Saturday, March 11

You mean to tell me I could fly in zero gravity?

If you're a die-hard Get REALity fan then you'll remember a few weeks ago I made mention of a new show coming out called "Space Champions." The premise? A football-like sport played in a plane that simulates zero gravity. It's a pretty insane concept and one that I definitely wondered about. Seriously, who comes up with this stuff? Lucky for us the creator of "Space Champions" and President of IPX Entertainment, Rocky Persaud, caught my mention of his show and agreed to give us a behind-the-scenes peek at the new era of reality TV.

Me: Where did the idea for "Space Champions" come from?

Rocky: "I came up with the idea for the sport first. The concept for the reality show 'Space Champions' to choose the athletes to play the sport followed soon after, by necessity. What began as a minor interest in the space tourism market grew to a major interest once I realized tourism is part of the larger market of entertainment and sports. The percentage of tourist vacations that involve sports in some way -- everything from scuba diving to skiing to golf -- is rather high. Considering this, selling to the individual makes a lot of sense. The 'Zero Gravity Experience' is marketed as a reward to give oneself, a unique experience of a lifetime, and the motivating factor to build one's vacation around. Completely untapped, though Zero G has considered it, is the sports market. That realization led to the idea of creating an entire sports league around the game, with athletes trained to play the game rather than using celebrities. By necessity, I would have to have a way to pick the athletes. I am an occasional fan of shows like 'Survivor' and 'The Amazing Race'. I don't watch every episode, but usually tune in once the contestants have been thinned down. These shows are compelling. A reality show to recruit the athletes for my new league made enormous sense; and thus was 'Space Champions' born."

Me: Were you immediately taken with the idea or was it met with skepticism by your team?

Rocky: "I was completely jazzed by the idea. It really sells itself once the concept is explained. Getting people to tune in again and again is the challenge for any sport or TV show. Whether it attracts just a niche audience or becomes a phenomenon like 'Survivor', we'll have to see. I started this new company from scratch, so those who have joined in are already sold on the concept. The challenge for us is not only to make a fun sport, but something that can be turned into a long-lived business. I have a clear path in mind from the Zero Gravity Sports League to much more bigger and ambitious projects that will open up space tourism for people other than astronauts and billionaires. To me the best way to do it is through providing entertainment. Imagine we had no ice sports, and someone came along and said hey, let's exploit this unusual environment to make winter activities popular. And then created hockey, figure skating, speed skating, ice-capades, tobogganing and skiing. Later, a Winter Olympics is created, and there is worldwide interest in these activities in the spirit of friendly competition, supported by national organizations. We can take that spirit into the unusual environment of weightlessness, and along the way create many new activities. But this more than just a TV show. I'm not the first to think about space sports, but my company seems to be the first to consider parabolic flights as a bridging environment for weightless sports prior to the ability to cheaply get athletes into orbit -- an ability which may be along in a few years. What encourages me is the amount of interest already generated in the concept, based on just the few details I released. I believe a lot of people will watch the first episode. Once they do, we're going to hook them."

Me: After the idea is conceived, where do you go from there from a business standpoint in putting the show together and marketing it?

Rocky: "As in any new business start-up, one has to develop a strong business plan and seek investors. Fortunately this business does not require much in funding to get going. We have enough financing to get started and create the channel. It will go online in a few weeks. Considering how easy it was to develop the channel, I can't see how any independent production company in their right minds would want to give away control of their properties to Hollywood. The recent development in internet broadband video, specifically the ability to host video channels online, has made it possible for anyone to start their own production and distribution company with very little cash. The days of big broadcast television networks will soon be over, but they'll be replace by big broadband video networks. If I were Mark Burnett, I'd know what I'd do next with his properties. Once the channel has a certain subscriber base, the dollars from advertising and subscriptions will be there to finance the entire show. Our audience is potentially millions of people world wide, rather than just the American market, so we have a larger pool upon which to draw a smaller number of viewers. The major step aside from financing is of course developing the game. We've worked hard on it in the conceptual stage and tested out a few of its principles. Next is a flight in a few weeks where I test some more aspects of it, and later we'll do several flights in a row over a weekend to test the full game. We hope to produce that in June at the latest, so that we can have something visual to advertise to the world. I can't say too much about it because there are aspects to it that might change by the time testing is over; and I don't want contestants knowing too much about it in advance. Right now, our channel launch is the thing we are focusing on. We should have a good idea of whether the show is fully funded or not within a few weeks, or whether people will be reluctant to sign up before seeing a clip of the show."

Me: How far into the casting process are you, and what types of people are you looking for?

Rocky: "We've announced a call for athletes and coaches, and advertised this on several sites. I personally am not involved in the casting process until later, once my casting directors have narrowed down the potential contestants to a small number, perhaps a hundred or so. We're looking for genuine athletes with great personalities. People with Olympic aspirations might be ideal, as these types are dedicated, highly competitive, typically of great character, and may want the media exposure to enhance their personal name recognition to attract sponsor's support. Once we have eight teams established for the Zero Gravity Sports League we will only need athletes for about four to six week per season, so they have plenty of time in the remainder of the year to continue with other jobs or sports. We want men and women, over 18, but with no upper age limit, who can endure the physical challenge of the training program we'll put them through. We want people of a wide variety of body types. The game requires muscle, agility, cleverness and speed. Athletes and coaches can come from any athletic background, from gymnastics to football. Applications are due May 1st for the initial round. We might go to a college or two in the Toronto and Los Angeles areas to do on-site recruiting, but we don't require our athletes to originate from those cities. Any Canadian or American may apply. Later, we'll be seeking athletes from other nationalities. If subscriptions do well enough, we may begin casting up to three additional U.S. teams for this year, and other teams from Europe and Japan. Details on applying may be found at http://spacechampions.com. We want each applicant to include a two minute video of their best athletic performance, no matter the sport, and two minutes describing themselves and why they think they have the Right Stuff to be a 'Space Champion'."

Me: The focus of the show will be the sport, but do you plan on also highlighting the drama behind the scenes and fights between teams or athletes?

Rocky: "Yes. A typical episode will start with showing the daily training the athletes must do, followed by the locker room strategizing between the coach and the team for innovating game plays, the game itself, and then the post-game elimination of one player from the show. Undoubtedly, reality shows succeed because they turn contestants into characters. We want athletes with personalities, but not ones who don't know how to be team players. We want the conflict to be primarily during the game and training, but we will have cameras following the contestants throughout their day to see what makes them tick individually. Will that produce drama? We're featuring highly competitive people, so you can bet on it."


Me: Can you explain to me a little more about this created football-like sport? Also, you say your contestants won't know the rules, what exactly will they know about the show coming into it?

Rocky: Football games on the ground are filled with lots of commentary while the teams work out their next move between downs. It's can be like a chess game. Parabolic Football will have 'downs' when the action takes place, and 'ups' when athletes plot their next move with their teams while waiting for the next down. During ups they'll have to be seated on the floor of the aircraft, lying down to avoid motion sickness, and enduring twice the gravity of Earth as that plane ascends. For the reality show we likely won't have commentators, but we can listen in on the athletes or splice in clips from earlier in the day when they worked out their game plays in the locker room. We're still working it out, but they'll [the contestants] likely know the kind of training they'll have to do preparing themselves."


Me: Viewers have to subscribe to SpaceChannel.tv to watch the show. How much does a subscription cost? What do you hope the outcome to be for the show's success?

Rocky: "Each episode would cost about 20 credits, which is the equivalent of $2. We will offer minimum subscriptions of 100 credits for $10, which is enough for a subscriber to watch 5 episodes. Then they'll have to add credits to their account. The unique choice we give subscribers will be to either purchase the credits directly, or watch video ads in order to earn credits on their account. We will also offer premium accounts for about $50, for which the subscriber would get 500 credits. That is enough credits to watch all 16 episodes of 'Space Champions' first season, plus additional credits they may use for our other programs we are developing. We have a few documentaries being produced, and in the works is a science fiction series, and another reality show I hope to announce in a few months. But with each $50 premium account we will give away two free tickets in an online tournament for our subscribers to have a 1 in 65,000 chance at winning a suborbital flight. This promotion is for the first 500,000 premium subscribers, though depending on its success we may make it a permanent part of SpaceChannel's offerings. We want to give away zero gravity flights in the future too, with a 1 in 1,000 chance of winning. So there is a strong incentive to subscribe for those wanting to experience zero gravity in an airplane or have a suborbital flight in a real, live fire-breathing spacecraft flying up to 100 kilometers altitude. We might include with the premium subscription a Space Miles club point system which subscribers may use to trade in for zero gravity flights or other types of products or services. The motivation for this is to keep a core subscriber base while increasing the market for space tourism. The more flights SpaceChannel can give away, the better the market is for IPX Entertainment and others in the space tourism business. We want to drive down the price so it will be cheaper to send people into space. Therefore I have a motivation to fly as many of my subscribers on a suborbital or parabolic flight as possible. This will benefit everyone."


Me: Other than the sport, what will set your show apart from other reality shows?

Rocky: "We don't want to be too different. Reality shows are successful if they have interesting personalities, exciting competition and an element of chance or surprise. Why tamper with that formula? The zero gravity environment will be unique enough to set it apart. But in addition to this, subscribers will know it isn't just a reality show. We have a unique opportunity to start a new space tourism industry by paying for it with entertainment dollars. That bright future is something our subscribers will know they have made happen. They can even play the game. We will be sponsoring amateur tournaments that any of our subscribers may join and experience the same adrenaline rush of zero gravity sports as the athletes on 'Space Champions'."

So there you have it. Reality TV from the perspective of someone who actually knows what they're talking about as opposed to me who just watches a lot of it. Thanks again Rocky! We all appreciate it and I hope some of my readers tune into 'Space Champions' because it definitely sounds like it's not your run of the mill reality show. Good luck!

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