I’ve seen the future of online live events — and it looked a lot like last night’s comic debate between Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart — The Rumble in an Air Conditioned Auditorium — at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University.
People in the live audience paid from $25 to $75 to be there, but you could watch it on the Internet for $4.95.
For $4.95 you got the ability to live stream the event and to re-stream and download it after the event. Stewart’s Busboy Productions Inc. and Bill O’Reilly’s Straight Talk Inc. produced the event and donated half the net profits to charity. You wouldn’t cheat a charity to save $4.95, would you?
This production and Louis CK’s Internet distribution of a video of his stand-up comedy act are early examples of a wave of event coverage on the Internet. On this, I have good news and bad news.
First, the bad news. I did watch the streaming video but, judging from the comments at #rumble2012 on Twitter, the live stream went poorly. A few people were satisfied, but many, including critic Roger Ebert were unhappy and saying they would apply for refunds. The Web site producer, Nox Solutions, under-provisioned the event, by most accounts.
Live streaming is important in a sporting event, but it is less so in this sort of event. True, if you were watching the live stream, you could have chatted and tweeted with others while it was going on, but you would give up the convenience of time-shifting. I downloaded and watched it the next day.
There were four levels of download quality available. I chose the highest quality file — 1.56 GB for 92 minutes of video. At that rate, the images are not super good, but they were fluid and comfortable to watch on my 1920 x 1200 laptop screen and looked fine, though surely not hi-def, on my TV set using a Play-On server and Roku box.
Quality problems will be solved by technology improvements. Whether that means streaming and downloading video from live events will become commonplace depends on consumer demand and production costs.
Let’s look at cost first. Below you see the number of people listed in the show credits. At first glance, it looks like a lot of people were involved. Consider, though, that they all worked for a brief period. And many are employees or otherwise related to O’Reilly and Stewart, anyway. Sure, there were substantial costs, planning, promoting, streaming, recording, and post production for a 92-minute program with a few fixed cameras would be reasonable given the size of the audience. Furthermore, they learned how to produce these events and one could imagine a company that efficiently produced event coverage as a service.
How about the demand for attending such an event? If I lived in Washington, I would not have considered driving to this event and paying $75, but, if I could watch it on my own schedule on my TV set or laptop for $4.95, I might. At that price, I would be more concerned about spending the time than the money.
Pundits will undoubtedly as whether I or anyone else would pay such an event, but that’s besides the point. The relevant question is whether there are there enough viewers worldwide to cover the costs? In a “long tail” world, I suspect that there would be large-enough audiences for all sorts of events.
What sorts of events would you like to see online? How about a substantive economic policy debate by a Keynesian like Paul Krugman and a more conservative, but reputable economist? A high school basketball game? A presentation or session at a professional conference?