66The Planetarium Identity Crisis
- Jan 23, 2001Hello 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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