Live concerts given digital edge

Increasing number of arts companies turning to Web to stream performances, with promise of 3D broadcast on the horizon as the technology goes on trial and awaits mass adoption.
Written by Tyler Thia, Contributor on

Concert-going today is still very much a "physical" activity. However, those in the know are already staying home for a virtual experience that is a quarter of the hassle, but double the fun.

Enjoying "live" concerts can be a very exciting affair, from the fight for tickets right up to the actual performance day itself. For fans, it is a memorable journey that many are willing to undergo, sacrificing time and money just to be able to see and hear the singing sensation.

But what if technology was able to reduce all that hassle and bring the performance right to your computer or TV screen? All you have to do is purchase an online pass to the event, and tune in to the right channel at the right time as you would attending a concert. Certainly, if you are late, no usher will stop you at the door until the next interval.

Companies such as MEASAT Satellite Systems and Telstra's Bigpond are already pushing out online streaming of live concerts, some for a fee, others for free.

MEASAT is working with Transmedia Communication to bring iConcerts, an established European HD TV concert channel, to Asia. The on-demand library of live music concerts, TV shows and documentaries is available to all digital platforms such as IPTV, Web, OTT and mobile.

Live Gigs is a portal by Australian telco Telstra's Bigpond, which streams live pop and classical concerts as well as MP3s and music videos to subscribers.

One of the world's leading classical orchestras, Berlin Philharmonic, launched its Digital Concert Hall in 2008, giving music lovers around the world the chance to "attend" the concerts whether live or on demand, wherever they are.

Medici.tv streams a wide range of "live" and on-demand concerts from various concert houses in Europe, the latest being the Verbier Festival, an international classical music festival held in the mountain resort of Switzerland. Free video-on-demand concerts are available for a certain period of time, after which they become chargeable.

Across the continent, The Metropolitan Opera in New York has its own Met Player, which houses a collection of more than 300 performances in high-definition, some dating back to the 1980s, can be availed for a fee. The company also works with Sirius XM, an Internet radio platform to broadcast "live" performances.

Here in Asia, it seems none of the concert venues or arts companies have plans to roll out such online services.

When contacted, an Esplanade spokesperson said there are currently no plans to venture into Web streaming; Singapore Symphony Orchestra did not respond.

While many stop short at offering streaming performances due to high cost, copyright and infrastructure issues, companies have been leveraging on social-networking sites such as YouTube to provide previews or snippets of the performances, and Twitter to generate buzz and interest for upcoming shows.

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra uploads full song pieces from recent performances on its homepage. The company even has an iPhone app to keep concert-goers informed.

A regular subscriber of online concerts told ZDNet Asia that the ease and low cost of certain streaming services have allowed him to view a wide range of concerts without traveling to the concert site or awaiting the DVDs.

"Thanks to such services, I'm able to subscribe to a series of concerts or even stay up in the night to catch my favorite band in action 'live'. The cost involved is minimal, but I get the same thrills from the comfort of my bed" said Jack Tan who has since cut down on watching the real deal due to high costs.

3D broadcast technology on trial
While Web users here may not have the privilege of catching local arts companies in action online, the development of 3D TV broadcast technology could liven things up. Certain World Cup matches were screened in Hong Kong and Singapore cinemas in 3D, allowing viewers to catch the action as if they were right there at the South African football stadium.

In Singapore, the recent National Day Parade was also given a 3D perspective with the help of the Media Development Authority (MDA).

The government body is currently running a one-year 3D TV trial, which takes place on terrestrial TV, cable TV and Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) in partnership with MediaCorp, StarHub and SingTel, as well as vendors such as Panasonic, Ross Video, Evertz, XpanD and Multimedia Maestro.

According to MDA's CIO Yeo Chun Cheng: "The trial enables the trial partners to test their transmission signals on different platforms and address technical challenges in the delivery of 3D content to homes, while allowing service providers to explore viable business opportunities as they harness 3D technology to provide consumers with wider choices and better quality."

Apart from leading the trial with the partners, MDA will also launch a US$3.8 million fund to facilitate the trial and drive the development of content, talent and media services in the area of 3D.

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