Yesterday, I received a mahoosive box from the Berlin Phil, containing the best poster an orchestra has ever made, a copy of this season’s program, and a season pass for the Digital Concert Hall – a streaming video service that lets you watch live and archived performances from the Philharmonie.
I was mostly excited about the poster until I tried the video thing. Now I’m totally hooked.
When I heard about the Digital Concert Hall, I dismissed it as doomed to failure. It’s expensive (about $200) and it’s streaming, so you’re tethered to your computer. Other people have tried similar things, and they’ve failed to acquire a critical mass of customers. This one isn’t even that easy to use. It seemed to me that the Berlin Phil’s entire plan marketing plan was to be the Berlin Phil. Now that I’ve spent an afternoon in the office being serenaded by what might very well be the best orchestra in the world – playing exactly what I want them to – I’m starting to wonder if that might be enough.
They really are very good.
Here’s the thing:
I eat pasta from Italy, strawberries from Mexico and cheese from England. My computer was made in China, my shirt in Morrocco, my watch in Switzerland and my car in Sweden. In this global economy, live orchestral music is one of the few locally produced commodities that I consume.
Until now, it has been cheaper to do it that way. It would add about a 1000% to the price of the concert ticket to fly me to Germany and a 100% to every ticket to fly the orchestra to California. Driving for ninety minutes to see the San Francisco Symphony was both the cheapest and easiest way for me to hear live music.
As I’ve written before, going to Davies Symphony Hall isn’t always cheap, easy, or satisfying. Suddenly, there’s a much better orchestra, their concerts start and end at convenient times, and they deliver – to my house and my office.
What does this mean?
The technology that allows me to experience a concert live from Berlin is pretty good. The DCH uses H.264 video and AAC audio – the same codecs that you’d get from iTunes, but with the option of higher bitrates. They haven’t over-engineered the sound or got carried away with video direction – the sound is like sitting in the hall, and the view is rather better. It isn’t a perfect reproduction of a live performance but it’s better than Hulu, it works, and it will improve.
As technology erodes the distinction between live and recorded performances, local venues will have to adapt. Their edge over Berlin is no longer convenience. They might want to work on that, but their USP is the excitement of a genuinely live, in-person experience.
Just imagine you run a suburban American pizza restaurant, and one day some crazy fool starts delivering much better real Italian pizzas, flown in from Naples at the speed of light, and delivered to your customers’ doors, for a tenth of the price of a sit-down meal at your establishment.
You’d have to find a way to make your restaurant a fun place to hang out, or you’d be in real trouble.