University Contributes Funds to TV Documentary

The administration at UCSD paid $100,000 for an advertising plug on National Geographic’s television documentary series “World’s Smart Cities” last month.

The promotional documentary, which focused on the city of San Diego, aired on April 25, 2015, putting a spotlight on the city’s tourism industry and its burgeoning cultural and tech scenes.

The university’s offer was added on to the city’s $1.5 million contribution toward the film’s financing, a sum agreed upon by city authorities and the National Geographic production team.

UCSD’s $100,000 sum went toward a segment centered on the school’s California Center for Algae Biotechnology, along with a 30-second commercial vignette focusing on UCSD as the city’s symbolic representation of the classical element “fire” — the passion for knowledge.

CAL-CAB received attention from news outlets earlier this month, including the UCSD Guardian, following its development of sustainable surfboards produced from algae.

UCSD administration and the city tourism authority have been working out a deal for over a year. A contract dated May 15, 2015, describes the documentary as being “focused on presenting [San Diego] as an important knowledge-based entrepreneurial city, one with the capability to sustain itself with the capacity and talent to grow in the 21[st] century.”

Chancellor Khosla expressed interest in the project, according to an email sent last June from Associate Chancellor Clare Kristofco to the university’s financial office. 

“[Khosla] wants us to participate in this, so I’ve signed this document” wrote Kristofco, speaking on behalf of the chancellor. 

Kristofco billed the sum as an advertising expenditure in the same email. “[The $100,000] is ultimately going to need to be wrapped into advertising costs, rather than from [the chancellor’s] office.”

To aid in raising the agreed $1.5 million, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation scheduled media junkets in London and Tokyo to garner support from international companies with a business presence in San Diego as well as UCSD alumni. 

The hour-long television documentary explored the San Diego lifestyle and its draws, from SeaWorld and the craft breweries to the city’s rise as a national leader in biotechnology, with surf culture thrown in between.

When asked to contribute to the publicly-funded road show, the UCSD administration declined, according to a Feb.10, 2015 email from Kristofco to Lauree Sahba, chief operating officer of the San Diego Regional EDC.

“We very much appreciate the opportunity for an additional sponsorship. …However,our commitment of $100,000 to support the making of the show is the extent to which we are able to support,” the email read.

Despite declining to fund the trips to London and Tokyo, UCSD sent Jacobs School of Engineering Dean Al Pisano to Tokyo to promote the segment.

National Geographic has selected only three other cities for its acclaimed “World’s Smart Cities” series. According to the San Diego Tourism Authority website, the city was selected to participate because of “its strong technology sector, local innovators, green practices, smart public planning and an unparalleled quality of life.” The website cited population size and cultural diversity as additional reasons for the selection.

San Diego is the only U.S. city to appear on the show, with some others being Bucharest, Romania; Adelaide, Australia; and Durban, South Africa. 

National Geographic aired the documentary to an international audience, reaching over 60 countries and approximately 250 million households worldwide.