It was billed as ”The End of the World Wide Web as you know it.” At least that’s how the full-page New York Times ad described Pixelon.com’s Oct. 29 iBash99 webcast. And it sounded too good to be true: a free mega-concert hosted by David Spade and Web vixen Cindy Margolis, toplined by the Who and showcasing Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes, Chely Wright, Dixie Chicks, Sugar Ray, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and Kiss—all broadcast from the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas via the Internet in full-screen, full-motion streaming video. Admittedly, it was a helluva way to announce the arrival of a new company. Just don’t throw away your TV yet.
The evening’s first stumbling block was technological: It took me two hours and three PCs to tap into the event. The show was so popular it ”maxed out the broadband capabilities and the satellite delivery system,” according to Pixelon marketing honcho Sean Montgomery. In English: So many people were logging on to the site (and on to viewing partner VH1.com), that other people were shut out; while representatives from the company estimate that more than a million people successfully connected, they don’t say how many didn’t. After several attempts to get through on a high-speed DSL connection and then a T1 line (both of which would have let me watch the event using Pixelon’s free downloadable player), I finally dialed in on a 56K modem and viewed the event — all nine hours of it — on the Windows Media Player, in neither full screen nor full motion.
Content was another problem. A typical hour included about 30 minutes of live music; a brief flurry of TV-like ads for Oldsmobile, Chevy, and Sprint; a bikini-clad Margolis participating in endlessly dumb skits to kill time; Pixelon execs and audience members being interviewed about how great Pixelon or the upcoming band was; and Cindy and David introducing the next music act. This repeated with each new artist.
Yes, the music was great — especially seeing Pete Townshend pull his trademark windmill guitar strum on ”I Can’t Explain” — but the rest was ad-libbed chaos. Highlights/lowlights included hearing Rimes discuss the influence of Janis Joplin’s ”emotional” singing, watching comedian Michael Berger go through a woman’s found purse and describe the contents (mostly pills and cash), wondering if Berger really believed ”a billion people are watching the show,” and witnessing Kiss’ pyrotechnics.
Had I gone online via a broadband connection (T1 line, cable modem, or DSL) and viewed the show using the Pixelon player, I would have been able to choose from a variety of camera angles at any given time. ”If you’re a Gene Simmons fan, maybe you just want to watch the tongue or the audience perspective or backstage,” says Pixelon director of business development Joel J. Paris. Even on a 56K modem, though, I was looking at multiple camera angles, since the default stream (or ”director’s cut”) zipped around from band close-ups to squealing-audience shots to scrambling backstage interviews.
Visitors can still go to http://www.pixelon.com to view hundreds of hours of archived video. Meanwhile, the company plans to webcast more entertainment soon—it has inked deals with Disney Sports, Mighty Ducks, and the Anaheim Angels. The Who have also expressed an interest in creating webcasts, which may explain how Pixelon got the group to do this gig in the first place. ”You can’t just go buy the Who,” says company founder Michael Fenne. ”You have to offer them something more. We’re having talks with them about producing one of their unpublished rock operas.” That’s right: Who’s next. B-