The Roaring—and Streaming— '20s

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As I write this, I've been to see two live events in the past week. In person. In a venue. With hundreds of people, closely packed, and behaving as they might have done at the many gigs I’d been to before the pandemic. While there, I found myself reflecting on streaming and its role over the past year or two.

I am proud that we, the streaming industry, helped. We saved isolated souls from loneliness. We connected families in times of distress. We were there for birthdays, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and even funerals. We helped councillors support the needy. We allowed congregations to follow their religious leaders. We supported education and learning. We ensured those who wanted to work remotely could do so. We enabled policymakers to coordinate their efforts. We helped those trapped at home to exercise, to share recipes, and so much more.

In fact, after 25 years of proclaiming streaming to be a great thing, we not only proved it, but we sublimated and normalised streaming into so many lives, it sometimes makes me wonder why it was such a struggle to get the adoption to take off in the first place!

In short, we should be proud.

And on top of that, we also finally stopped feeling like we, as an industry, were the junior partner of the bigger, older "traditional broadcast" industry. Now, we’re more like the middle-aged breadwinner supporting the (generally) graceful move of the generation of content delivery models that preceded us into a gentle retirement. There is no need to petulantly claim that we will one day become the dominant model. We’re already there.

The revolution may have been televised, but the pandemic was definitely streamed.

However, this week, I slid away from my screen, ventured out into the real world, stood at a music venue’s bar for the first time in 18 months, and ordered a drink before the bands started. Dare I admit (for somehow I felt guilty for it), I actually rubbed shoulders with strangers and didn’t clean them with alcogel. Nor did I recoil as they exhaled and ordered their drinks, with none of us wearing masks.

The bands started to play. The crowds pressed together at the front of the stage. I wasn’t quite brave enough to dive into the middle of the dance floor, but I marvelled at seeing strangers doing so. The internal battle in my mind, questioning if it was too soon or irresponsible or … or … was silenced by the music as I clung to my double vaccine as a life raft. In a state of suspended belief about the (probably very real) risk of contracting COVID, I took a place at the edge of the dance floor and “grooved” (I am far too geeky to ever describe what I did as “dancing”)and frankly loved it. It was awesome. It was real.

Yet while it felt like things were "back to normal," one thing was very, very different: the sheer joy and energy of the musicians was apparent. They were freed from the confines of playing to a camera. They could feel, see, and inhale the heat, movement, and breath of a sea of real people who were there in front of them. For the first time in months, they had that direct feedback. This is their nourishment. This is their motivation. This will be their livelihoods again. And their ecstasy was lighting fires. I have never seen musicians play with that energy. This was new. This was exciting.

For these musicians and the audience alike, there was a palpable sense of renewed energy, and the performances were unlike any others I have seen.

So while streaming got us through a dark period, perhaps we are now at the dawn of a new "Roaring '20s." And while it was great to be there in person, I look forward to capturing some of that new energy by working out how to stream that too!

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