Austin City Limits: The Greatest Webcast In Festival History…

Coachella was solid. Made In America was choppy or incompatible. Outside Lands was audio, Treasure Island nonexistent.  But after watching Austin City Limits on YouTube’s livestream, something changed dramatically in the festival space.  Live-streaming can be a temperamental beast, but this might have been one of the – if not THE – best live festival streams pulled off to date.

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  Perhaps Ultra’s coverage also approached this state of near-perfection.  At ACL, delicate shots from multiple cameras danced around the stage, expressions were real and performances cinematic.  Buffering was rare, if it happened at all. You were almost baking in the Texas sun yourself, except, right on stage.  Right up close.

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  The most incredible part about this experience is that if felt like pre-recorded, highly-produced video footage.  But it was live. And not only was the fidelity incredible, the sound – as pumped through a home stereo system – was also pretty damn good.  It was a major step up.

But wait: is this good for festivals?

The quick, tech-friendly answer is absolutely yes, based on simple math.  ACL sold out within hours, just like Coachella before it, and people traveled hundreds (or sometimes, thousands) of miles for the experience.  And, also like Coachella, ACL is bursting at the seams: in 2013, there will be two, back-to-back weekend events.  That is, even though millions are live-streaming these events, often hours on end.

So what’s not to love?

Perhaps the question isn’t whether a live stream should exist or not, but how it should exist to maximize festival revenues.  And ACL was definitely thinking along these lines: marquee headliners like Neil Young  a large number of performers simply weren’t streamed, and sensations like smell, taste and temperature just can’t be transmitted over broadband (yet). You had to be there, attendance had its benefits.

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  Which introduces another perfect, digitally-bred dilemna.  Skip the stream, and you’re gambling with the relevance of your festival.  Yet despite the millions of views, streaming revenues are probably pennies compared to what a festival gets from tickets, parking, concessions, and merchandise sales.  And for smaller, struggling festivals outside of the chosen few, the choices are far more difficult.