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A Blue Chip Science Case Study from Japan: NHK’s $6.5 Million “Cosmic Shore”

2012 March 19
by Peter Hamilton

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.

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NHK

  • 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.

NHK Science

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.

COSMIC SHORE

Background

  • 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

  • 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.

Cosmic Challenge

  • 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.

Content

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
  • Meteors
  • Aurora

Format

  • 3 x 1 hours
  • HD

Camera

  • “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.”

Budget

  • Total Budget of Cosmic Shore (3 episodes) is US $6.5 million +/-.

Production Team

  • 1 Series Producer
  • 3 Senior Producers
  • 3 Directors
  • Assistant Directors
  • 3 Editors

Development & Planning Phase

  • Including camera: 3 years

Capture

  • 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.

Post

  • Shot selection and editing was continuous after footage began to be returned from the ISS

Kick off

  • 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

Read more…

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