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Network Live: A New Era in Streaming Entertainment?

Building on the success of AOL’s coverage of Live8, Live8 producer Kevin Wall is heading up a joint venture between AOL, concert promoter AEG LIVE, and XM Satellite Radio dubbed Network Live. On September 19, Bon Jovi will perform the network’s debut show at the Nokia Theatre Times Square, marking the kickoff of one of the first entertainment companies to rely solely on online distribution. Network Live hopes to prove that streaming media has distinct advantages over traditional media distribution and that these advantages can be translated into a successful business model.

Combining the distribution channels and brand names of AOL and XM with the promotional capabilities and concert venues of AEG, Network Live aims to position itself as the premier provider of live entertainment over the Internet. "For the first year, Network Live will primarily be performance based with a lot of comedy and music," says Network Live CEO and founder Kevin Wall. He expects to deliver, on average, one major event each week until the end of the year and then expand offerings considerably in 2006.

"Next year we plan to shoot two hundred shows in total," says Wall. "Until the end of this year, you’re primarily going to see major artists. Early next year, we’re going to reach down and feature breaking acts and new acts." Wall foresees about 80 of these lesser-known acts being given the opportunity to perform for Network Live’s audience in 2006, whether they have a record deal or not. "How they reach audiences in terms of ticket sales will be as important as whether they’re signed with a record company," says Wall. "There are bands that are touring today that aren’t signed to a record company but are selling seats in major markets. We’re looking for great live performances as well as great music."

The concerts that will be distributed through Network Live will come together in a variety of ways. "Some we are organizing for Network Live. Others we are going on-site where a band is already touring and we’re setting up our camera. For others still, we’ll actually be going to the very beginning of a tour and broadcasting the very first day," says Wall. So for the music industry, Network Live will present myriad options for raising awareness about musical acts both large and small.

Going Beyond TV’s Limits
Overall, Wall’s vision will push forward with exploring the full capabilities that streaming live offers over traditional delivery mechanisms like TV. "When you’re watching most live events on TV today, everything’s packaged between commercials. Everything’s fit into a nice tight package," says Wall. "Consumer viewing, though, is not precise in its calendar. With streaming, in terms of start and finish you can let things happen as they happen. Something can be four minutes, something can be three hours; it doesn’t have to be in half-hour segments. When it’s live, we don’t have to overproduce it. There’s a charm associated with viewing live events and the possibility of the talent making mistakes."

The value of this freedom to viewers was evident in the mountain of praise heaped upon Live8 relative to MTV’s broadcast, which was panned by the blogosphere. "As you saw on Live8, what these platforms today offer is much more [than traditional TV]. We can offer multiple content sources at the same time. We can cover multiple camera angles," Wall continues. "A great magnifier of all these things was Live8. It showed off some of the strengths of the medium. We’re at a tipping point, and I think that (Live8) was the beginning of it, that I Love Lucy event, or the Beatles playing on the Ed Sullivan Show."

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