Monday 18 September 2017

O brave new world, that has such freebies in 't!

Last night I popped on the London Symphony Orchestra's live stream of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, broadcast in full and for free on YouTube. Most of my Twitter timeline seemed to be there, at the Barbican in London, and I was able to join them, for free. Live. Did I mention it was free? And live? Well it was.

The LSO's big catch, Sir Simon Rattle, brings with him an expectation of innovation and outreach, and free broadcast on YouTube would seem one way to chip away at that thick wall of assumption about classical music's supposed remoteness and elitism. They're not the first to try this sort of thing - live online broadcasts (though very not free) have been pioneered by Rattle's previous band, die Berliner Philharmoniker; Bachtrack, too, have of late been hosting free streams (including a rather exciting one from Gothenburg this Wednesday with some rareish Shostakovich (yes please) and an actual symphony by a non-dead composer). The buzz of Rattle's opening concerts, though, seems like a sensible time to the LSO to really go for broke and reach a bigger online audience than ever before. They're doing all three Stravinsky/Diaghilev ballets next Sunday which should, in theory, be the night-in of choice for every A level music student ever.

Build it - with the world's most sought-after maestro and essentially a free ticket to events sold out months and months and months ago - and they'll come, right? Not, perhaps, on yesterday's evidence. The LSO put on a good show - high-quality sound and image, a variety of fixed camera angles (pleasingly straight forward in comparison to the swoopy BBC Proms TV coverage), pleasant and informal interval fluff, and a live chat feed if you like that sort of thing - but YouTube's own viewer counter never rose above 300, and hovered below 100 for some of the second half. Maybe their numbers weren't accurate, and maybe there were other ways of watching this that will have boosted the figures, but the data I could see suggested that we're some way away from teenage bedrooms around the planet and smart TVs in far-flung living rooms reverberating en mass to the sound of live-streamed orchestral splendour.

It's also not clear where the LSO wants this to go, and if the free model is the aim or the way into a Berliner-style monetised package. It could be a "pay us a few quid and watch on YouTube" deal with the occasional freebie intended to hook in some newbies. If it really was only 300 people watching one of the world's greatest orchestras and one of classical music's most recognisable figures, it suggests that there's a long, long way to go. And in a world of freebies, in which it's entirely possible to consume almost any entertainment for free if you know how, what is there to suggest that the LSO playing live and effectively gratis is any more worth your time than any of the other stuff that'll cost you nothing? Of course, it's really super-exciting-premium-freeness to me, and probably to you, but classical music's greatest problem isn't the price. Rather, it's the mental block that exists in the minds of the many, many people who believe it isn't for them. And we can't discount the failure of the great institutions of the art form to make the case for their own specialness.

So well done LSO, who are really trying things where others stick to the programme regardless of effect. I will pester people I know to watch it all online. But this is likely to be only one little piece in a much bigger picture. If the world does come to appreciate the hugeness of the bargain they're currently missing on YouTube, arts-marketing-types will need to have found the way to crack some much larger barriers than the cost of admission.

Overgrownpath has some interesting musings on some related issues, not least the way in which digital platforms have allowed entertainment megacorporations to monopolise culture.

The picture at the head of this blog is a screen shot from the LSO's YouTube channel. At the time of writing, the video version of the live stream has had just over 4000 views. The seating capacity of the Barbican Hall is 1943. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


Jon Jacob said...

It's not a bad viewership - 300 or so. Wigmore Hall Song Comp hovered around the same level. Also Berlin Phil only has 30K subscribers - though I imagine they don't have 30K viewers all the time! Like you, it's the comparatively unfussy presentation of the concert I like the most. Would I pay per view in future? Yep. Definitely.

Anonymous said...

The live-streaming was also available via Medici TV and broadcasted BBC Radio 3. Which probably add viewers and listeners.

Andrew Morris said...

Thanks for the comments.

Jon - I too would pay, and I was always put of the Berliner Phil deal by the stress induced simply by thinking about all the concerts I'd have to watch to make it worthwhile. Pay as you go would be preferable. On numbers - there is a difference, I fear, between "comparable" and "good" - if Wigmore was also around 300 viewers, it sounds like they've both got a lot of work to do.

Anon (names would be nice!) - Didn't realise it was on Medici too, though I wonder if splitting the audience doesn't bring its own problems. I didn't listen on Radio 3 (which I might have done) because I could watch it online. I'm sure Rattle will always bring in the listeners for R3, but might the station avoid broadcasting a less-starry concert if it's available elsewhere? Presumably the hope of putting it on YouTube is to attract new audience, but what happens if all this multi-platforming just divides up the existing one?

Jon Jacob said...

I'd agree on Berlin Phil. Medici's offer is 'softer' on the demands what with there being a considerable archive of docs and wotnot. I suspect part of Wigmore's challenge this year was the competition falling during the Proms - most of their potential wider audience had their attention diverted by the Proms. For me, the biggest challenge all of the 'classical music' sector face is coalescing on one distribution point (other than the BBC). If they all committed to a 'free to online' model say on YouTube where more users have apps on Connected TVs, then awareness could rise and viewership increase.