Live Landscapes was a pilot project run in September 2016 to learn if it was technically possible to live stream an Inside Out Dorset festival event into Dorset County Hospital.
As part of Inside Out Dorset 2016 we brought the festival of ‘extraordinary events in extraordinary places’ to hospital patients at Dorset County Hospital by trialling this live streaming project. We wanted to ensure that there was an interactive element to the live streaming, so patients could make choices and have an element of control, rather than be passive observers.
Working with Alex Murdin, director of Arts in Hospital, and filmmaker Lizzie Sykes, we developed Live Landscapes – interactive live streaming to run over 4 days, focusing on the event Hengistbury Headlines. This was a trail of performances and installations in a site of archaeological, geological and ecological significance.
At the hospital, we planned to work on the Dialysis Ward and on Kingfisher (children’s) ward. Using iPads to view the live stream, patients, staff and family in the hospital would be able to direct the camera crew onsite and choose which performances to watch and the duration. Or choose to ‘walk’ through the landscape or to the beach.
Lizzie contracted cameraman Josh Bosley and media company 1080 Media TV to provide the technical equipment and facilities. They worked closely with the hospital IT team to ensure that we were able to manage a work-around for the extremely secure firewalls in the hospital’s IT infrastructure.
Flexibility in the plans
Once the project started, it became obvious that although we had planned for the patients to choose performances to direct the cameraman to, this was still too passive a role for them. They very much wanted to direct the cameraman to take different shots of the sea, to travel on the road train at Hengistbury Head, to film other things happening on the site. And they wanted to have direct communication with the artists rather than to just watch the live outdoor performances on a small screen. So, as an agile team, we flexed the plans and the project developed and changed. Patients spoke to artists on site and had different interactions. The camera crew were flexible and willing to try whatever they were directed to do. And the artists were spontaneous and responsive, having discussions or creating work responsively.
Over 4 days we worked with 24 children, family members and staff on the Kingfisher ward, both at the bedside and in the activities room; 6 patients on the Dialysis ward; and 16 members and volunteers at the Sunday lunch club for older people. A further approximately 100 visitors saw the film in the Damers restaurant on the Sunday when it was being shown on the large screen for the lunch club members.
‘Hides’ by Ferdinando Bernstein Byrne articulated themes of migration, shelter and refuge. Artist Flick Ferdinando was ‘installed’ in the large bird hide for the weekend and spoke to 2 different patients at the hospital. Something we hadn’t known before the event was that Flick’s father had set up the dialysis ward at Dorset County Hospital and the conversation she had with R, (an end-of-life patient receiving dialysis), was very profound. They discussed the themes of her work which related to family, and R was very moved by the connection between Flick and his own medical care.
Flick was also able to have a conversation with a young teenager who had attempted suicide the night before. This focussed on her work and the themes of safety and security. While the discussion was certainly not intended to be therapy or personal, it clearly had the impact of removing the young patient from the reality of their own situation for a short time and giving them another view of a situation to which she could relate.
S was a 4-year-old with a life limiting illness who was in a state of distress when the project team entered the Kingfisher ward on the Saturday. She was in bed with her father by the bedside and her brother in the activity room, watching the live feed with other children. Sweetshop Revolution, a dance company, performed very short excerpts of their show, specifically for S. The dancers and choreographers talked to her about the show and their characters. They then created an improvised dance piece on a theme that she gave them – ‘chicken nuggets’! The interaction lasted about 10 minutes, after which she was laughing and smiling. This clearly had an impact on her, but also on her father and her sibling, seeing her filled with joy and feel in control with the dancers.
The older lunch club met in Damers restaurant on the Sunday. Lizzie had set up a screen and projector so that they could watch the live stream while they were eating. Some members were able to direct the camera crew, and were particularly interested in the sea, the views and the air ambulance, which was doing a display visit. The film provoked discussions about previous visits to Hengistbury Head and changes or similarities in the landscape. Many of the lunch club members are older and no longer able to get around independently, so they enjoyed being able to see a place that evoked memories and time spent with lost loved ones.
The technical bit
The live stream technology behind the project mostly consisted of a WMT Agile transmission (TX) unit which is a mobile 3/4G cellular broadcasting unit which streams images inputted into the device via a camera, through the mobile network to the designated receiving point. The unit came with an external antenna for additional signal boost; the unit is the perfect solution for remaining portable on location without the need for an outside broadcast truck.
The challenge we faced was securing an option which provided low latency so that patients could participate and respond with the camera crew without there being a long delay. After a little research from Dan Stephens at 1080 Media TV which involved calling up the manufacturer of the equipment, they came up with the solution of an RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol) livestream. This offered us a very low latency of around 2-5 seconds which regularly worked around 3/4 seconds. This option also meant the receiving (RX) unit wouldn’t be required at Dorchester Hospital, and so remained at the 1080 Media TV offices in London. We had been having issues working out how we would get around the NHS firewall as the incoming stream would require an open network; thus meaning we would have to take down one of the country’s securest networks which would have been technically complex and uncertain, and just wasn’t viable for this sort of project. The RTSP stream allowed us to transmit directly from location at Hengistbury Head through the internet to Dorset County Hospital. The RX unit in London wasn’t doing much apart from bouncing the IP address from the TX unit to the RX unit through the internet.
This option also allowed multiple devices (laptops, iPads, phones etc.) to connect with the stream. All you required was the appropriate software installed (in this case we used VLC media player), a solid internet connection and the RTSP stream address. So multiple participants at the hospital could view the stream at the same time.
The TX/RX combination in this setup enabled visuals and audio to the hospital (provided through the camera) but not a return audio feed. There is a way in which this can be achieved through the TX unit but wasn’t possible with the RX unit being in London. So, we simply used mobile phones. A participant could easily speak into a phone at the hospital end whilst the camera operator would be at the other end of the phone call with headphones on to respond to the participant’s direction. The RX phone end was also split occasionally to a portable speaker on camera so that interviewees or other people could hear what was coming from the hospital. With moderate signal and a portable charger this held out fine throughout the duration of the project.
The only technical issue we encountered during the five days of livestreaming was the occasional loss of signal with the TX unit and mobile phones. Hengistbury Head is relatively remote so this was to be expected. Going under thick tree cover would also mean a temporary dropout but this was rare and was only for a very short period. Overall, the live streaming to Dorset County Hospital was a success. Simple and easy to use technology that was portable and reliable certainly made the difference. As a successful pilot project it is hoped we can pursue future livestreaming collaborations.