The 2010 State of the Dome Address
by Mark C. Petersen, Loch Ness Productions
A presentation for IMERSA Fulldome Summit, Denver, Colorado, October 2010
© 2010, Loch Ness Productions

As perspective for pondering the future of fulldome as a medium and market, it might be useful to review its current state. Statistics drawn from Loch Ness Productions' LNP FULLDOME THEATER COMPENDIUM ONLINE! are presented and discussed, and provide some answers to the quintessential questions: "Who are we, where are we, and what are we doing?"

(2011 note: presentation edited to make active links of referenced Web resources.)

Since 2004, I've maintained data on every fulldome theater in the world I find out about, and make a listing available on the Loch Ness Productions Web site. It's called the LNP FULLDOME THEATER COMPENDIUM ONLINE! and you can access it directly at this URL:

There is the usual address and contact information, dome sizes, seating arrays, projector systems, and attendance reports. And there are many other features, such as Skype-able phone numbers and fulldome projector manufacturer links. The raw data are all there, for anyone and everyone to view.

LNP Fulldome Theater Compendium page

There aren't any tabular summaries of the data online (that's a feature included in our commercial product). But, anyone dedicated enough could comb through the pages and compile summaries themselves.

I have plans to do some data reduction and make extended information available on the IMERSA Web site — though at this point, progress is slow; let's just say we're not ready for prime time with that yet.

In this presentation, I'll simply preview some of that analysis, to give a "snapshot view" of the online listings as they existed in October 2010. Of course, the numbers constantly change as I receive updates provided by theater operators, vendors, news updates, and customers. I've made similar data analyses in previous years, and I'll compare those numbers with this year's tallies.

There is one "summary" feature visible online: the total number of listings. As of 1 October 2010, I list 669 entries. Just over half of these in the U.S.; the others are in the all the rest of the countries of the world combined. So I've kept track of American figures separately from the international numbers.

Compendium Data Summaries

Figure 2. Compendium data summary tables
Compendium data summary tables

Looking at the some of the summary tables, we see that — in terms of number and size of domes — larger domes predominate internationally, while mid-size domes are more plentiful in the U.S. With mid-to-large sizes, tilted domes make up half the count of each category. Smaller sizes, not so much.

More seating configurations are front-facing over concentric (though there's a large "unknown" factor here, and portables usually don't have seats).

The overwhelming majority of theaters — more than 90 percent in the U. S. — are associated with some form of educational or cultural institution.

Another overwhelming statistic derived from the 669 listings: more than 600 have the word "Planetarium" in their name, and another 30 or so call themselves "star theater" or "space theater" or use some form of "galaxy" or "cosmos" or other astronomically-associated tag. That leaves only 28 institutions that operate theaters with names that do not immediately imply "astronomy"; so few that I've listed them below. Then when you visit their Web sites, you find half of those are indeed operating as planetariums. So show producers evaluating fulldome as a "market" for their content might want to keep in mind that one needs only the fingers on three hands to count the world's fulldome theaters that may not have astronomy education as their primary mission.

Figure 2a. Non-astronomy theater names
ADM Theater, Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure Museum
ARTS Lab GDome University of New Mexico
Boeing Cyberdome Theater Exploration Place
Buhl Digital Dome Carnegie Science Center
Complex Systems Research Ctr. University of NH
Devlin Educational Theater Bradley Elementary School
Digital Visualization Theater University of Notre Dame
Discovery Dome, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Discovery Dome Knowledge Latitude
Dome Theater COSI
Dome Theater, Norrkoping Visualization Center
Domodigital Banamex Theater Papalote Museo del Nino
Exploration Dome The Science Factory
FutureDome Our Dynamic Earth
Greenbush Digital Theater SE Kansas Ed. Ctr.
HW Ray Special Experience Room Centennial Sch. Dist.
Ho Tung Visualization Lab Colgate University
Hokulani Imaginarium Windward Comm. Coll.
Immersive Vision Theatre University of Plymouth
L'Hemisferic, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias
Lelawi Theater, Museum of the American Indian
Mediendom University of Applied Sciences
Sesame Street A B C's Sesame Workshop
The Bubble City of Dreams
The Naturesphere Robinson Nature Center
The OmniSphere The Natural Science Center
Umevatorium, VRlab HPC2N, Umea University
VR Theatre "Tholos", Hellenic World

Attendance Projection

Since 1990, I've made an "Annual Attendance Projection" for all dome theaters, classic planetarium and fulldome. These are also posted on the Loch Ness Productions Web site. When I set a filter for only fulldome theaters and run the program, I come up with an estimate of 35 million visitors annually to all theaters worldwide. But there are many, many caveats with regard to this 35 million number. I explain them and the methodology used to estimate this figure on these Web pages:

Figure 3. Attendance data summary tables
Compendium data summary tables

I don't do a prior-year table of attendance projections. I don't think there's much to be gained by tracking my estimates over the years. That said, last year's total and this year's are the same — 35 million, despite having nearly 100 more theaters this year.

Perhaps of real significance is the "Average" column. We can safely say on average, for a given dome size, how many people a year are likely to sit under it.

The Projector Systems

For 2010, I tallied the number of projector systems in the listings (note that several theaters have more than one fulldome system). I counted 745 this year, up from 638 last year. In 2008, I was entering more than 3 new fulldome installations each week. Since then, the growth has continued, though the pace has slowed a bit.

Two-thirds of the listings are the single- or dual-projector systems, usually displaying movies with less than 2K resolution across the dome. In other words, in the fulldome world of 2010, the little guys are the biggies.

Figure 4. Projector systems summary
Projector summary

Then, I sorted the projector systems by their makers to get an idea of whose systems are the most popular.

Figure 5. Projector stats table
Projector stats

Evans & Sutherland and Sky-Skan continue their one-two position, with E&S growing their lead in installation numbers over the last several years. Coming in third this year is Spitz, edging ahead of its competitors.

Also becoming significant: the "Custom" category. These tend to be the home-built systems, and most of them are of the inexpensive spherical mirror design. Because these systems are built without the services of the other major manufacturers listed here, their operators may not be as likely to turn to them when it comes to fulldome content distribution; alternative models may become more important for show producers to consider.

The validity of the numbers for the major hardware manufacturers should be pretty good; they often provide such information either on their own Web sites, or directly to me. However, with some of the portables, there's more than meets the eye. In the Compendium, listings need to have a valid mailing or street address for me to include them. ePlanetarium might post something like "We've sold a system to India!" on their Web site, but that's rather vague; India's a big country. So while they say they have sold more than 100 systems, we list only 74. Digitalis Education Solutions has a policy about not releasing their customer information; but they told me there are over two hundred more systems of theirs out there that I don't have address information for. Anecdotally, I've been told the number of Science First's Digital StarLabs could be triple what I list. If you take these unlisted system counts into consideration, the total number of systems could be near 1000. And these unverified portables are all of the lower resolution projector types. Stated more obviously, three out of four fulldome systems in the world today are the less-than-2K type. There may be a lot of buzz about pixel counts and ever-increasing resolution numbers, but the reality is that the majority of the fulldome systems out there today are relatively low-res.

I do include portables in the LNP FULLDOME THEATER COMPENDIUM ONLINE! although it may be a philosophical discussion point about whether an inflatable dome without seats qualifies as a "theater". That's a debate for another time, however. From Loch Ness Productions' viewpoint, if a system can show our fulldome videos on its dome, it counts as a theater!

The Shows

So, what are people showing on their domes? Since we include Web sites in the Compendium listings, we simply surfed to each and every one — all 462 of them — looking for their show listings and noting the results. Yes, at Loch Ness Productions, we are gluttons for punishment, it would appear. It only took us several days to do...

Figure 6. Show summary table
Show summary table

As in previous years, many of our Web searches turned up nothing. More than 200 theaters don't even have Web sites that we could find. On only 37% of sites did we find a list of show offerings or schedules. From this, one could deduce that two-thirds of all fulldome theaters do not present commercially-distributed fulldome videos to the general public. Or, maybe they just don't want people to know what they're showing. In terms of judging the potential market for programs, though, this should give producers some food for thought.

This year, we found 246 theater Web sites that did list shows. Some only displayed the "current feature", while others apparently offer every show they're ever bought — several facilities have more than 25 shows on tap. One cannot easily judge "what's hot and what's not" from such listings. There are variables regarding license periods — for example, some shows may have "timed out" and can no longer be shown. Others listed as available might be shown only by special request; they're not really in active rotation.

We found a total of 1181 shows mentioned — quite a few more than last year — and 157 unique show titles. 199 is our count of the total number of show titles commercially available — you can also see this on the Loch Ness Productions Web site as the LNP Fulldome SHOW Compendium (as compared to the LNP Fulldome THEATER Compendium).

Figure 7. Show stats table
Show stats

Four of last year's "Top 5" maintained their positions in 2010, with Imiloa's "Two Small Pieces of Glass" and Clark's "Secret Of the Cardboard Rocket" leading the pack. Denver's "Black Holes" show moved up to the number 3 slot. This year's survey took place later in the year than previously, so that could account for the jump in listings of Loch Ness Productions's "Season of Light". Adler Planetarium also placed very well, with both their free "IBEX" show and popular Sesame Street offering moving into the top 10.

The other leading titles from previous years continued in their popularity, and it seems the new shows from AMNH and Chabot are being well-received.

The Producers

As I did with the projector systems, I then sorted the show titles by producer.

Figure 8. Producer stats table
Producer stats

For 2010, the top 5 producers maintained their popularity from previous years — E&S, Clark, and then — Loch Ness Productions! Hooray, we're #3! Mirage3D and the National Space Centre swapped places at sixth and seventh place. Adler Planetarium jumped way up in the rankings, and the remainder of producers shuffled their places a bit.

Of interest is how much of an impact Salt Lake City has on fulldome content. 26% of shows world-wide come from Utah.

Finally, I'd like to mention a feature of the Compendium on which I've worked particularly hard. I've included latitude and longitude coordinates for each fulldome theater, and you can select the Google Earth link in the listing to go there using that application. You can also download the FULLDOME.KMZ file — which has Placemarks for every theater on the globe.

Figure 9. Fulldome Theaters in Google Earth
Fulldome theaters in Google Earth

Until next year, that's it for now. If you find this information useful, you can help support our efforts. Please go here or here or here.