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66The Planetarium Identity Crisis

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  • Carolyn Sumners
    Jan 23, 2001
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      Hello Fellow Full-Domers and Full-Domers-to-be

      Sorry I've not written to the group sooner - but I got snowed under with
      staff abandonment: first it was Karen now in Wisconsin, then Kerry went to
      the Carnegie Natural History museum in Pittsburgh, then Ryan went to Phoenix
      (and other places....) and now Laurel is in Albuquerque. Then Thadd and
      Marcus got stolen by the Johnson Space Center..... ALL IN THE LAST 6 YEARS.

      Tony Butterfield and I are still here and we've added Carl Huffman and
      Nicole Clayton. I'm about to deny that I have any staff and hide them when
      planetariums come for a visit!

      Now for my official comments about the full dome identity debate. With 2
      full years of large format video - and 2 presentations that are totally full
      dome, 3 more that are over 50% full dome, and 4 more that are over 30% full
      dome - we've got lots of experience and one lesson stands out....

      Your public will define you, regardless of what you want to be.

      Unless you have megabucks for advertising, your public will tell you what
      they expect and what they will pay for. They may not know in advance what
      they want, but they know when they like it and when they don't. Thusfar
      we've been most successful with shows that promise the delivery of specific
      content and then live up to the promise in the poster and title. Our
      audiences also still want to learn something - unless it's a laser show -
      then they'll cheerfully put up with no educational value at all.

      Full-dome video has allowed us to do away with daytime lasers (we're still
      discussing rock lasers, but they're not in our budget) and to have a revenue
      positive budget with no revenue generated by laser shows. For some
      institutions, that may be reason enough for buying a full-dome system!

      Given the hypothesis, that our public defines us, what is the most popular
      show we've done. For the last two weeks I've been comparing the last 2
      years, trying to control for time of year, Museum attendance, and other
      factors....and the preliminary winner is

      Wonders of the Universe
      produced by Evans & Sutherland
      directed by Terence Murtagh
      art director: Don Davis

      With no paid advertising and no photographs in local newspapers and very
      little television coverage at its opening, it is doing extremely well for
      the first 3 weeks of January. Yesterday a teacher told me that this is kind
      of show that really makes good use of our domed theater and the best she has
      seen in 5 years (although she has not seen all of our shows).

      The first runner up may be

      Sailing by the Stars
      produced internally with a little help from Aaron McQuen

      This program is half live and half taped and about a third SkyVision. Most
      importantly every visitor makes an astrolabe and really learns how to sail
      by the stars. The popularity of this live product teaches us that it's not
      just the video - it's the full production that the public judges. A live
      person is always more real than any video - and if that person connects with
      the audience, it's probably as good as any video.

      As a note, both of these programs are 22 minutes long and no one is
      complaining about the length.

      If you're curious about what works, I'm working on a more definitive report
      and most of our shows are still stored on our drives. So you can come visit,
      see the program and learn how it faired with the public.

      As far as non-astronomy venues, we are opening Force Five in June. It
      features a hurricane, tornado, volcanic eruption and coronal mass ejection -
      all dramatic and exciting. We'll see how well the public accepts it. We'll
      run it along side Wonders and make comparisons. Stay tuned to see if the
      public buys this content shift.

      We're working on a web site where you can see clips and posters of all this
      research. Meanwhile, it is far more important for everyone to be trying new
      things and measuring their effect on audiences than to be talking about it.

      I urge everyone who is offering new programming to try to figure out why
      popular shows sell well and what's wrong with less popular programming.
      Interview audiences, test kids, let's really find out what our audiences
      think about us and what they think we can do better.

      The IMAX market is still not sure how to make a good film - and that's
      hurting them now. They should have asked the public what they really liked
      in IMAX years ago.

      And we now need to know what people will pay to see and pay to come back for
      in the planetarium.
      More to come

      As busy as ever

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