Live-streaming: why are Canadian opera productions missing from the worldwide phenomenon?

I’d love you to give this a read, as it’s an issue that’s been on the Canadian opera radar for a while now. http://operacanada.ca/live-streaming-opera-canada/ Why are there no Canadian operatic productions online or DVD? I talked to a CultureBox exec, media people from the Bavarian State Opera and Komische Oper Berlin, Stratford Festival’s ED, COC’s ED, Equity’s ED, TSO’s former digital initiatives man Michael Morreale, and CBC’s classical music producer Denise Ball.

TL; DR? Canadian situation is a cluster-fuck of unfortunate elements: the CBC is not interested (bless their hockey and crime reporting soul), opera companies can’t afford to do it themselves, the unions want their members to be paid for this extra usage (and that’s not an unreasonable request), and Canada Council’s Digital Fund won’t fund the streaming or digital archives because they consider it all marketing and therefore going under existing operating grants, for those orgs that get them.

But do give it a read and tell me what you think.

A question for another article though: are streaming and VOD going to put paid to proper DVD recordings that you buy and take home, like music streaming put paid to CD recordings, and CD recordings to LPs? I think that would be a terrible development, because we can’t count on Medici and OperaVision to work as the historical performance archives. Are they going to keep those videos in perpetuity on their servers? I’d guess they’re more likely to do so than the Spotify corporation is, and probably less likely than CultureBox, owned by France’s public television channels, which have the mandate to do so. As the CBC did once, long time ago: recorded and preserved the best of nation’s performing arts.

Altogether another question is: is this era of digital transmission of performing arts here to stay, or is it a temporary trend? Are people going to lose interest in internet VOD of opera in, say, 20 years–because the experience definitely cannot compare to the Real Thang? Or is it, gasp, going to eat into the live audience, like Met in HD does in some regions?

15 thoughts on “Live-streaming: why are Canadian opera productions missing from the worldwide phenomenon?

  1. It’s a bit weird, or possibly convenient, that recording/streaming of performance would be considered part of a marketing plan and thus covered under standard operating grants, given how cheap that stuff ain’t. Though I suppose I can understand it as a strategy to get arts orgs to work collectively. Still, if it’s a carrot and stick thing, that’s mostly just stick.

    I wonder about the DVD (and CD) longevity issue. I hear some noise now in support of material media as people discover the unreliability of online digital content, and they find their investments in what they might reasonably have thought were their personal libraries turn out to be a bunch of long-term rentals expiring at random. But, as you say, another article… 🙂

    1. Yes to all of that.
      And personally, as a viewer, a production would really have to be of extraordinary interest for me to watch it on my laptop. I’m beginning to find opera on any but the cinematic screen a meh experience. I do understand that part of the reason for that is the current abundance of opera online–and my possibly taking it for granted that I can always find it, that it’ll always be there when I come back for it. But also: the frustratingly small screen.

    2. I wonder about the DVD (and CD) longevity issue. I hear some noise now in support of material media as people discover the unreliability of online digital content, and they find their investments in what they might reasonably have thought were their personal libraries turn out to be a bunch of long-term rentals expiring at random.

      yes, I’ve thought of that as well. It’s a very fragile medium, seeing how technology keeps moving forward (there are already laptops without CD/DVD drives out there, if I’m not mistaken) and it it would be terrible for recordings made during this time to be lost just because of fast media development. Everything seems to me to be moving online, which, as you mention, it’s not necessary a good thing (I’ve always been mistrustful of those “free” libraries). I actually dislike everything about digital stuff except its convenience. All you need is a wrongly timed computer disaster and there goes a library of possible unreplaceable things. So, who knows, something more material might make a comeback at some point?

      Are people going to lose interest in internet VOD of opera in, say, 20 years–because the experience definitely cannot compare to the Real Thang?

      it’s possible but not because of that, rather because the internet might become something of the past sooner than we imagine (ok, probably not in the next 20 years…). As far as easy availability goes I think the internet is still a safe bet, because even with the best intentions you can’t travel everywhere all the time. Plus it’s nice to relieve your experiences 🙂 I personally don’t even want to start to bother with a mobile phone screen BUT I do love the size of the laptop screen.

      Are they going to keep those videos in perpetuity on their servers?

      I’m afraid perpetuity isn’t a term that gels well with our times. I download everything I can and I hope I (or someone!) can back things up in case of aforementioned computer disaster.

      1. I should have added: I love owning opera DVDs, precisely because they give me that feeling of permanence and long duration, like a book library. But what if I amass a decent collection, and then the BluRay takes over and people stop asking for DVD format and DVD format stops being produced and DVD players as well. I guess we’ll have to do like some people now do with LPs — keep collecting, and playing, maybe we (or our nieces and nephews) will see a revival down the road…

        1. But what if I amass a decent collection, and then the BluRay takes over and people stop asking for DVD format and DVD format stops being produced and DVD players as well.

          the corporations are rubbing their grubby little hands! Buy it again (and again, and again)!

      2. I’m beginning to find opera on any but the cinematic screen a meh experience.

        Same here, it sort of needs to be an Event or it won’t hold my attention.

        All you need is a wrongly timed computer disaster and there goes a library of possible unreplaceable things.

        This is why you distribute your stuff to your worldwide opera nerd network as a backup…in case the cat pukes on your terabyte drive.

        1. This is why you distribute your stuff to your worldwide opera nerd network as a backup…in case the cat pukes on your terabyte drive.

          the Opera Nerd Network (ONN) 😀

          I guess this (re: events) is where the ONN liveblogging comes in.

  2. Wow. I just took a peak under the Facebook link to this article on Opera Canada page, and there’s a union guy arguing in favour of “caution” when it comes to streaming, and sees it as this dangerous Trojan Horse which will rob the artists of… I guess he thinks of income? I’m trying to understand, but failing.

    1. Wait. I think I got it. Streaming, controlled by large and evil entities like your internet provider and the Silicon Valley, will take away a significant source of income for musicians appearing in livestreams? Something like that.

      1. somebody needs to inform him that this is income that artists wouldn’t receive anyway, absent livestreaming, however it functions as free (for the arstists) advertising. How many times has someone thought, after watching a livestream, “hey, I like this singer/choir/conductor/director/opera house, I’m going to try and see a show (or two) there when I can?” I know I have and more than once. I’m all for fighting power but in this case he’s just being silly. Also, has it occurred to him that livestreaming brings opera to people who otherwise have little to no access to it, as well as to people who don’t know if they like it or not just yet?

            1. That’s exactly it. Streaming is done for reasons other than money.

              Ah, that’s where the “It’s marketing, take it from your operating budget” government funding argument comes in.

              I know a lot of unionized musicians who have very stringent parameters for what constitutes “working for free”, and equally stringent parameters about recording. But they’re mostly solo musicians, and it’s up to them to manage and protect their own brand. When it comes to orchestras, keeping a vise-like grip on recording/streaming contracts is probably good leverage with management until it isn’t. It has, for instance, taken the entire BSO concert archive off the BSO website pending negotiations, so none of the Tanglewood broadcasts this summer were available after the fact. Which sucked for me if not for them.

              Full disclosure: I am a union member, and union membership, like democracy, is not a spectator sport. Where rank and file are lax in attitude and taking certain things for granted, opportunism walks right in and plants itself.

            2. There’s a lot of disagreement within Equity and the musicians union on this issue in TO. One musician shared on that same comments thread that he recently heard about their unions blocking a livestream without even consulting the members. Would love to hear more about this from the unionized artists themselves, but few are willing to go on record so far.

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