The Berlin Philharmonic's launch of its Digital Concert Hall is the latest chapter in the development of alternative media as platforms for the broadcast of the performing arts. It is a web-based video service featuring full-length concerts by the orchestra available either live or from an archive dating back almost two years.
Free-to-air television stations around the world have become increasingly reluctant to broadcast theatre, opera or orchestral performances that appeal to small, specialised audience cohorts. But performing arts companies need the publicity that broadcasting brings. They are also keen to use broadcasting to reach audiences in regional areas without incurring the costs of touring.
YouTube is one medium that carries short videos of performances but the quality is generally not good enough to adequately represent an opera, orchestral concert or theatre performance. The Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert Hall delivers video recordings of the orchestra's performances in quality that is very close to that of a DVD. It is also possible to watch the concerts live, although this is only attractive if you live in an area that is close to the European time zone. The Philharmonie, the concert hall that is home to the Berlin Philharmonic, has been specially equipped with remote-controlled video cameras that free the stage of the visual culture of bulky TV cameras.
If the idea catches on with other performing arts companies and venues it will give music, theatre and dance lovers unprecedented access to the world’s great performing arts companies from the comfort of their own homes and at a time of their choosing. For the companies that are able to deliver quality performances coupled with reliable software and net infrastructure it could also be a source of additional income (the Berlin Philharmonic charges €9.90 for 72-hour access to a single concert recording). An online golden age for the performing arts could be just around the corner.