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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