Sunday, 27 December 2009

NASA TV is Boring

David Ferrell has written an article for the LA Times criticizing NASA TV for being too boring. It's an interesting criticism and one that I have often thought about making in this blog. Although I've previously gushed about how NASA TV can be reality TV at its best, it's true that it can also be as watchable as a monochrome test pattern.

There are several problems.

  • People are used to high-voltage reality TV with pacey action. Extended shots of mission controllers monitoring their stations doesn't cut it.
  • The reality of space exploration isn't like science fiction. It does involves lots of nothing.
  • NASA TV's annual budget of around $1.5 million just isn't enough to create compelling TV 24/7.

There's inevitably some debate over whether the solution is to lift the excitement factor or to encourage viewers to appreciate space exploration for what it really is. I think a compromise is required. I'd hate to see NASA TV become a clone of mainstream programming but I'm also a pragmatist. The only time I can convince anyone to watch NASA TV is when there's a launch or EVA (spacewalk). Even then I have to provide my own commentary to counter the terminally dull science-speak interspersed with looong segments of silence.

I often daydream about what I'd do with NASA TV if I was in charge. Given a budget I'd start by sorting out a lot of simple technical issues, for example, making sure that Q&A sessions included audio of both the question and the answer(!). There are plenty of improvements that could be made easily but I'm sure the whole situation is more difficult than it seems. I don't envy them having to work with such high expectations and such a limited budget.

For now another option is to look at various re-broadcasts. Like most NASA media, NASA TV is copyright-free and able to be re-packaged by other content providers. SpaceflightNow.com has a channel on Youtube and a live stream on LiveStream.com. I encourage users to check these out and Google for other channels. I also encourage content providers to look seriously at using NASA material for programming. It's cheap to acquire and with a little work it can satisfy the huge demand for exciting live TV.

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