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Summit ’14: Nets discuss risks, rewards of live programming

National Geographic Channel unveiled a sizzle reel for its two-hour live special from the International Space Station, set to air March, at a Realscreen Summit panel yesterday (January 27).
January 28, 2014

National Geographic Channel unveiled a sizzle reel for its two-hour live special from the International Space Station, set to air March, at a Realscreen Summit panel.

Speaking Monday (January 27) on the ‘Making Waves with Live’ session, Heather Moran, the network’s exec VP of programming and strategy, discussed the previously announced Arrow Media-produced live event, which will receive unprecedented access to the space station.

The reel showed a number of astronauts inside the station as well as stunning views from the spacecraft, which will be filmed as it orbits Earth. The tagline read: “Give us two hours, we’ll give you the world.”

The video was shown during a panel session on the future of live programming that was moderated by Arrow Media creative director John Smithson and featured Embassy Row president Michael Davies, All3Media America president Eli Holzman, Red Bull Media House North America head of distribution Greg Jacobs, NBC and Universal Television senior VP of alternative programming and development Brandon Riegg, and Discovery Channel VP of production and development Howard Swartz.

Holzman, discussing All3′s plans, said that the prodco had recently signed up to produce a “feat-based” live program for undisclosed network.

Elsewhere, the effectiveness of live events such as Discovery’s Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda, Red Bull’s Stratos project and NBC’s Million Second Quiz were discussed by the group, which managed to agree that live will be the driving force behind future programming, although networks ought to proceed with caution.

“This is a big growth area, but we have to be very judicious,” said Swartz, pointing out that live events such as the Wallenda walk in June 2013 – where the daredevil completed a highwire walk across the Grand Canyon – are a marriage between uncontrollable elements and science, and that networks “shouldn’t try to one-up one another until someone dies.”

“We planned for any eventuality,” said Swartz, adding that the network prepared a 10-second delay and refrained from preparing a press release for a successful event.

Similar precautions were taken by Jacobs, whose company produced the Stratos Project - skydiver Felix Baumgartner’s sound barrier-breaking free-fall from space. The exec said they planned a delay, and had a drone ready to correct Baumgartner’s falling position if he lost control.

The stunt garnered eight million concurrent views on YouTube. “But keep in mind, he had to jump from space to get those numbers,” said Jacobs.

Holzman, whose company produced Million Second Quiz, discussed the show’s second-screen components that allowed audiences to download an application and play real time with contestants on TV. Although Quiz’s success was hindered by technical malfunctions with the app, the exec said it was a “ground-breaking experiment.”

Davies, speaking on the growing popularity of second-screen, added: “You’re going to have to figure out second-screen. If you don’t, there won’t be advertisers around to fund what you want to do.”

He rounded out the session by pointing out that the next step in live television is to stretch a two-hour event into a series, and ultimately bridge the gap between strips and event specials.

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