World’s First Bearcam

In 1995 I took part in what was arguably one of the first webcams in New Zealand and certainly the one and only bearcam on the planet!

The innovation took place at Vidmark Productions – a little TV and video production house based in Dunedin – it was run by Steve Young from the legendary 70s rock band Mother Goose.

Vidmark were early adopters of the internet, having their own server connected in 1994. We also had access to the TV3 News fibre-optic cable in our building which was used to transmit news footage to the 3 News editing rooms in Christchurch and Auckland.

We built a number of first generation websites including the very first website for Tv3.

A screengrab from bearcam (1995)

Paul Newell, the Shortland Street video editor (now Tv3 cameraman), joined us at this time. He’s a bit of a creative technical wizard. He and I took a peek at the famous coffee pot webcam in the US so we started experimenting.

Paul borrowed a security camera we were using for a project at the Tiwai Point Aluminum Smelter. He hooked this up to a Video Spigot card, some software called ICU, and wrote a Visual Basic script to capture frames from the camera.

We could change the refresh rate, but settled on about every 20 seconds.

The experiment ran for about two weeks, with the camera pointed at my desk and my bear in the foreground. Most of the time it featured the bear in various funny poses.

And whad’ya know, the bear is still going strong in 2010!

Within a few days the traffic to the camera overloaded the limited international bandwidth into Dunedin and got graciously cut off by our ISP (Earthlight). From then on it was only available within New Zealand’s limited web audience of a few thousand.

Read more about The Story of New Zealand’s Internet at Down to the Wire.