Montana State University

Popular MSU nature film site surpasses two million downloads

February 28, 2007 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News

More than two million short science and nature documentaries have been downloaded at LIFEONTERRA.COM, a popular educational Website based at MSU and managed by students in the university's Science and Natural History Filmmaking program.   High-Res Available

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The producers of an educational Website based at Montana State University hope a grassroots campaign will help them win the people's choice award at a prestigious contest.

TERRA: The Nature of Our World is a finalist in the student category for the SXSW (South by Southwest) 10th annual Web awards to be announced at the SXSW conference March 9-18 in Austin, Texas.

"This is among the most prestigious award in the Web community," said TERRA producer Eric Bendick, who is also a graduate student in the MSU Science and Natural History Filmmaking program.

Bendick hopes that voters will cast their online ballots for TERRA as the People's Choice winner in the contest. Voters have until Friday, March 2 to
cast their online vote at

"This award is determined by voting so we hope MSU and the Bozeman community will get out the vote," he said.

This is the latest of a long string of prestigious award nominations in the short life of TERRA, which was launched online only a year-and-a-half ago by students in the MSU Science and Natural Filmmaking Program. Last fall TERRA was a finalist for a national Vloggie Award recognizing excellence in online video.

But perhaps even more impressive is the everyday popularity of the site, which allows persons to watch and download short documentaries free of charge via the latest in IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) technologies.

Currently, LIFEONTERRA is featuring downloads of "A Dozen More Turns," but the site's archive makes available scores of films about a variety of subjects. Currently, films about chili peppers, salmon, climate change, nature painting and the crafting of an aboriginal didgeridoo can be watched live or downloaded.

The site is so popular that last fall it was retooled and redesigned to boost its capacity and make it more user-friendly. In addition to Bendick, student Ed Watkins designed the graphics and interface, library faculty member Jason Clark worked on coding of the site, and student George Potter is co-producer of the show.

"When we started we thought, optimistically, that one day we might have 1,000 downloads a day," Bendick said. "We now see 4,000-5,000 downloads from our site every day. Before our first year anniversary we surpassed a million downloads."

Bendick explains that while TERRA was initially launched as an outlet to post films from the Science and Natural History Filmmaking graduate program, some of the top natural history filmmakers in the world also post their films on the site. TERRA podcasts are being downloaded across the planet, he said, which befits a site named for the earth.

"It's amazing because so far they (the students) have done everything they have done with practically no money," said Patty Bean, MSU Media and Theatre Arts department development and project manager.

Following on the success of the TERRA programming, the Master's in Science and Natural History Filmmaking program, with the help of small grants from Montana EPSCoR and Montana 4H, is planning to launch a youth-oriented companion site called TERRApod. TERRApod will teach young people science and environment content online through participatory filmmaking and video production, mentor and peer chat rooms and science links

"There is an explosion going on," Bendick said of the popularity of TERRA. "It's really the right thing at the right time for our media and it couldn't come at a better time. The health of our planet is at risk. We can all benefit from a better understanding of the natural world."

To learn more about TERRA go

Eric Bendick (406) 994-6227,