Theme: The Webcast 'Nightmare'
Host(s): Nina Pope (TVSS Artist/Curator) James Stevens ( & TVSS tech team)
Guests: Fee Plumley (artist/curator), Tina Spear (artist / web designer), Mariam Sharp (A.C.E), Gareth Howell (Active Ingredient), Jaqui Thompson (BALTIC)

We started by passing round the group with each person introducing themselves – their links/experience of webcasting and also how they had experienced TV swansong on the actual day of the webcast.

Tina Spear began: she was involved in MUTE when it first started and now runs AVCO with her partner Daniel Jackson. She still designs the MUTE website. Tina was the first person to work on the TV swansong website and responsible to a large extent for the ‘look and feel’ of TVSS developed in collaboration with Nina & Karen.
AVCO also work for other clients such as the BBC, radio 3/4 and on web projects for individual artists such as Julian Opie and Stephan Geck. TV swansong was the first site involved with live streaming she had worked on.
Her experience on the day was one of frustration but some success watching trying to access the broadcast. She tuned in from work and ‘tried pretty hard’ to keep accessing projects catching glimpses of Giorgios and watching once the stream stabilised after 6.00 pm. She commented that she was aware as a user of the attempt to present a continuous stream or ‘programme’ and that she’d just assumed too many users were trying to access the site when it failed to load.

Fee Plumley spoke largely about her work on first the Coronation Court project and then Tenant Spin – both webstreaming channels for Super Channel - an ongoing project by the Copenhagen based group of artists Super Flex. Fee worked as the project manager for FACT who commissioned Super Flex to work with a housing trust to realise a project with the residents of Coronation Court a distinctive tower block in Liverpool. Fee described how Super Flex have developed a ‘product’ service described as ‘streaming in a box’ which groups can take on themselves and develop their own content for – streaming their productions via the Super Channel website.
Super Flex themselves had been involved in setting up the project in Liverpool but as project manager Fee had been responsible for much of the day to day management and development of the work. Her commitment to the tenants and the programme was very evident and she had lots of stories about the success of the project. She recounted examples of how sceptical tenants had been won over and the way that due to the ultimate destruction of the block the channel had definitely become a ‘mouthpiece’ for people.
Both James Stevens and Fee agreed that webstreaming could work really well with ‘community group’ projects and that moving ‘users’ from the position of audience to producers proved very successful.
Nina Pope explained that her perception of the Super Flex project and the reality Fee described were very different. Nina had imagined that Super Flex themselves worked extensively with the tenants and that it had been a ‘one off’ project. She commented that it provided an interesting contrasting model to the approach of TVSS to audience etc..

The ‘Super Channel’ model as an undeniably successful one was taken forward to be discussed by the broader group on Sunday. James and Fee both agreed that Super Flex’s early collaboration with Sean Tredway as a technical assistant who’d experience of working with Real (who produce the streaming software which is to date the most widely used) must have influenced the success of their projects and the fact they have been able to ‘market’ their approach/system.

Fee’s experience of TVSS on the day had been that of an ‘impromptu chat host’ – on the day she’d been not only trying to watch the broadcast but also chatting to other frustrated users for the duration of the webcast. The whole group agreed that the chat space had provided a valuable place for people to compare notes and realise that the problems they were experiencing weren’t always down to them! Obviously this wasn’t the anticipated role for the chat space but Fee added that with any broadcast they had done inevitable problems, even if small, ended up being resolved through the chat space. Aside from this function, it had served as a valuable place to ‘feel’ the excitement of sensing that you were watching something both live and national. The group agreed that a chat space always proved a valuable addition to a streamed live event and that in an ideal world someone from the project would be in this throughout the broadcast. On the day of TVSS Georgia Ward the project manager was in the chat room but somewhat distracted by the problems ‘on the ground’ – Fee, with a more distant link, had proved more ‘free’ to enthuse other participants!
Finally Fee added that for her new project the phone book ltd she had recently managed to stream an event via a mobile phone connection – an exciting breakthrough for her.

James Stevens and Nina Pope then described briefly what had actually happened on the day to cause the problems experienced with the webcast. Initial problems were due to a file, which was constantly re-generating, sitting on the DSVR server – which was only suitable for housing the straight html webpage content. This meant that the ‘simultaneous users’ quota was almost instantly exceeded. This had been caused because the programmer on the team had assumed she could ‘up’ this quota but the server had failed ‘obey’ her commands – it hadn’t been helped by a DSVR upgrade days before the webcast when she’d been trying to check over their system. This problem was quickly rectified though and most of the problems experienced following this were due to an unexpected failure with the Virtue server. Their server would normally be able to serve the amount of data required and create a ‘simulated live’ stream for the mix of pre-recorded and actually live material we were working with – which is why we’d opted to work with them. Obviously Nina and James both described their extreme frustration on the day at not being able to find out what was happening and not being able to help the situation. Afterwards we realised that Virtue had had to move the pre-recorded content to another server (at this point things started to work more or less as they should have) but they weren’t able to update the people sending in streams from the live venues and so problems persisted with this material.

James Stevens then described radioqualia’s Frequency Clock which we’d discussed using prior to the event but which wasn’t
Available for mac in time for the event – this may help people in the future who’re trying to do a similar event mixing live and pre-recorded footage from different locations.

James then described his own ‘webcast nightmare’ on the day running from our base at Delfina to the LCCA to stream Jessie’s link – arriving JUST in time and finding Matthew Collings hadn’t shown up – Jessie put in an amazing appearance but then to James frustration it didn’t reach the outside world coming at the critical point Virtue were moving files over.

Mariam Sharp then described her involvement with TVSS as a funder who’d supported Jessie’s project in particular. On the day she’d seen glimpses of Giorgio’s piece from the ballroom at ACE in her office and described this live link as a very strange feeling – ‘art enters the office’. Later she’d come to delfina and seen us screening footage from Jessie’s rehearsal when the webcast failed. She said that the sense of vulnerability of the webcast technology had added to the excitement for her.
As an aside NP commented that of all the project funders who’d been invited to the symposium only Mariam and Trevor both with an ‘educative’ interest in the project had taken up the invitation.

Jaqui Thompson explained that TVSS was the first webcast she’d had experience of and fleshed out the impression we had of their TVSS day at the BALTIC learning centre with TV dinners and a big audience but only a fleeting ‘live’ connection. It had apparently been very enjoyable despite the problems and Jaqui had been really impressed at how TVSS provided a way into technology for people who may have been reticent to tryout watching a webcast. She also made a very funny (and accurate!) comment about the ‘wrong dot syndrome’ where someone on the day had mentioned the fact emails go wrong if a full stop is out of place so the fact a webcast can succeed at all seemed miraculous to them.

Gareth Howell expanded on this with a comment regarding the technical wow factor (ie. It works isn’t it marvellous a moving image’) and how this can at times overshadow any discussion/appreciation of content.
Gareth then went on to describe Active Ingredient’s project Moon Radio – a series of three live web broadcasts funded by the combined arts dept. at ACE (interestingly the same department TVSS received some funding through but no mentions of these very similar projects were made) through which they had researched webstreaming as a technology available for artists – and in their case particularly for live artists wanting to work with a live audience. A lot of their aims had been similar to TVSS and they too had looked to other ‘amateur’ forms of broadcasting for role models (such as CB, ham radio etc etc).
Gareth then shared some of the research they’d done into service providers for streaming etc. and we discussed the similar routes we’d followed. Active Ingredient now have a good deal with a helpful provider in the states eon streams – however they are charged on the bandwidth they use so if they did succeed in gaining a huge audience for a webcast the cost could cripple them.
TVSS and the Moon Radio events both shared TV as a theme, a way to open up and try and pick apart how things are changing in the widest possible way with different types of broadcasting. The whole group entered a ‘je regrette’ situation about the fact we’d not had these conversations 2 years ago and then we ran out of time!

Over dinner it was quite hard to hear everyone so we focussed on our best and worse webcast moments highlights of which are listed here!

All Gareth’s best moments were connected to content and to an intimacy linked to webcasting they ranged from séances to a Nicolas party organised by an absent friend. His worst moments were those spent watching their live streams and waiting for the server to disconnect!

Nina’s best webcast moments were watching Chris from a mountain in Peru, each time during /broadcast/ that a pilgrim connected at the right time and both Elvis and the weird all male panel discussion at The Festival of Lying. Her worst was undoubtedly the TVSS ‘blackout’.

Tina commented that her most memorable webcast moment had been monitoring the 9/11 events on both the web and TV.

Fee described her saddest moment as working with an amazing group who streamed stuff but didn’t have the technology to watch their own broadcasts. Her best moment was being sent a virtual kiss by a Sean Connery lookie likie as a birthday surprise organised by the Tennant Spin gang!

See also our links page we put together.

Nina Pope - August 2002