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  • Rich Kassirer

Best Seat in My House: Q&A with Concert Window co-founder

Can’t make it to Bonnaroo or Coachella?  Live streaming technology finally makes it worthwhile to bring the festivals – and even local shows – to your computer.

In the past months we dropped in at Coachella in California to catch a set by Jenny and Johnnie, stopped by South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, to see the Civil Wars, made it just in time to watch Grace Potter rip it up at the Mountain Jam festival in upstate New York, and even caught a couple of small shows, Todd Sickafoose’s Tiny Resistors and Carrie Rodriguez, at New York City’s Le Poisson Rouge and Club Passim in Cambridge, respectively.

No, we don’t have it made, traveling the country seeing shows. We saw all of these shows from the comfort of our sofa, our favorite chair, and even while lounging in bed – via webcasts.

Until recently, watching live streams meant blurred or choppy video with audio that might or might not match with it. But now, it seems, every major festival is webcasting, and some of the results are stunningly good.

The Coachella festival, which was streamed by YouTube, stood out, offering multiple-stage access. If you didn’t like one act, you could click to a different act performing on different stage at the same time. The quality of the broadcast was superb – even full-screen.

Even local shows are being offered on the Web, thanks to a company called Concert Window (, out of the Boston area, which began by webcasting at the famous Club Passim in Cambridge and has now expanded to three locales in the Boston area, as well as New York City, New Hampshire, and perhaps in the future out West.

We talked by e-mail with Forrest O’Connor, co-founder of Concert Window, about the present and future of webcasting concerts:

Q. Tell me about Concert Window… What was the original goal and how are you doing thus far? What is the ultimate goal?

A. My good friend Dan Gurney and I came up with the idea for Concert Window in June 2010 after reflecting on the plight of the music industry. Dan and I met at Harvard – he graduated in 2009, I in 2010. Our ultimate goal is to generate a new revenue stream for musicians and venues. Moreover, with enough venues on the same network, we hope to create a significant cross-promotional effect that benefits everyone – venues, musicians, and viewers. Last, webcasts are, of course, a handy promotional tool for both musicians and venues. We have contracts with five venues and are in talks with about eight or nine others. We are open to all types of venues, although we may focus our brand in the near future.

Q. How do you make money, if you do, or how will you in the future? A. We are not currently making money, but in the future, we will implement either a subscription or sponsorship system to generate revenue.

Q. How is it decided which concerts to broadcast and which ones you don’t? A. We believe that all musicians who perform in our partner venues should have the opportunity to webcast their performances. Of course, we have a high-quality threshold for venues, so we’re confident that almost all concerts we webcast will be, shall we say, watchable!

Q. I would think most musicians would be into getting their music out there, but do established musicians worry more about “giving away their concerts free”? A. We’re fortunate to have partnered with venues that present fairly open-minded artists. A few artists are concerned about “giving away their concerts for free,” but not many. Actually, most artists are excited about the opportunity to perform for their fans no matter where in the world they live. Despite time zone differences, we have attracted viewers from over 100 countries.

It is worth mentioning that our webcasts may not be free forever. Our content is valuable, and venues and musicians do deserve to earn some revenue from it.

Q. How have the venues responded? What are their main concerns? A. Most venues we’ve spoken with are thrilled about our service and our vision. The fact is, we aren’t approaching venues so that we can harness their content for our own benefit – it’s just the opposite. We’re offering venues an incredible service, something that can have a notable impact on their brand and visibility.

It is true that many venues have raised concerns about ticket sales, but to us that’s really a non-issue. A webcast is not a substitute for a live concert experience. After thinking about it for a minute or two, most venue managers understand that.

Q. On a larger scale, it seems that live streaming has really taken off recently. I watched some of SXSW and also some of Coachella, which was streamed live by YouTube… Do you see in the future that people across the country and across the world will be able to watch most of these festivals live? A. Absolutely. Live online video is in its infancy right now, and it is getting easier to produce it. (A couple companies have developed “streaming backpacks” that allow videographers to webcast live video wirelessly.)

Q. In your opinion, is this now free with the intention that in the future it will all be put behind a paywall? A. We’re still keeping our monetization options open, but at some point down the line, that’s a definite possibility.

Q. I’m sure the festival promoters must be looking at this seriously – part worrying and part licking their chops! A. I would say festival promoters are licking their chops more than they are worrying about the development of live online video. As a festivalgoer myself, I would never let a live webcast – no matter how well it is produced – keep me from attending a festival. But if I weren’t planning to go to a particular festival or if I lived too far away to attend? I would absolutely tune in. That’s the beauty of it.

Q. Talk about the technology of live streaming… where it was even a year or two ago and where it is now? A. Of course, everything in the tech world changes so rapidly. It goes without saying that it is becoming increasingly easier to webcast high-quality live video. Live online video has been around for over a decade, but until just a couple years ago, it typically looked poor because most video producers and consumers simply didn’t have the necessary bandwidth.

Q. The picture quality to me still varies a lot. SXSW was pretty shaky but Coachella I could watch full screen on my laptop to pretty great effect. Can it still get better? And if so what needs to happen? A. The variety in picture quality signifies how undeveloped the realm of live online video really is. It will get better – and quickly. Generally speaking, as bandwidth increases, so does quality. Pretty soon, when it becomes the norm to have guaranteed symmetrical 5 Mbps Internet connection speeds, you will be able to watch a lot more live video full screen on your laptop.

Q. What about sound quality, can that improve or is that only as good as your computer speakers? A. Although sound quality will improve, it won’t improve as much. Computers are built to present high-quality visuals, not high-quality audio.

Q. What does it mean to live streaming now that YouTube has become involved? A. My first reaction to YouTube’s foray into the live streaming realm was: Finally! What took them so long? It’s a great development. The more live online video becomes a regular mode of entertainment, the more it benefits us.

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