NASA wants to be your new favorite streaming app

NASA is taking a page from big time TV streaming services as it revamps its multimedia offerings. This month, the agency relaunched its longstanding NASA TV service, which is now called “NASA plus.” There is a new mobile app to go with it. To give us the big picture, Federal News Network Deputy Editor Jared Serbu, talked with Rebecca Sirmons, Executive Producer for NASA TV on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview Transcript:  

Rebecca Sirmons Well, NASA Plus is NASA’s new official ad free on demand streaming service. Kind of like a Netflix, but NASA. And so it has some of the greatest stories ever told all in one place. One of our taglines is we’re putting the universe at your fingertips. So it’s premium content. It’s official home for live broadcasts. And tons of NASA’s infamous archival goes over decades. So I’m really excited to have it all in one place that people can find it.

Jared Serbu And what was kind of the inspiration for the idea that that you needed to relaunch this in essence, because it’s not just a rebranding of what you had been doing before. I think it’s more of a transition from linear content to more on demand. Is that about right?

Rebecca Sirmons Yep. So when I got here, I come from the private sector. I’m a TV person. I was a television executive for almost 20 years out in L.A., and I came out here and I was honored to take this task on. And I knew it was going to be a massive effort. The great news is I didn’t have to do it by myself. We had tons of content already there. It’s just a matter of going around and collecting all this amazing content that they have been making for years now. Also looking at some of the future missions and what we have coming up and also like current activities as well and looking at, ok, how can we make it an amazing documentary? How can we tell this NASA story through resources that we already have? We didn’t go out, I didn’t have a budget. We didn’t have a budget to do this. It was a matter of what can we do, what can we work with, what we already have. And it’s incredible. The difference between linear TV and what we have now is that everything is on demand. And you can watch it when you want to watch it. It’s free, there’s no subscription required. There’s obviously no ads. And it’s, one of the things that I’m personally proud of, it’s family friendly. There aren’t that many places you can go to as far as a streaming service is concerned that’s family friendly 100%. So it’s something that I’m really excited for the future generation to see.

Jared Serbu And then the new relaunched app is one way people can get access to NASA plus. I must say the app, the UX is better than most commercial streaming services apps that I’ve seen.

Rebecca Sirmons Thank you. Wow.

Jared Serbu It really is. I mean, talk a bit about how you approach that and what you prioritized as you decided to redo the app.

Rebecca Sirmons Yes. And I will say it’s a tremendous team effort. I’m going to give a shout out Jason Townsend, who was kind of leading the overall team for the app development, as well as the Web modernization. There were several things happening at once. I was brought on to do NASA Plus, so handling kind of all the overall layout and the content and kind of getting new stuff on there, treating it as it were, like a network. And then, of course, we had our Web modernization team. So it’s been tested, they went through several changes over the years. But this is something that we can all be proud of. And yeah, it’s about kind of stepping into the times and really showing people that we know what’s cool and we’re going to do that.

Jared Serbu Talk about how you went about developing this with no budget. Was this pretty much all internal? Did you have some contract support? How did you go about it?

Rebecca Sirmons Internal. I mean, it’s a lot, it’s funny coming from the private sector. I worked in documentaries, you learn how to do something with nothing. And the thing that we have it at NASA is talent and we have creativity. I will say it’s the most creative place I’ve ever worked already, hands down, because you kind of have to NASA it. You have something, you’re like, ok, how can we do this? And so it’s looking, ok we have an amazing team here. So I can go to that team and say, Here’s what I need to do. Let’s try and figure out how to get there. And I was able to do that. I mean, working across the enterprise NASA, I mean, there’s centers all over. It isn’t just headquarters here. I’m working with Goddard, I’m working with Johnson, Kennedy. All the centers were part of this. And so that was kind of the most beautiful thing about this, is really seeing the enterprise come together because we all wanted this to happen. And so it’s something that we’re really proud of as an agency.

Jared Serbu And you said earlier, this is mainly a new way to present a ton of content that you already had and make it more accessible. I wonder, though, having these new channels and content delivery mechanisms, does it change the way NASA thinks about how it creates new content or create new opportunities for you to make new stuff?

Rebecca Sirmons Absolutely. So, I mean, already when I first started this job, I looked at I was like, ok, well, obviously we’re going to need to figure out distribution and how we’re all working to do differently and so those methods are have already been established from day one. Now it’s more of, ok, how do we create content differently, as far as putting together outlines, creative, and going through and looking at it from like a more premium point of view, because it’s all about storytelling and it’s how we tell that story. And the great the thing that I’m extremely grateful for every day is the fact that we have talented people here already. And they did this, not me. I just know how to kind of pull the levers.

Jared Serbu I know it’s early days since the launch, but what kind of audience feedback have you gotten so far? Were you able to see anything in analytics that shows that people like this better?

Rebecca Sirmons So that’s something that I’ve been tracking daily and we’ve gotten some great feedback. Obviously, there are little bugs here and there. That’s just how it is. That’s tech. But as far as feedback, everybody loves it. I will say as as a parent just hearing people say, oh my gosh, there’s a place, there’s kids content, there’s NASA kids content, I’m like, yes, schools are watching it. I was talking to a pediatric doctor recently. They’re like, oh, yeah, I actually showed kids. It’s incredible. The launch was seamless and now we’re looking at it as any streaming platform does. Ok, what can we move around? What can we make more effective? How do we look at this moving forward? And so that’s something we’re constantly monitoring.

Jared Serbu Yeah. And then finally, that’s my next question. What next? Do you have any immediate plans for what the roadmap is for improvements?

Rebecca Sirmons Yes, so we have. Obviously, we launched several new series. We have one more documentary on sonification, which I’m really excited about from the content side of things. And as far as  overall rollout, I’m going to be tracking analytics, really looking at what’s working, what’s not working. Because again, I’m incredibly mindful of budget. Like we didn’t go, we’re working with what we got here. And so looking at space, like space that’s what costs money in streaming. So looking at, ok, this series isn’t doing so hot. Let’s pull it off. Let’s make room for something new. Looking at live events, how is that all working? What are people watching and where and when and how do we put it on this site? So it’s really fascinating some of the data that I’ve already been getting in. And there are some surprises, like, I had no clue. It’s fascinating to me. I’m just glad that people are enjoying it.

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