Lights, Camera, Aktion!

Preceded by much fanfare, the Berlin Philharmonic broadcast their inaugural concert via their “Digital Concert Hall” project yesterday. I have to admit, I didn’t shell out the nearly US$15.00 to experience the concert but luckily enough, regular reader Michael Brewer did and was kind enough to pass along his impressions of the event…

The Berlin Phil in 3d, er, HD
Experience The Berlin Phil in 3D, er, HD

What you need to know:

  • Concerts are broadcast in high-definition video and audio (but will only sound as good as the speakers you have connected to your computer allow).
  • Concerts are streamed live and buyers can access the program of up to 48 hours after each performance.
  • The Berlin Phil promises to provide access to archived concerts from the entire season (but at the time this article is published, are not available).

Michael, an Application Programmer Specialist at Franklin University and self-described garden-variety community/semi-pro musician (a bass trombonist to be precise), had the following observations about the concert experience:

  • “The experience reminded me of watching an orchestral concert on PBS but streamed over the computer.”
  • “The video production was directed well, for the most part (sometimes they would stay too long with an instrumental soloist whose solo line had merged with other sections, but that’s not an uncommon problem).”
  • “There were several shots of the audience, which helped one feel at least a little part of the audience.”
  • “After the concert ended and the credits rolled, the interface kind of quit and I couldn’t get back to the archive (to see how the other concerts look, for example).
  • “I liked how the virtual doors opened 30 minutes prior to the downbeat. Once checked in, there was a video montage of the (beautiful) hall for a while then they cut to a live shot of the hall filling with audience members, which was kind of neat.”
  • “I thought the audio quality was gorgeous but the image was equally impressive. In fact, it seemed much too close at spots; I now know more than I really care to about the skin condition of several members of that orchestra.”
  • “I could modify the video quality (in case of bandwidth problems) and pull up concert notes while the program’s progressing but no other control options were provided.”

After processing the concert, Michael had the following suggestions:

  • It would be nice if the Berlin Philharmonic would list some of their prices in USD (since it’s not difficult to see if an Internet user is coming from the USA).
  • Although the introduction of the digital concert hall for members of the in-house audience was nice; it might be good for whoever is speaking next time to look directly into the camera and greet the Internet audience at some point.
  • It might sound silly, but offering some kind of virtual “applause” meter for the internet audience might be nice (I know I wanted to show my appreciation for the concert).
  • I would have liked to have had the ability to roll back the stream to catch anything I might have missed.
Special thanks to Michael Brewer for filling us in on Berlin's Digital Concert Hall
Special thanks to Michael Brewer for filling us in on Berlin's inaugural digital concert hall event

Thanks to Michael for taking the time to share his experience. I was struck by how the Berlin Philharmonic designed the digital concert hall project to function and feel so much like a traditional, static concert experience. I had hoped there might have been something more dynamic that encouraged some interaction and took advantage of the online format.

Michael mentioned that there was no sort of message board, comment bucket, etc. for users but that’s precisely the sort of thing that should be in place. Not only would it build a stronger connection between the organization and users but it would serve as a platform to feature musicians and guest artists.

In a sense, as it was described, this concert reminds me of the first generation of VHS tapes. In case that’s before your time, they used to start off with a few seconds of static and jump right into the movie and at the movie’s conclusion, it cut right back to static. Now days, everyone is well aware of how well movie studios use the time before and after the video concludes; in fact, the movie presentation is wrapped inside a separate interactive (and promotional) layer.

I did stop by the digital concert hall page again and I have to say that I hope they abandon the all-flash format ASAP. Navigating from one page to another was an entirely frustrating experience and I ended up having to go back to the main page several times to get to where I wanted to go. Overall, the platform was annoying to use due to multiple delays when loading new pages and to add insult to injury, users were required to create an account to access most pricing and some scheduling info.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see where this project goes and whether or not the organization will release unrestricted data regarding production costs and revenue. In the meantime, you can visit Berlin’s digital concert hall here:

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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4 thoughts on “Lights, Camera, Aktion!”

  1. I’ve poked around the archives some more and have a few additional observations/comments:

    – Archived performances allow one to skip forward or rewind as one might expect; however, after viewing one performance (live or archived), the Flash interface becomes curiously unresponsive. One has to restart Firefox (and perhaps reboot) before one can see another performance.

    – Each work on a concert is shown separately, which isn’t obvious from the main archive list (and also is a little difficult to manage, due to the one-performance-per-attempt situation mentioned above).

    – It’d be nice to be able to give gift “tickets”. I’d also like to show this to students, but am uncertain of the licensing.

    • Great observations Michael, thanks for adding them. The flash issue is something I sincerely hope the Berlin Phil addresses. Any regular FireFox user likely knows about and utilizes Flashblock which makes using an all-Flash site worthless. Yes, you can whitelist a domain name but there are inevitably key elements that are pulled from other domain names and the site still ends up functioning poorly. And based on my traffic stats at Adaptistration, January 2009 (so far) is the first month where FireFox browsers are the majority share browser.

      I hope the Phil sends you a few “comp” tickets for all of your feedback!

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