A Blue Chip Science Case Study from Japan: NHK’s $6.5 Million “Cosmic Shore”
Our Case Study from the edge of Space, and 10 years in the making…
“NHK develops a $100K space camera for a US$6.5 million copro that covers the Cosmic Shore.”
Astronaut / camera operator Satoshi Furukawa
We continue our case studies of producers and their projects – this time with a true signature project that originated in Tokyo.
We spoke with NHK’s Shin Yasuda at History Makers in New York and in Tokyo at Asian Side of the Doc.
- NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) is Japan’s public broadcaster, and enjoys a reputation for impartial, high-quality programming.
- Funding is entirely by license fees from Japanese households.
- NHK reaches about 50 million households through its four nationwide TV channels:
- Terrestrial (2)
- Satellite (2)
- A large staff of directors, producers, and engineers enables NHK to make programs in almost every genre.
- The production departments are Drama, Music, Science, Cultural Programs (History), Education, Lifestyle and Economy, News and Current Affairs.
- NHK is known for its use of cutting-edge shooting technologies to produce high-quality programs.
The Science department enjoys a 40+ year history
- “We produce more than 800 science-related programs (episodes) each year.”
- “All together, as NHK group, we have about 90 directors/producers.”
Following is the break-down of NHK’s 90 directors/producers:
- “Our Science Programs Division has 47 producers/directors. They produce variety of programs on science, technology, medicine, space, and so on.
- “NHK Enterprises, NHK’s commercial production arm, holds the Natural History Department with 20 directors/producers. They work mainly on nature and wildlife programs.
- “NHK Educational, the other NHK commercial production arm, has 20 directors/producers. They work on science-related educational programs.
- NHK Science has enjoyed a 30-year history working with JAXA, Japan’s Space agency as well as NASA
- The partnership produced a stream of blue chip Space-related programs
- Moon (2008) was the most recent production created from this partnership.
- “Our mission was to capture the surface of the Moon and Earthrise over the horizon of the Moon.”
- 1 hour
- Estimated budget: $450,000
- Copro partners (49’ versions):
- France Televisions
- Discovery Canada
- Nat Geo US
- According to Shin Yasuda, “Moon was a huge success for us. The ratings were exceptional, and the footage traveled around the globe. It was a proud moment for NHK.”
NHK Technology Lab
- Leadership in television-related technology R&D matters to NHK
- It is a part of NHK’s mission, and a matter of great institutional pride
- The Lab has been a pioneer in HD, camera optics, Super-HD, and many other fields
- There has been a continuous collaboration between the Technology Lab and the Science Unit
- Joint meetings are held regularly to explore opportunities.
- NHK’s Science Unit producers developed a vision for a series about the border zone between Earth and Space.
- They asked the Lab to come up with new ways to realize it.
- The platform: the International Space Station (ISS)
- The challenge: to develop the technology that would tell a new kind of Space story.
The NHK has focused mainly on 3 optical phenomena that occur in the earth-space boundary zone
- Sprite – mysterious bursts of light that travel upwards from active storm clouds: they carry powerful electricity from Earth into the upper atmosphere, and are thought to be linked to our weather
- 3 x 1 hours
- “Our super-sensitivity HDTV (SS-HDTV) camera is designed to be used by astronauts and can withstand higher levels of radiation in space.”
- “It took 3 years to develop the camera, but that’s only part of the story because it grew out of a 10-year relationship with JAXSA.”
- Shin Yasuda says “It is difficult to put a price tag on the camera, but our engineers estimate US$100,000.”
- Total Budget of Cosmic Shore (3 episodes) is US $6.5 million +/-.
- 1 Series Producer
- 3 Senior Producers
- 3 Directors
- Assistant Directors
- 3 Editors
Development & Planning Phase
- Including camera: 3 years
- The Japanese astronaut, Satoshi Furukawa was trained in camera operation before blasting off to the ISS.
- He received regular feedback after footage was returned from the ISS, and this improved the quality of the footage.
- Total footage: over 50 hours.
- Shot selection and editing was continuous after footage began to be returned from the ISS
- A LIVE kick-off Cosmic Shore event was broadcast on primetime on Sunday, September 18, 2011.
- During four 10-minute link-ups between the ISS and NHK, Furukawa transmitted images back to Earth for broadcast.
- According to Shin Yasuda, “The LIVE program reached an amazing 12% nationwide, which is almost double our usual ratings.”
Audience / Schedule
- Cosmic Shore begins airing in April, 2012
- The NHK flagship weekend doc slot airs around 80 shows / year
- A more technical/educational version will be distributed on NHK’s satellite channel