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McCartney on iTunes Live ends strong

February 10, 2012
Paul McCartney on iTunes Live

Paul McCartney debuted his new album "Kisses on the Bottom" on iTunes Live

In a week that saw Paul McCartney’s music pulled from web streaming services like Rhapsody, and on the day his star was unveiled on the Walk of Fame, McCartney pulled up a stool in front of an old Neumann microphone in an oversized Capitol Records recording studio, with Diana Krall and her band and a full orchestra (and an audience not quite so big as the orchestra) to debut his new album “Kisses on the Bottom.” It was also a debut, of sorts, for iTunes live, iTunes live streaming service that delivers an HD stream to computers and AppleTV. Of course, Apple has streamed live content via iTunes before. Last year’s iTunes Festival is one example. This is, however, the first time that an iTunes live stream could be played through AppleTV, and all of the past streams have received little publicity as betas.

To view Sir Paul, I watched via iTunes on my MacBook Pro (equipped with a 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor). After three minutes of a black screen, then a few freezes and about two minutes where the audio did not sync with the video, at twelve minutes into the webcast I had a clear, uninterrupted picture with perfectly synced audio that remained for the rest of the stream.

Since I wasn’t really set up for a multi-platform test, I decided on the next best thing: I called my mom in Little Rock, Arkansas, and told her about the stream. Since my mom is of the Beatles era, and because McCartney’s new album includes selections from the great American songbook (like “Paper Moon” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”), I knew my mom was a key demographic for the music.

“Oh, I’ve already purchased the album on iTunes,” she said. “Of course I’ll tune in.” I listened on the phone as she connected using her MacBook Air. She had a few freezes at the beginning, then she had a smooth stream. I told her how to go to full screen view and she watched the rest of the performance. After it was over she texted me “I loved it, warts and all. Reminded me of an unrehearsed jam session.” I called her back to ask about the warts and they were not technical. She noticed missed notes and what Randy Jackson would call a few “pitchy” moments, but her stream worked flawlessly.

One AppleTV bulletin board reflected problems by viewers unable to locate “iTunes Live” as an internet option, but many seemed to resolve the problem by re-booting.

I did attempt to connect on my iPhone, but could not find a mobile stream.

I don’t want to say too much about the content as I’m not a music critic, but one of the problems of this new world of not-quite-television, is that no one acted as floor director and poor Paul and band did not know how to end the program. “Are we off the air?” he asked before correcting himself, “It’s not air, it’s net.” He and the band sat awkwardly for a few minutes before deciding to play one more song. At the end of the “encore,” one credit went up on screen: “Directed by Jonas Åkerlund,” and the picture faded to black. After about 90 seconds of black screen, a brief video showing the Walk of Fame star ceremony came on unannounced. Not great television, but what those of us who watch live streams have grown to expect.

The obvious question: How will Apple use this technology? Is it simply a marketing technique to draw attention to artists, albums, and songs, or will we see a monetized iTunes Live in the future? The numbers aren’t in yet, but it will be interesting to see how many tuned in to the McCartney stream and what the overall experience was like. Just four days after the first ever live streamed Super Bowl (which received mixed reviews), it does seem that the bigger media companies are willing to step out into the realm of the unknown and experiment with streaming to larger than ever live audiences. And as the technology catches up with the demand you can bet that they’ll figure out away to get paid.

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