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Crowd-Funded Live Broadcast Web Series Shoots For the Stars

November 06, 2015 by Allie Gavette

With high-grossing films like Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian, it seems like interest in space exploration is growing in popular culture. TMRO (pronounced “Tomorrow”) is a weekly online live broadcast show focusing on human exploration of the cosmos—getting humans off planet Earth to the moon or Mars.

The organization is comprised of a small handful of people like Benjamin Higginbotham, who is passionate about starting a conversation about space exploration and the future of habitation away from Earth.

The fact that TMRO is truly live distinguishes it from other shows. By doing this, Higginbotham was able to create an interactive online community. As executive producer, he didn’t want a scripted, pre-packaged show. Instead, he created a conversation that is more dynamic and fun to watch. This authenticity draws in viewers who have a natural curiosity and want to share ideas and learn about what may be in our future.

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“We’re not talking in a monotone voice throughout the show. We’re not speaking to you, we’re speaking with you, allowing you to interact with us,” says Higginbotham. “We also have a lot of rocket scientists who watch the show that will correct us, which we welcome. When you’re not on a soap box, you’re part of the show and people like that.”

On TMRO, the number of viewers during launch coverage reached 800,000 concurrent during the space shuttle program. Their viewership varies for their on-demand programming, ranging from 3,000 to several million, depending on the topic.

There is no mistaking that Higginbotham is passionate about discussing the future of mankind. He saw a market for people who share an interest in this topic, but the only outlet producing shows was NASA, which he found extremely boring.

“They do amazing things and yet they find some magical way to make it boring,” says Higginbotham. “We make it exciting and interactive. You can get excited about exploration, colonies on mars…this is cool, exciting stuff. I want to get people excited about all of this.”

Making the Program a Reality

TMRO6.croppped

Cariann & Benjamin Higginbotham bring you TMRO.

TMRO produces a weekly show online, co-hosted and produced by Higginbotham and his wife, Cariann Higginbotham, with shorter segments called Space Pods released twice a week. They also have a production director, Tim Scott, who occasionally appears onscreen and a roving reporter, a.k.a. SpaceX Correspondent named Mike Clark based in Arizona. Others include Astronomy Correspondent Jared Head and Science Correspondent Lisa Stojanovski. The show is a talk show-style format, where one of the hosts will interview the guest, or the show will focus on one main topic.

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Tim Scott directs TMRO and sometimes appears as a guest.

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SpaceX Correspondent Mike Clark gets Skyped in with TalkShow.

The bulk of the show’s interviews are with remote guests. TMRO struggled at first to get a good setup for their remote interviews. Higginbotham tried Google Hangout, Skype, and Vidyo, and ended up spending too much precious time trying to get the remote guest all set up for a live show. He also found that trying to get the picture into a real studio format was difficult. Some high-profile guests, like Elon Musk, for example, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, are unable to come into the Anaheim TMRO studio for an interview. This is where TMRO’s new workflow became extremely valuable.

New Equipment Makes all the Difference

What was once a painful connectivity experience became more streamlined when Higginbotham bought the NewTek TalkShow, which works directly with any SDI production. An added perk was that they didn’t need an SDMI/HDMI converter or any other special equipment for the guest. Higginbotham appreciated that they were able to use Skype technology again but were able to create something with even better production value.

A couple of Blackmagic studio cameras connect via fiber optics back to a studio converter, which then goes via SDI back into their switcher. A Casper CG open-source character generation platform outputs a channel back to the switcher along with the TalkShow. Higginbotham pre-generates what they want before the show and puts them into Casper. Then, during the show the director selects which graphics will go on air.

The show format is relatively simple, so the most complex switching is cutting between the in-studio cameras and the remote broadcast via TalkShow, and the graphics they’ve created before the show in the CG system. These graphics include a displayed list of contributors to the show, the introduction sequence at the beginning of each show, the TMRO watermark that appears throughout the show, and images the team has gathered to support the content within the show.

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TMRO gathers B-roll footage straight from the source: most commonly from NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. There is no single source or aggregator for rocket launch footage, like AP or Reuters, but Higginbotham has had good luck finding what he needs for the show.

Higginbotham and his team moved to all-wireless audio for microphones and IFBs so that in the middle of a show, he isn’t tethered to the desk. He can get up from the desk to the director to make a quick comment off-screen, or grab a prop while the director is on another shot.

They use four Shure wireless microphones that connect to a Letrosonics internal feedback system, then to a PreSonus audio mixer. Then the Teranex converter is used to get the TalkShow data into a 3G SDI format.

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The whole show is done live, so everything is done in real time, with portions of B-roll at the ready. There’s no real-time editing that takes place during filming.

Mike Clark appears on segments one and three, and TMRO tries to bring in guests for segment two when possible. Clark gets a return video feed from the studio, plus mixed minus audio from the audio board so he can follow along with the show in real time. He can interact with the other hosts in real time as well.

TMRO’s shows vary slightly in format. Sometimes there will be a specific topic, sometimes the hosts will do a remote interview, and sometimes the hosts will have an internal debate or discussion. For example, TMRO recently did a show focused on a new project that will send a virtual reality camera into space and send the feedback to earth. People will be able to see a live view of Earth and the International Space Station, all in virtual reality.

There is a segment at the end of each show where Higginbotham and his co-host respond to questions or comments via their Facebook and Twitter pages. Those images are imported onto the CG system before the show goes live. TMRO also has a real-time chat room, and Higginbotham will often ask questions on the viewers’ behalf.

“The interaction is a big part of the show— it isn’t just the two of us sitting on set, it’s our interaction with our remote host, our director, and the community itself,” says Higginbotham.

TMRO once used YouTube to stream live, but found that they prefer having a Livestream channel. Once production is over, the show is uploaded to YouTube as an archive and made available on a Roku channel.

TMRO is a labor of love for Higginbotham and his team. The organization makes minimal profit, and owes its eight years of broadcasting solely to crowd funding. TMRO uses Patreon, where contributors can do a recurring fund, versus one lump sum like on Kickstarter. According to Higginbotham, the amount they raise for one episode is worth more than what they would get in ad revenue from Google.

“Exploration is what we do as humans. It’s built into our DNA,” said Higginbotham. “It’s how we got to where we’re at now, and we won’t stop here.”

One thing is clear: at this rate, there’s no stopping TMRO.

AT A GLANCE:

  • The viewers during launch coverage reached 800,000 concurrent during the space shuttle program.
  • Their viewership varies for their on-demand programming, ranging from 3,000 to several million, depending on the topic.
  • Show airs every Saturday at 21:00 UTC and twice a week with on-demand Space Pods.
  • 8 seasons are archived and available on http://www.tmro.tv/ WORKFLOW:

  • A couple of Blackmagic studio cameras connect via fiber optics back to a studio converter, which then goes via SDI back into their switcher.
  • The TalkShow and Casper CG are both plugged into the switcher.
  • The majority of switching is cutting between the in-studio cameras and the remote broadcast via TalkShow, and the graphics they’ve created before the show in the CG system.
  • Higginbotham pre-generates what they want before the show and puts them into Casper. Then during the show the director selects which one will go on air, and to which screen.
  • TMRO gathers B-roll footage from NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.
  • Higginbotham and his team use all-wireless audio for microphones and IFBs so that in the middle of a show, he isn’t tethered to the desk. He can get up from the desk to the director to make a quick comment off-screen, or grab a prop while the director is on another shot.
  • 4 Shure wireless microphones connect to a Letrosonics internal feedback system, then to a PreSonus audio mixer. Then the Teranex converter is used to get the TalkShow data into a 3G SDI format.
  • The whole show is done live, so everything is done in real time, with portions of B-roll at the ready. There’s no real-time editing that takes place during filming.
  • The co-host in Arizona is on segments one and three. The remote host gets a return video feed from the studio, plus mix-minus audio from the audio board so he can follow along with the show in real time. He can interact with the other hosts in real time as well.
  • There is a segment at the end of each show where Higginbotham and his co-host respond to questions or comments via their Facebook and Twitter pages. Those images are also imported onto the CG system before the show goes live.
  • TMRO also has a real-time chat room, and Higginbotham will often ask questions on the viewers’ behalf.
  • TMRO once used YouTube to stream live, but found that they prefer having a Livestream channel. Once production is over, the show is uploaded to YouTube as an archive. The shows are also available on the TMRO Roku channel.
  • TMRO uses Patreon, where contributors can do a recurring fund, versus one lump sum like on Kickstarter. TECHNOLOGY:

  • Shure Wireless Microphones
  • Letrosonics Internal Feedback System
  • PreSonus Audio Mixer
  • Teranex Converter
  • NewTek TalkShow VS-100
  • Blackmagic Studio Cameras
  • Casper CG open-source computer graphics generator
  • Teradek slice

Broadcast - Web, Customer Stories, TalkShow,

Benjamin Higginbotham, Casper CG, International Space Station, Letrosonics, Mike Clark, NASA, Patreon, PreSonus, Roscosmos, TalkShow, TMRO,


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