Most wild animals spend the better part of their days sitting around, nodding off and occasionally wandering around in search of something to eat or drink -- much like an office worker with a nine-to-five job.
No surprise, then, that Web sites that allow people to watch live animals via high-speed feeds have become the hot new thing in computer-aided procrastination.
In April, Vancouver-based Infotec Business Systems caused an online sensation when it launched the Eagle Cam, which broadcast a live feed of two B.C. bird's nests.
The site received an average of four million hits a day, drew visitors from around the world and prompted countless zoos, aquariums and wildlife sanctuaries to add animal cams to their own Web sites.
Now Arthur Griffiths, CEO of Infotec, is following up with Monday's release of the Grizzly Cam and the AfriCam (both at wavelit.com), predicting more than 75 million viewers in the first week alone and banking on the idea that "zoo tube" will be the biggest thing to hit the Internet since You Tube. "You have to be pretty laid-back to be into the eagles' nest; it's not exactly riveting," Griffiths says. "But people went crazy for this stuff." If Internet voyeurs went cuckoo for the Eagle Cam's winged wonders, Griffiths believes they will "go ballistic" for larger beasts.
Infotec chose its furry follow-up subjects through an online poll, asking viewers of the Eagle Cam what species they would most like to see skulking across their computer screens.
Bears topped the list by almost 40%, so Griffiths struck a deal with the managers of Vancouver's Gross Mountain to set up a camera and track bears. Likewise, the AfriCam is a partnership with a game reserve and safari in Mozambique, where InfoTec has recently shipped two encoders that allow for seamless live broadcasts. The new sites will also be equipped with infrared capability, so people can stalk their prey at night, even if they or the animal are the nocturnal type.
Many Eagle Cam viewers were children, and Griffiths has timed the launch of the new sites to coincide with their heading back to school. Doing a school report on grizzly bears could be a whole lot more exciting if students can watch the animals in action. But it's not just kids who enjoy seeing the wild world on the World Wide Web. "People spend lots of money to go to Africa or to go watch the whales," Griffiths says. "But if they're not able to do that, this is another option."
He knows the new sites will offer a distraction from work -- he's experienced it with his own employees. "I would hear a squawk in the corner and see people run to their desk." Those workers -- in Infotec and beyond -- who keep the site on their monitors for hours are said to be "camping on."
When Infotec occasionally refreshed its servers -- which broke the connection between visitors and the site -- it would take most viewers less than four minutes to log back on. "People were on all day. It wasn't a question of going off and coming back. They stayed on."
He believes zoo-tube sites are here to stay. Which opens the future possibility of pay-per-view or a service to which people could subscribe. For now, Griffiths relies on advertising from tourism groups and office-supply companies, which are obviously exploiting the fact that many viewers are logging on at work.
Similarly, a company that sells those large ergonomic exercise balls for office use got more than 100,000 hits after advertising on the Eagle Cam site. Griffiths is aware that the profitability of animal-cam sites could lead to issues of exploitation and worries about an emerging market for sites that meld the dangerous appeal of bum fights with the environmental wonder of the Discovery Channel. For its part, Infotec will team only with legitimate wildlife concerns to ensure the animals being broadcast are being protected.
But will sites like this lead to a future where we can watch people online, perhaps logging on to see what Dave in cubicle four will have for lunch today?
"There is that now," Griffiths says. "It's called Big Brother: All Stars."