from above the cloud deck, giving us extended coverage through a microwave link to our satellite truck. On the ground, it was difficult to predict the level of interest and there were crowds to work around as a result.

On the web, we had to allocate bandwidth for massive viewership and it is quite challenging. Planning for concurrent views is a guessing game so we had to estimate based on experience.

Seeing months and months of planning coming to a head and watching them line up was amazing. Everything worked technically, and we were able to bring together the plan NASA envisioned.

“Stepping out of the truck and seeing the eclipse in person is not a moment I could prepare for mentally. Even working in this field, I really did not understand it until the couple of minutes the sun was covered. It really put things into perspective.” –Greg Jennings, VP Field Operations & Production Services

Posted in: Live Events