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Audiences and Evaluation Strategic Plan

December 2016

By Carolyn Sumners

REPORT OF THE AUDIENCES AND EVALUATION STRATEGIC PLAN WORKING GROUP

 

RATIONALE

Extensive evaluation of audience characteristics exists for the giant screen theater, but much less attention has been paid to the characteristics and interests of those who choose to visit planetariums. (Giant screen theaters are also facing a change in audience perception resulting in a shift away from traditional documentary films, making their landscape more fluid as well.)  Information about audience composition has multiple benefits for the dome community because generally planetariums survive and thrive by maintaining and increasing attendance. Whoever they are, our audiences define us and they vote with their pocketbooks, selecting one planetarium program over another or choosing another venue/destination over the planetarium. The following recommendations for the strategic planning process focus on defining these audiences, identifying the criteria they use when deciding to visit a planetarium, and summarizing trends and themes in audience choices.

 

Building Bridges Between Film and Digital Exhibition Helps Planetariums, Museums, Entertainment Venues and Content Creation

Going all digital boosted Vattenfall Planetarium attendance and revenue

“We gave up films completely,” says Kai Santavuori, manager of the Vattenfall Planetarium at Heureka science center in Vantaa, Finland. Vattenfall is part of Heureka’s theatre unit, which is responsible for all the science centre’s audiovisual tasks in addition to the 135-seat planetarium’s operations, development, maintenance and programming. Santavuori’s immediate superior is Lea Tuuli, Director of Communication.Per-Edvin Persson is CEO.

Can small planetariums produce their own fulldome digital content?

Whether you call it tradition or necessity, the fact is that in the planetarium community, especially among the smaller venues, in-house content production is common practice. Upgrading to fulldome digital technology is not going to change the planetarium DIY culture, nor should it.

Even with a skeleton staff and a shoestring budget, a planetarium with a fulldome system has several options for staying in the pilot’s seat when it comes to creating content and customized programming, whether both real-time or pre-rendered, to suit one’s particular audience.

Digital Dome-ocracy: Fulldome Systems are Good News for Science Education

Fulldome projection uses edgeblended projectors or even a single, fisheye lens unit to project digital content onto a dome screen. In the decade or so since fulldome was introduced, this immersive format has transformed the way planetarium shows are produced and the number of installations has grown to nearly 400.

Soon after IPM Magazine asked me to investigate the world of fulldome production, I found myself sprawled out on the floor in the pitch-dark. A tall, gangly figure loomed in my field of view. I had a brief flashback to the years I lived in London - could this be Dr. Who, the British television wizard, come to re-ignite my energy field, rescue me from shape-shifting aliens, or transport me to other worlds?

Dome Convergence

Film domes: According to the LF Examiner’s database, there are 99 ‘large-format’* dome theaters (15/70 mainly, plus some 10/70 and 8/70), and this number has been declining. (*Not all of these ‘large-format’ film dome theaters meet the GSCA definition of “giant-screen” because of they fall short of the 60-foot diameter criterion). This is a mature, 40-year old business. The first large-format dome theater, San Diego’s Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’s IMAX® Dome theater, opened in 1973. (Its transition to digital has begun with the recent installation of a new digital dome system (GSX™) from Global Immersion, supplementing the 15/70, IMAX® Dome capability which continues.) Live-action, documentary films are of course the staple for film domes, with running times in the 40-minute range. These dome screens are tilted, usually at a 30-degree angle. The audience, on a steeply-raked seating deck, faces one direction (‘unidirectional’). Seat counts are typically in the 250 – 400 range. Films are licensed on a variable fee, gate share basis – either per head or a percentage of box office. A single, large-format film/mechanical projector with a fisheye lens illuminates an image area that is equal to about two-thirds of a hemisphere.

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