Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Cultural Impact of Live Streaming Services: From Concerts to Conferences

The resources available to these kinds of events are impressive – full-scale video production with commentary, live chat from the audience, prize bets, and raffles, all of which are live and non-physical. It is not hard to see that this has a lot of potential. Parallel to this, we have artists and bands giving live performances via webcam with live chat to an online audience. This is a small-scale comparison to what could be in the future, but the basic foundation is the same: live music for a digital audience.

The furthest developed form of digital live events comes in the shape of video game live streaming, a phenomenon that kicked off from speed running and has turned into sign-ups for online tournaments and even international world championships.

The world is changing. With the rapid rise of the internet, the last 20 years have seen almost every single form of media revolutionize and move into the digital world, with a few exceptions. Music, video games, press, and movies have been easily transferred and accessed online, but this is not true for live events. Concerts, sports, conferencing, and theatre all still rely on a physical venue and present audience. However, this is changing. The exponential rise in the capabilities of the internet has led to extensive advances in telecommunication technology, and as society becomes increasingly saturated with digital media, it is becoming more and more apparent that the future of live events will lie in digital form.

Benefits of Live Streaming Services

The idea of being in two places at once is a common expression used to express two conflicting events that one would like to participate in. Live streaming services now allow people to actually do this. Instead of physically attending an event, people can now live stream that event from their computer. McCourt and Burkart see this as a benefit to the consumer but a loss for the event operators. They argue that the event operators may see decreased attendance at events as live streaming becomes more popular. This is due to the added expenses of travel and accommodations that can be negated by simply live streaming the event. But with live streaming, event operators can now offer an alternative ticket price for consumers who do not want to attend in person but would still like to view the event. This is a positive scenario for the event operator who now has a broader audience range for the event.

With the advancement in digital technology, live streaming services have become more accessible and affordable to the average consumer. Since their arrival, live streaming services have become increasingly popular as a platform for viewing live events in real time. The cultural impact of these services mainly lies in the newfound accessibility people can have to events, the global reach of these events, and the cost effectiveness of these services.

Increased Accessibility

In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven lifestyle, live streaming services allow for quick, easy, and efficient consumption of large data files (TV shows, movies, etc.). With increasing global internet speeds, it is now easier than ever to “watch what we want, when we want.” This is particularly relevant when considering the modern trend of time-shifted viewing. Previously, one would have had to check local TV guides or program listings and ensure that they were available at the time a show aired. Now, in the age of DVR, Netflix, and other on-demand services, consumers are beginning to expect full control over when they access their media. This “shift” indicates a preference to work viewing into a busy lifestyle as opposed to planning lifestyle around when a program is aired. Live streaming further facilitates this by removing the need to download large video files before viewing. In the past, one would have to wait hours or even days for a movie to download before watching it. Now, internet users are accustomed to clicking a link and having a video begin playing instantaneously. With a single click, live streaming allows for near-instant access to an array of media that is increasingly stored on “the cloud”.

Global Reach

A similar result was found in an interview conducted with Do Kwan Woo, CEO of EchoStream, a company that specializes in live streaming services in South Korea. The company did a project for an organization of overseas Korean residents that were interested in learning about traditional Korean culture. The lecture was viewed by audiences from 23 different countries, and it was reported that the stream “provided a new means of expression in the realm of cultural exchange”. In both examples, the livestreams facilitated a connection between an event’s target audience and an international community.

Live streaming is the solution to these scenarios. By making an event accessible via the internet, it is possible to connect with a global audience. This point is exemplified in a case study conducted by Vok Dams, an international communications and events agency. The case study examined a series of livestreams that occurred over a number of years for different BMW Group events. Each event was filmed in a German location, and the aim was to make the content accessible to selected BMW employees, regardless of their location. Through the live broadcasts, participants from countries such as South Africa, Korea, and Japan were able to view the events, and it was reported that the stream “created a very positive response and a greater identification with the company.” The study found that by reaching this global audience, the livestreams were successful in fostering a feeling of unity within the company.

In terms of the events industry, the benefit of a global audience is monumental. When a company operates in more than one country, stakeholders and staff appreciate being able to join in an event’s activities from other locations without incurring the massive cost and loss of productivity from traveling. In comparison to the stakeholders from developing countries, they simply may not have the option to travel due to the costs involved. These audiences are essentially a second-class market that is unable to participate in events that occur in first-world countries.

The issue of globalization in today’s society is paramount. The world is becoming more interconnected by the minute, with communication at the very core. The recent trend is to achieve a global presence; for companies, this can mean capturing an international market, whereas for an individual, this can mean furthering their career prospects.

Cost-Effectiveness

However, the situation changes for events with large live audiences and the entertainment industry. A large contributing factor to live streaming concerts is the decline in consumer purchases of music and also the high rate of illegal downloading, which has led to bands and artists seeking alternative ways to make their music profitable (Newman, 2010, p.347). Despite there being potential in the future for live streaming to be a cost effective means of artist publicity, it is suggested in a study by New Yorker, 2017, that there is not a conclusive net benefit from streaming royalties. This can be discouraging for artists as there is comparative reliable income from the physical ticket sales of live audience events. Similar sentiments are echoed by Hobey Echlin, president of TAG Strategic, who in a live streamed interview with Music Ally described the allocations of music royalties from streaming services as “pennies on the dollar” when compared with physical sales and other music promotion methods (Echlin, 2017, Music Ally).

It is interesting to consider how cost effectiveness in relation to live streaming services affects different types of events in divergent ways. Live streaming has the potential to be very cost effective for events such as corporate meetings. In circumstances where spread out employees are often required to travel large distances to attend a meeting, it may be more cost effective to set up a live stream for the meeting to ensure all employees are informed. As the cost of travel and accommodation is often far more than hiring a live streaming service, Heitkoetter suggests this is a very cost effective method (2010, p.206). Similar arguments can be made for other events such as university lectures. “Better understanding of cost effectiveness will lead to a larger understanding of the potential profitability for using this technology to add these classes to the schedule of online courses in the future” (Martin & Parker, 2014). Live streaming the lectures when compared with costs of organising events can be similarly deemed a budget friendly means of event delivery.

Cultural Implications of Live Streaming

Certain events may become private cultural exchanges amongst stream viewers as they comment and discuss the performance from around the globe. This has the potential to greatly affect any performance acts which have a large portion of younger audiences. As the live streaming generation gets older, they may bring with it a shift in emphasis from public performances to ones with greater value in smaller group or private settings. This trend is not only true of domestic cultures but also has implications for global access to culturally significant events. An example of this is the comparison of the declining interest and funding for programs that support teaching traditional arts in Japan to the recent rise in popularity of live streaming Japanese culture and video game events.

The effect of live streaming culture has the greatest implications in terms of cultural impacts. It has already demonstrated the ability to redefine certain cultural practices, foster new ones, and change the entire globe’s access to our shared global culture. Live streaming has the potential to redefine cultural practices in the west. One only need look to the popularity of video game streaming and the implications it has had on gaming culture. Whereas in the past, the arcade and then the LAN party had the greatest significance moment for gaming, it is now the seamless and instantaneous sharing of games and game culture with others across the globe. Streaming has made it such that gaming culture is more private, yet simultaneously shared with a larger and more diverse group of people. At the same time, games themselves are capable of promoting live streaming of cultural events. An example of this is the recent showing of the music video for the Guild Wars 2 in-game and its role in game culture promotion. Live streaming could very well eliminate most distinctions between public and private cultural events. An art exhibit could be displayed from the artist’s private studio any time and potential patrons from around the world could watch and inquire. In the not so distant future, the private recital and the public performance of a piece of music may have nearly identical cultural value.

Redefining the Concert Experience

The value and prestige inherent in a one-off performance is reduced if it is known that the same event can be accessed repeatedly. Though he is specifically talking about the effect of file sharing on music, the sentiment is parallel; while live streaming delivered content is not of higher quality than in-person attendance, the fact that the same content can be accessed in its original quality by the same quantity of money with the added convenience of home access does undercut the value of the live performance.

Live streaming has granted a degree of availability to these performances that was previously not possible. This degree of availability refers directly to the increase in the technological mediation of the performance for 500% is not increased attendance and in this quote attendance is distinctly in inverted commas implying an uncertainty of its usual meaning. One considers that possibly 500% more people actually viewed the performance even though they were not present in front of the musicians. This would violate the traditional definition of a concert as a live performance in front of an audience. Another scenario is that people who usually attend the concert are watching again to mirror the traditional event. In any case, the increased attendance and availability have certainly changed the perception of what constitutes the live performance.

The extent to which the impact of live streaming on our culture has been pronounced can be well exemplified by the multifaceted change in our engagement with entertainment. An illuminating case is the effect on the concert experience. Music and the arts have found fervent support across all levels of society for centuries. It is not the simple tune playing that receives this appreciation but the communal experience of the live performance.

Democratization of Knowledge

When compared to other methods of media distribution, live streaming offers the most intimate form of knowledge exchange between two persons or organizations. This is shown in an interview that was conducted with Ethnomusicologist and musician Ricardo Trimillos, who has done extensive work in the study of the gamelan community both in Hawaii and Indonesia. His work has involved frequent travels to and from Indonesia to learn and teach gamelan music and its respective cultural practices. This traveling gestures a form of cultural exchange. However, with funding, Trimillos has sponsored a lecture demo and live stream event featuring a well-known gamelan ensemble from Indonesia. This provided a very rare opportunity for the students of UH as well as the greater Hawaiian community to have direct contact and learning experience from a group based in Indonesia, without incurring the costs of bringing them over to Hawaii.

Live streaming extends the ability to learn and share knowledge among people, and due to the high accessibility of the internet, this can be done on a global scale. The concept of fostering cultural exchange typically examines the interaction between two different cultural groups. However, in the increasingly globalized world, this can be thought of as interaction between any two groups of people regardless of the content.

In the ethnographic film community, live streaming has made it feasible for filmmakers to share their own work as well as experiences with a global audience. This was evident when the Society of Visual Anthropology sponsored a live stream event to share films from its film festival. This sort of event demonstrates that live streaming is not only limited to current events but can also be an effective tool for archiving and preservation of certain cultural practices. This is in sharp contrast to mass media communication, which often results in misinterpretation or commodification of said practices.

The most popular way that knowledge exchange is facilitated is in the form of an online lecture or conference. This has been done by a wide range of academic institutions and has been easily facilitated thanks to the availability of open-source lecture capture software. This has resulted in an increased “digital presence” of the university and has allowed for information regarding practices in a certain field to be shared. This has been especially effective in the field of medicine as students from around the world are able to observe surgical practices.

Online streaming media has facilitated dispersed viewing of cultural events and performances for the audience. With the current developments in delivery technology and broadband adoption, this market has been able to mature within the past few years. Live streaming has been given a whole new meaning as different cultural organizations have looked towards using this in order to increase global awareness of their respective practices. Not only has this allowed for the promotion of events, but also a global exchange of knowledge and cultural practices.

Fostering Cultural Exchange

The use of live streaming makes it possible for one to interact with the event or the people participating in the event in real time. An example would be asking questions directly to the people in the event through chats or forums. This is particularly effective for language students engaging in live language learning. Live streaming creates a language environment that is not artificial and forced. Students can practice their language skills by interacting with native speakers of the language who are participating in a live event. This of course has positive effects and implications on language learning and knowledge.

Live streaming services provide access to a myriad of cultural events ranging from ceremonies, festivals, concerts, dance and martial arts demonstrations, sports and cooking shows, fashion shows and the list goes on. These events can be easily accessed via the internet through a live stream and in essence provide an insightful and educational look into foreign or different cultures. Being able to witness these events first hand is a huge advantage over reading, watching or learning about them through other means.

Cultural exchange is important to people because it exposes them to things that they were previously not familiar, and adds an element of understanding and empathy. The understanding and empathy comes from the fact that when one learns about a different culture, he/she is learning about the reasoning and the way of life of the people in that culture.

With the advancements and wealth of information widely available today, it is inevitable for people to gain interest and develop curiosity regarding cultures apart from their own. However, it is not always feasible nor practical to visit or experience a particular country or culture in person. As aforementioned, live streaming services provide a very practical alternative and with the idea of a virtual front row seat to cultural events and activities in mind, can essentially act as a form of cultural exchange.

Challenges and Future Outlook

One of the biggest setbacks to live streaming services is the issue of copyright and intellectual property rights. Many music and educational platforms are somewhat hesitant to endorse live streaming services due to the fear that they will lose control over their content and receive no revenue in return. Currently, for many consumers, watching a live stream of a music festival or concert is as good as the real thing; as it provides high-quality audio and video while removing travel and ticket costs. Some might argue this is disadvantageous for the artist or music label as it’s essentially a loss of revenue from CD and ticket sales. Measures have also been taken in countries such as Japan to restrict online music services to prevent excessive damage to the music industry. A survey of 1000 people aged 15-69 in Japan conducted in 2014 found that 20.3% had used YouTube for music listening and 16.4% had used it for music video viewing. The Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers, and Publishers subsequently asked YouTube to tighten regulations on music videos and restrict uploads to those that have publishing rights from copyright holders.

The recent success of live streaming services in China has created a new way of experiencing entertainment and educational services. The widespread use of the internet in modern society has allowed these live streaming services to gain an advantage over traditional broadcast media such as television. This paper has previously investigated the consumption of live streaming services and the effects of parasocial interaction on viewers. It also looked at how live streaming services can remove the limitations set by geographical location and bring people from different cultures together. This final exploration into the future of live streaming services will discuss the challenges these services must first overcome and how the industry may progress through those obstacles.

Copyright and Intellectual Property Concerns

Often, as someone goes to live stream an event, what they are planning to broadcast is copyrighted in some way. When it comes to copyrighted material, people cannot broadcast things such as movies, television shows, sports matches, and so on. Music is also copyrighted, but since it is not included in the video content and merely in the background, it is much harder to regulate. Rock and electronic music artists tend to not care about people broadcasting their music, and some even encourage it for the publicity, using it as a way to gain more fans. However, the same cannot be said for mainstream music artists. A lot of music that is well known is copyrighted, and if it is being used without permission, it is a violation of copyright and could result in the stream being shut down. With the recent Twitch crackdown, streamers now have to worry about muting VODs due to having music that is copyrighted. When audio is muted in a VOD, all that can be heard is the streamer speaking to him or herself, making for a less enjoyable viewer experience. Because of the focus on copyrighted audio in VODs, streamers may feel pressured to speak more rather than playing a game or doing some other activity where it’s more beneficial to be silent. This can potentially push some RRcherrypie types off the site.

Quality and Technical Issues

Another common problem with streaming video occurs when the server does not provide fast start capabilities or the client does not properly implement it. In a typical stream with multiple levels of QoS/priority, the scheduler will allocate packets to different queues and serve the packets with the highest priority and available bandwidth. However, if a large queue of packets exists in the priority queue, the scheduler may send an old packet in an attempt to avoid sending the current packet without sufficient bandwidth to meet its delay jitter requirement. This attempt is made assuming that the old packet will have a better probability of being successfully delivered. As a result, this can cause excessive delay and jitter at the higher priority level, so the client will often request a redirect to the next level of QoS by deliberately dropping the current packets in hopes that the delay and jitter can be reduced. When the server redirects to the next level of QoS, the client may experience a spurt loss because it is unable to locate the restart point for the new stream. This results in the transmission of data from the middle of the FIR filter transient response period. The client will not properly be able to decode the late frames and they will often appear to be corruption of the blocks. This is yet another attempt to redirect to lower QoS levels on the part of the server, which will greatly increase the probability of stream termination since an overloaded lower priority level will again not meet delay and jitter requirements. The server and client must both recognize the importance of the start point of the stream and take the necessary steps to prevent the aforementioned problems.

They note that excessive frame-dropping or encoding at a low resolution results in poor quality when the original source is actually quite good. On the other hand, attempting to encode at a resolution higher than what the network can handle results in wasted bits when the higher layers of the scalable stream cannot be decoded. A balanced tradeoff between frame rate and resolution is necessary to produce the best perceived quality. Because excessive frame drops can cause temporary jerkiness in the video, it is often perceived to be of lower quality than a video that is consistently slower. The decision to drop frames and how many frames to drop should consider the importance of the motion in the scene and the available bits. The aforementioned rate control algorithm takes this into consideration. When making ill-informed in-stream encoding decisions, it can further exacerbate quality problems and waste bits. An example of this can be using constant bit rate encoding where the buffer overflow and underflow conditions cause the VBR and CBR portions of the stream to each carry suboptimal quality.

Even as the throughput of internet connections improves on a worldwide scale, the occurrence of buffering and stalls in streamed video content still exists. Some common quality problems with streaming media are listed and an experimental system is introduced to customize the content in order to minimize the effects of network-induced quality degradation. In their system, they note that network conditions can often degrade to below the system’s encoding capabilities, resulting in a tradeoff between frame rate and resolution.

Integration with Virtual Reality

Given the fact that virtual reality is becoming increasingly usable and available, and that it is projected to have a significant impact upon the music and movie industries, it raises the question of whether virtual reality could be used in conjunction with streaming of live events. Should the quality of a VR system become “good enough,” it is not inconceivable that someone could put on a VR headset and feel as though they were actually at a live concert. If the virtual reality system was capable of creating a setting analogous to that of the live event for the user, bands and event promoters might be able to sell virtual tickets to people who could not attend a show. This is an attractive option for those putting on live events since it is an untapped market for people who were not able to attend the physical event, and it has the potential to generate significant revenue. Step says that considering the expense and environmental impact of large-scale travel, virtual tickets for a VR setting at a live event could “alternatively be a more ethical and proper way to witness a festival”.

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