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Brooklyn Bowl Nashville: FANS in the Stream

On May 15, Brooklyn Bowl Nashville became one of the first music venues in the country to deliver a livestreamed concert with no on-site audience. But Dayglo Presents' "Fans in the Stream" technology brought the online audience to the performers and to each other.

New York City-based live music and media company Dayglo Presents’ planned opening of the third location of its popular, media-rich Brooklyn Bowl venues was in the right place at the wrong time. Joining successful outposts in Brooklyn and Las Vegas, the new Nashville, Tenn.-based location was officially scheduled to open its doors on March 14—just as social distancing measures were shuttering live concert venues across the country.

Signature elements of the Brooklyn Bowl brand include copious bowling lanes and live music, featuring popular bands captured with multiple cameras, switched live, streamed, and projected via IMAG throughout the venue. Nashville was set to debut with 19 lanes of bowling, spread over two levels, as well as food and drink and a lineup of acts on its calendar, including St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Angel Olsen, The Revivalists, Larkin Poe, and The String Cheese Incident.

The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled most of those plans. But on May 15, Brooklyn Bowl Nashville became one of the first music venues in the country to deliver an entirely audience-less concert when Grammy Award-winning Nashville-based artist Jason Isbell and his wife and bandmate, Amanda Shires, took the stage to celebrate the release of their new album, Reunions, and debut songs from it.

Streamed live via FANS, a streaming platform that carries the tagline “Be in the Stream,” Isbell and Shires’ Brooklyn Bowl show wasn’t entirely audience-less. As with other FANS events, participants in the live stream could choose from two options: tune in, sit back, and underneath the event page’s video player to enter a Zoom room and join a semi-bidirectional stream with other viewers that switched between shots of the artists and the fans. In the case of the Isbell-Shires show (below), participants featured on the FANS CAM (something like a fan-cam at a baseball game, but pulling from remote sources) appeared on projection screens at the Brooklyn Bowl, visible to the performers as they played.

“When we found out we could do crowd-less shows, the first one was Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires. It was like we opened, but we didn’t open,” recalls Jonathan Healey, VP of marketing and digital strategy at Dayglo Presents. In addition to promoting the new album, part of the purpose of the event was to serve as a benefit for Isbell’s band and crew using a donation mechanism embedded in the stream, which generated roughly $125,000. That meant creating an experience that went beyond the sort of stripped-down living room concerts that artists have used to stay connected to their fans during the pandemic and producing something they could legitimately monetize.

“Our companies have been live streaming concerts for over 10 years,” Healey says. “Peter Shapiro, who owns the company, and I have a film and television background, a venue background. We’ve been in the space for a very long time. And we’ve seen live streaming pivot several times. It used to be a paid space for pay-per-view, which now, in contemporary times, they’re calling ‘ticketed live streams.’ We saw it pivot to free for marketers to really initiate a data grab via viewer-retention data or email capture. And now it’s pivoting back to paid again. During the time of coronavirus, at least in the music landscape, a lot of artists live
streamed for free to maintain that connection with their fans. But now as this is prolonged, as we know, free is not really sustainable, so we’re noticing everything pivoting back to paid.”

This means emphasizing higher production values and delivering engaged and immersive experiences—something that the Brooklyn Bowls and Dayglo Presents’ other venues are well-prepared to do. “All of our venues are equipped for high-definition video, with anywhere from eight to 12 cameras, a camera operator, robotic cameras, video switcher, live-stream encoder, IMAG, etc.,” says Healey. Brooklyn Bowl Nashville’s production rig includes three PTZ cameras, four POV cameras, and two handheld cameras, all fed into a front-of-house Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K, with ISO and Program feeds recorded to a Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio Pro and streaming and graphics handled by Livestream Studio (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. Video production control at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville. Image by Erika Goldring

“Historically, it’s kind of been a we-deliver-to-you experience,” says Healey. “We have a show in our venue, we switch it live, we encode it, we stream it live, and people watch it at home. When coronavirus hit, we asked ourselves, ‘How can we work with the times to make the experience more engaging to the people at home?’ We’re able to mix the people at home into the live event that’s happening. We can do that picture-in-picture, split-screen, or fullframe dissolves—however you want.”

One challenge with combining a videoconferencing feed with a live performance feed from a venue (and integrating those feeds in another location entirely, then streaming them to audiences on multiple platforms) is dealing with different amounts of latency on those feeds. In general, latency is not considered as critical an issue with music as it is with live sports or esports.

But integrating the feeds with a creative eye to matching content that’s not really synced can greatly improve the “Be in the Stream” experience. “I have a lot of liberty in what I do because I work in music, and music is a lot more forgiving,” Healey says. “There are no touchdowns, there’s no immediate reaction required. So I
can do really creative things. If a band is singing a chorus, and I’m only working on a 10- second delay, and someone [in the online audience] is singing the chorus, even under 10 seconds behind, I can re-sync it and make it look like they’re singing the chorus in real time. So music is a lot more forgiving that way.”

Like other streaming-content creators, Dayglo Presents and FANS have found themselves relying even more on remote production in their workflow (beyond the use of videoconferencing feeds) over the last few months than they did before the pandemic hit. “Before COVID,” Healey says, “we’d have an on-site video director and camera ops. In our rooms, the video directors are also the technical directors, so they really do punch the buttons on the switchers. They’re also the PTZ operators.
So when I do a 12-camera shoot at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, [N.Y.,] it is me and the camera guy. He’s controlling his camera, and I’m calling the shots to him. I’m controlling all the other cameras, all the PTZs, and I’m switching all 12. So that’s how a typical show worked when we had actual, real people at our shows.”

Since March, this approach has changed. “I drove to Nashville to direct the Jason Isbell show because it was the venue’s first show and I needed to be on-site,” says Healey. “But now everything is remote. There’s our production team in Nashville, and there are two camera operators. There is a technical director there, and I’m at home in Connecticut. Here in Connecticut, I can see the multiview. I can control the switcher. I can control Livestream Studio. And I’m on a voice-over-IP call with the technical director. In this remote experience. I don’t actually push the buttons because there’s someone there on-site, but we are all on com together, and I’m directing the technical director. I’m calling the show. I can say, ‘Go to Preset 1 on Camera 2’ or ‘Stand by 2, fade 2,’ and the technical director can hit those buttons.”

For FANS’ Denver-based Dance Party show, Healey’s remote production role is more hands-on. “With Dance Party, I remote into the machine at the Capitol Theater and switch it live from Connecticut. Phase two of all of this is we will be setting up a VPN network so that it can be entirely controlled remotely. I would say our
next Nashville show could be done entirely with PTZs and the camera operator all controlled from Connecticut.”

Dayglo Presents and FANS continue to refine this process with the likelihood of a long stretch of distanced and remote production looming ahead, because in their business, literally, the show must go on. “We’re superpsyched” about the new networked setup, Healey says. “It’s less people in the room, and it gives us a lot of control over what we can do, and what we can deliver well.”

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