Editorial
October 31, 2022

Live-streaming – what’s wrong with this picture?

In the pre-Internet days, we used to bemoan the scant attendance at solo competitions. You’d see regular comments scolding young pipers and drummers for not bothering to come out to hear top-level players perform in competition or recital.

The advent of the internet promised to change all that. Particularly in the last five years, more competitions than ever are streamed live on the net, often for free. One would assume that the tens of thousands of piping and drumming zealots worldwide would be glued to their screens.

One might also think that, since they annually spend thousands of dollars and pounds in support of their hobby, they’d be willing to pay a few bucks to see the world’s greatest exponents of the art strut their stuff live.

Well, those assumptions would appear to be incorrect.

The relatively paltry viewer numbers for truly world-class live online productions like the Glenfiddich (about 300 paying £15), various Piping Live! events (some free, some £9 or more), the Friday of the World Pipe Band Championships (1,900-2,500, free), and the World Solo Drumming (about 450 viewers, free) are intriguing. In some cases, the number of online viewers is actually less than those attending in-person.

The BBC and the RSPBA don’t disclose the number of viewers for the Saturday World Pipe Band Championships, but sources have said that they are along the lines of the Friday broadcast. (We asked the BBC for official numbers and were told that as policy they don’t share them.) For all the watch parties and the celebration of friends watching online, a few thousand tuning in for free are less than the number paying to get into Glasgow Green.

The online numbers should be three, four, even ten times as many.

Why is this? Why on earth wouldn’t more – or even the majority – of the globe’s tens of thousands of pipers, drummers and enthusiasts do everything they could to watch the World’s or the World Solo Drumming – brought to you for free – free! – wherever they might be?

The reason: the internet itself.

As with just about everything today, piping and drumming has become saturated with accessible content, much of it illegal or, at the very least, without proper clearances and permissions, that anyone can access at any time. If a piper or drummer wanted to see, for example, Willie McCallum reeling off a great MSR, or Field Marshal Montgomery’s latest preternaturally excellent medley, or a flawless hornpipe & jig from Steven McWhirter, they can see them any time. In fact, they could sit there for a solid week and never run out of material to call up.

We’re old enough to remember the pre-internet days when there was magic and mystique in seeing and hearing your piping, drumming and pipe band heroes live and in-person.

On the one hand, we can consider all that access a great boon to piping and drumming. After all, isn’t more content better?

On the other hand, what have we lost as a result of all this accessibility and familiarity and over-saturation?

We’re old enough to remember the pre-internet days when there was magic and mystique in seeing and hearing your piping, drumming and pipe band heroes live and in-person. You’d have only heard these greats on a scratchy fourth-generation cassette tape or read about them months after the fact in a periodical, but to see them live was an often a thrilling and unforgettable life-moment. To be sure, there are some today who might experience a similar thrill, but we’d expect that they’re a tiny exception to the vast majority who have never witnessed Stuart Liddell or Inveraray & District in-person, but, when they do, feel they already know them all too well.

We are truly grateful for their efforts, but it makes us wonder why Glasgow Life or the BBC or Piping Live! or the RSPBA would invest so much time and money to bring us these wonderful productions when the numbers show that relatively few appear to care. It’s one thing to break even or take a small loss in return for branding and goodwill benefits. It’s quite another to risk losing your shirt in the name of altruism.

We might be wading into nostalgic waters, pining for them good-old-days, but we find it ironic (and not a little sad) that, after all our dreams of accessibility and availability have come true, when studio quality live-streams are served up for less than the cost of half a chanter reed or a few pints, never mind for free, too many clearly just can’t be bothered.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I believe Time Zones are a major issue. I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico USA. It’s 7 hours earlier than Scotland. The continental USA varies from 4-8 hours. So….that’s a 02:45 AM alarm wake up for me and about 10 hours of sedentary listening. If you’re with a group you have to add in wake up and travel time. Lots and lots of coffee. Drinking a beer in that sleep deprived state is a big mistake. Afterwards, it’s a weekend of catching up with sleep. I do it every year, because of all the reasons you mention; but it’s a major commitment….much, much more than clicking on the Super Bowl, for instance. I wish I had a solution…..

  2. In my opinion, you are on the money in regards to the over-saturation of available content. I’m not that old, but I remember treasuring and wearing out my World’s CDs, WGP, Piper’s of Distinction albums, etc. I could tell you every track of Live In Ireland, Live In Carnegie Hall, etc. I could tell you SFUs 1996 Medley tune for tune, but not Field Marshals this years. Not because it was better, but because I had the 1996 World’s CD in my car for years and listened dozens if not hundreds of times. These recordings were very special and I believe it was, in part, because of the scarcity. There was no Youtube with endless hours of content out there.

    I also agree with Kent, the time zone issue makes it challenging for the Western Hemisphere. In the past I would listen to as much as I could on the livestream and then re-visit each performance throughout the year multiple times on Vimeo. I couldn’t watch on Saturday, so I purchased a ticket today and hope to listen to all of the performances before it is taken down.

    Lastly, as much as I hate to say it, our collective attention span is deteriorating year by year, thanks for technology. People only read headlines. They want our videos under a minute. As much as I love piobaireachd, and I WILL watch each performance, I’m not immune and am finding it more and more difficult to focus for long periods of time. I don’t have a solution. I look back fondly on the time when it was something rare and special to hear this level of mastery. We are busier than ever and want instant gratification more than ever before. Unfortunately, our traditional musical art form does not conform. Perhaps that’s why there has been so much success for the likes of Lincoln Hilton and others who are pushing the genre forward in a way that satisfies our modern desire for something instant and ear catching.

    John

    1. Since it is a competition, I think we’ve been spoiled by all the glitz, graphics, commentary and handicapping we see in televised sporting events….I tend to approach the Glenfiddich more as a concert by extremely talented musicians. Although, the competition aspect remains quite real to me….I consciously try to keep it secondary to my enjoyment of the music…..It remains a remarkable annual event….

      Doc

      1. Does it really matter if the wider piping public doesn’t watch an 8 hour piping contest. I paid for it, woke up at an ungodly hour, and enjoyed every second of it.
        I noted the view count topped out around 300 and thought. I hope that’s enough that it carries on for years to come.
        I’m an outlier. I’ll sit though the Glenfiddich and look forward to watching as many streaming events as I can. I’m not going to say what someone should or shouldn’t do. We should be thankful funding is allocated to making these events accessible instead of complaining. We’re a small content of the piping and drumming world. I would be interested to see how many copies of the worlds greatest pipers were sold.

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