Raw Science: Bringing Science Education to the Streaming World
Science is hot right now. It’s having a moment. You'll see it on television (the new "Cosmos"), at Maker Faires around the world where people debut their own fun and useful creations, and on sites such as Reddit, where science and inventors are celebrated.
This is the perfect time, then, for the launch of Raw Science, an online network all about, yes, science. It presents videos of the big thinkers and the big discoveries that are shaping our time.
The network, which debuted Dec. 9, 2013, on YouTube and its own site isn’t the creation of Discovery or even Syfy, but of a few science lovers determined to fill the void in quality science video.
Leading the team is Keri Kukral, co-founder and the network’s CEO. Raw Science, she says, is creating the video that television won’t or can’t.
“There’s a big gap on regular television with science media,” Kukral says. “The media is diluted and the audience is really quickly leaving television. And we realized that there’s a big opportunity online to capture that audience and inform them of things that are going on that are actually changing the world.”
The Raw Science team aims to gain viewers by providing deep access to areas where the audience isn’t normally able to go, including space exploration and the development of new energy technologies. Videos will offer information directly from the scientists working on these projects, without any media filter. There’s a hunger for that kind of scientific information, the Raw Science team believes, and for access to giants in different fields.
The internet and online video have let people educate themselves on scientific discoveries, Kukral says, and that had led to a do-it-yourself science movement. It’s a tsunami, she says, that started in the schools and universities. Rather than trying to spur an interest, Raw Science is riding a wave that’s well underway.
“We’re trying to make the scientists rock stars. And we’re trying to make logical autonomous thoughts cool,” Kukral says.
One thing the channel hopes to provide is unbiased debate on controversial topics that are usually plagued by misinformation in mainstream media. For example, Raw Science has a channel hosted by Reichart Von Wolfsheild, previously the host of the Invention USA series on History. In the first episode, Von Wolfsheild debates the former head of Shell Oil and the energy advisor to Taiwan on nuclear fission. The debate uses strictly logical scientific issues, Kukral says, and is no-holds-barred. By presenting informed debated on scientific issues, she hopes to teach viewers how to think about the issues and make their own choices.
Raw Science host Reichart Von Wolfsheild (left) debates Roland Kupers of Shell Oil (on-screen) and Frank Shu, energy advisor to Taiwan, on nuclear fission.
A biomedical engineer by profession, Kukral expressed her creative side by traveling around the globe for the past several years filming interviews with science giants such as Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku. She recorded her first interview 9 years ago, with a quirky SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) group in Ohio. The interviews started as a hobby, but Kukral began to realize that she could do more with these mini-documentaries by putting them online.
To turn her passion into a reality, Kukral partnered with internet entrepreneur Raj Singh. The two, along with other teammates, such as Mitchell Block, a film and TV executive who is Raw Science’s executive director of programming, began working on the project in earnest in April 2013.
The team was lucky to get seed funding from startup incubator The Design Accelerator, a partnership between the California Institute of Technology, Idealab, and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. Kukral knew about Design Incubator because she was working for a biomedical 3D printing company it funded. Raw Science entered and won an entrepreneur competition, so it received funding.
On-Demand Science for the YouTube Generation
To create its content, Raw Science is partnering with seasoned science hosts, such as Von Wolfsheild and YouTube science celebrity Veritasium (Derek Muller).
“There’s a network of these science media people and we were introduced to Veritasium that way. He actually lives in Australia. So he was in the United States and we had access to a couple of operations in the bay area that are space related. His shtick is he’s the physics guy on YouTube,” Kukral said. “One of the subjects that he worked with us on was one of the lead competitors in the lunar X prize called MoonExpress, which is trying to get a lander on the moon by 2015. It was a natural fit for him being the physics guy to cover that, and why and how they’re doing that and what are the challenges.”
An impressive list of interviews should boost Raw Science’s subscriber base.
“We have a couple of videos of Stephen Hawking that will be launched in the next couple of months,” Kukral says. “One of them is with Philip Low and it’s about consciousness. Philip Low invented the iBrain which allows people to communicate directly from their mind. You can see all of these applications with ALS and the ability to do that. So Philip Low and his company Neurovigil have been working with Stephen Hawking to allow him to communicate directly from his mind should his facial muscles lose all movement, and we have video of that.”
YouTube science celebrity Veritasium hosts a Raw Science episode focusing on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, which converts lunar orbital images to digital formats—in an abandoned McDonald’s at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Kukral was also able to get an audience with the Dalai Lama.
“We went to India and filmed something there that related to consciousness, and the Dalai Lama was filmed as part of that,” Kukral explains. “We filmed the Dalai Lama and then we got more in-depth interviews with a man named Choedak who is the head of culture and religion for Tibetan exiles.”
Besides working with big names in science and spirituality, Kukral’s team is partnering with some entertainment celebrities as well.
“Speaking of making scientists rock stars, the second episode of Reichart’s series is going to be filmed at Moby’s house -- the rock star Moby -- and we’re going to be debating the safety of the Tesla battery,” Kukral says. “We’ll have the actual Tesla battery designer there and Moby will be part of the discussion.”
Video from the event should be online by the time this sees print. The Hollywood Hills party will include a live demonstration of the iBrain by Low, letting guests communicate directly from their minds; a rocket launch by Steve Jurvetson, a venture capitalist with DFJ (an early SpaceX and Tesla investor); and possible appearances by inventor Elon Musk and "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane.
Raw Science will also create videos in partnership with the Khan Academy, an online learning initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that now has more than 1 billion views.
“We’ve been in contact with them and there’s been an agreement that we’re going to create a series about the history of technology, the history of the internet,” Kukral says. “Most of their content is about teaching people something specific, but we feel that learning about the technology of the past also helps the future. So we’re creating a series that’s about the history of technology and the internet.” That series should go online in the first quarter of 2014.
While Raw Science is starting on YouTube, Kukral has plans to grow far beyond it. This is Raw Science’s proof-of-concept stage, where it hopes to demonstrate a large and enthusiastic audience for its videos. In the long term, Kukral plans to grow Raw Science into a multichannel network (MCN) that’s self-sustaining and not a part of YouTube. For the moment, the team is focusing on bringing in established YouTube creators and generating cross promotions. But eventually, Raw Science should grow into an online television channel, providing quality TV production to an online audience. One advantage of working online is that the costs are dramatically less.
“The thing with TV is that it’s $50,000 and Internet is like $1,000 to $2,500 a minute in terms of production costs,” Kukral says. “We’re able to bring a really great production cost to the internet, which usually has a low quality. We want to be like an actual TV network but purely online, and we do see ourselves being a multichannel network.”
While Raw Science will offer mainly on-demand video, Kukral says there are plans to offer live streams and paid premium event streams.
Raw Science videos are in the 8- to 10-minute range. While the trend just a year ago was for 1- to 2-minute clips, Kukral says the idea now is to create longer online videos to grow audience retention. The only monetization right now comes from YouTube ads. Once the network has completed its proof of concept, Kukral plans to work with multiple organizations to offer new monetization options. The plan is to work with Series A investors and build out a fuller site in 2014.
Raw Science has ambitious plans, and if all goes well, 2014 will be its breakout year. “We’re hoping to funnel information about science and technology that will actually impact viewer[s] in the near future, and bring it straight from the horse’s mouth,” Kukral says.
This article appears in the 2014 Streaming Media Sourcebook as "Scientific Method."