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How Live Streaming Brings Us Together

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During last night's iHeart Living Room Concert for America, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas took Elish's breakout hit "Bad Guy"—a pulsing mix of electronics and layered vocals punctuated by an impossibly low bass drop—and stripped it down to an intimate, playful acoustic version, appropriately delivered from Eilish's couch. In its own way, that transformation encapsulated exactly what streaming is so great at, and what sets it apart from just about any other medium. 

Other performers including Dave Grohl, H.E.R., and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong did the same, taking arena rockers and raise-your-lighter anthems and playing them solo in their home studios and living rooms. The Living Room concert is just the most high-profile example of the hundreds of live performances that have been streamed on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, but even with Elton John as its host, the premise is the same: Use the simplest streaming tools to deliver music to the world at a time when we can't go to concerts. (NPR is keeping a running list, updating it multiple times daily.)

The Living Room Concert reached a good-sized audience (4.7 million viewers, according to The Hollywood Reporter), but by its very existence it proved something more important, and something those of us in the industry have been saying for years: With streaming, you don't need a big budget or top-of-the-line equipment to get results. If anything, the fact that these performers weren't in arenas or stadiums made them more accessible and made the performances more poignant—Backstreet Boys' Kevin Richardson's kids playing along on toy guitars and Armstrong's dog hopping up on the couch beside him made it all the more fun to watch (and not in some corny, Us Weekly "Stars—They're Just Like Us!" way, either).

As awful as the COVID-19 crisis is, it's encouraged all of us to turn to online video to create and connect. NASCAR has turned to iRacing while its speedways are shut down. The pundits on the nightly news shows are coming to us from their home offices, living rooms, and libraries, which are all a whole lot more interesting than a studio set. Kids are having video chats with their teachers. And even the most technophobic folks have probably participated in at least one Zoom meeting in the last two weeks. All of these developments are opening up the world of streaming video to millions of people who hadn't given it much thought a mere month ago. (Have you tried buying a webcam lately? Good luck.)

More than the Super Bowl or the Olympics, this is where streaming is going to see the biggest growth and have its biggest impact. As important as those tentpole events are, as popular as Netflix and Hulu and Prime Video are, they're really just mimicking broadcast and cable with some additional bells and whistles. But when a performer—or a yoga instructor, or a motivational speaker, or a visual artist—turns on that camera in their own space and talks or teaches or plays directly to the viewer (even if that viewer is one of hundreds or thousands or millions), that's something that no other video medium can match.

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