Tuesday, December 18, 2012

MANC Announcement: Video Streaming 2013

Shirley Jones takes a moment to chat with fans.
As old man 2012 exits stage left and the newborn 2013 starts to crawl on stage, one of the most exciting things I am looking forward to in the coming year is video streaming at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. Always thinking outside the box, the future (and possibly survival) of conventions will be dependent on new technology integrated and embraced. This September, radio re-creations, panels and slide show presentations at MANC are going to be video streamed over the internet. Anyone with access to a computer can watch the events live from the comfort of their own home. For years, internet radio stations have been broadcasting live from conventions such as the Cincinnati OTR Convention, the Friends of Old-Time Radio and MANC. If you tuned in to any of these live radio broadcasts, you know that even the radio hosts have repeated time and time again that there is nothing like being at the event while it is happening. While the service is free, I often feel the only radio listeners to benefit from that service were people who, for health reasons, could not make the travel. If their work schedule would not permit them to get off to attend the convention, that would be another reason. But you cannot see the photos during the slide show presentations. The good people delivering the slide show seminars have always had to describe the photos on the screen for the benefit of the radio listeners. You cannot see the hand gestures celebrities make when telling a funny story. This has been a problem that has plagued all radio hosts broadcasting from conventions.

While the technology for video streaming is not perfect enough to be described as looking through a glass window, the technology has advanced to a point where the possibility is now feasible. What we hope to do this September is place a video camera in the room and upload the picture and audio to the internet where people at home can simply push a couple buttons from our convention website and watch the events live as they happen from their computer screen. (Don't let the terminology turn you away. For those who do not understand what "video streaming" is, in simplistic terms it is the equivalent of turning to a TV channel and watching the evening news on your TV screen.) The image should be good enough that no one should have any complaints. While it is not "streaming" per say, it would be the equivalent, if not better, than watching a video clip on YouTube. 

The only stumbling block is the internet speed and connection viewers have at their house. The better the internet connection, the better the picture. An older computer versus a newer computer with more speed and memory, and dial up modem versus high speed cable will make a difference. That's the only obstacle we face at the moment, but we cannot tell the mainstream public that they need to have new computers, updated web browsers (Firefox is better than Internet Explorer, by the way) and superb internet connections. That's something they would need to find out for themselves. But we would be willing to help assist anyone in advance. Just this past year my wife and I discovered we were not getting the better internet speed (at the same price) so we called the cable company and upgraded. Boy, our internet speed is faster now! But most people should not have any difficulties. On Sunday morning, our local church video streams the services for people at home (especially on days where winter weather prevents them from leaving the house) so we know the same can be done for MANC.

James Darren and Robert Colbert during Q&A session.
Now imagine this is how it would appear on your computer
from the view of the video camera, if you watched this
Q&A presentation from your home computer.

Video streaming would have been done two years ago but we faced a number of obstacles. We want folks with both a PC and a MAC to access the video stream. We need to prevent computer hackers from causing malicious mischief. We took into account every contingency with the very few who will try to find loopholes. On a technical side, the entire operation is complicated. But we believe we have ironed out all the bugs. The procedure is costly and will amount to four-digit figures. To adjust accordingly, a small fee will be charged for access. At this moment, it is estimated that it will cost $20 per calendar day to access the video stream. In comparison, this is the same cost of admission if they were to attend the show personally. For people living in Alaska, Canada, England and California, this should be cheaper when compared to the expenses of hotel and airfare. But again, nothing will compare to attending and experiencing meeting everyone in person. 

By way of explanation, the rationale thinking was if we gave the stream away for free, we'd be giving people in the local area a reason to stay home rather than attend the convention. I feel certain the daily admission will not surpass $20. And I would like to state for the record that the access fee is not being proposed in an effort to make a financial profit. There is already enough people out there (non-MANC attendees) who are quick to speak negative about the event using such words as "profiteering" and "undermining." The purpose of the admission fee is to reimburse the costs of video streaming. If the technical costs are lower, the admission cost will be lower. We would even send a program guide via e-mail to paying attendees who choose to video stream from home, so they do not go empty handed. There may even be a few video specials in between the events during the down time... perhaps a panel seminar from last year's event?

Using photos to explain how this works, this fascinating slide show
presentation about Gypsy Rose Lee from the past year would be the
kind of entertainment you would see close up. Notice the video camera?

There will no doubt be a few bugs to iron out before the convention starts nine months from now. We plan to have the system up and running long before the convention so we can kick the tires and give it a test drive. We're a few months away from success. But once we get this up and going, we're prepared to share the same hookup system with others so hopefully it will become a trend at other conventions like SPERDVAC, REPS and the new Cincinnati Nostalgia EXPO. Perhaps old time radio clubs and pulp clubs will be able to video stream their monthly meetings. And we hope others who experiment on their own will keep the door open and be willing to share what they discover through trial and error. After all, everyone stands to benefit from this.

The big question that cannot be answered at this time is how many people will be willing to embrace the new technology and give it a try. I've heard dozens of reasons from people why they cannot attend conventions. Now with video streaming, we are can bring the convention to their home. Who knows? Maybe over time there will be more people watching the slide show seminars on the web than attendees sitting in the audience. For those who do not attend conventions, and know nothing more about conventions than the magazine articles they read, this is an opportunity to grasp the concept as it is happening first-hand.

Not just slide show presentations and celebrity panels, live
stage acts like Abbott & Costello would be video streamed!

Folks who missed past events can still purchase DVDs of past seminars but keep in mind that not all of the events were filmed and the cost to purchase a DVD is $10. With six or seven DVDs compiling the majority of the seminars for each calendar year, the cost of video streaming is still beneficial to folks who live far, far away.

The attendance at MANC has grown every year, becoming a huge venue for authors to promote their books, magazines editors to display past issues, national media coverage, web bloggers and website owners, and so on. Last year's attendance broke past 2,000. Since it is difficult to classify what type of convention MANC is (one-third old-time radio, old-third old movies and old-third nostalgic pop culture), if you were to consider MANC an old-time radio convention, statistically, MANC is the largest old-time radio convention in the country. Statistically otherwise, we are now the largest nostalgia event on the East Coast. For those questioning the 2,000 figure, our method of keeping count is relatively simple. We give away one 48-page program guide to every paying attendee. No more, no less. Attendees cannot buy extra copies. At the end of the weekend, we subtracted the difference from what was left over and we have our head count. This year we had 2,000 program guides printed up and we ran out of program guides by Saturday afternoon. My mother-in-law, Mary Ethel, and her friends Barb and Mary, who ran the front desk, asked me what they should do. "Just give them a wrist band and thank them for coming," I explained. There wasn't anything else we could do. Mary Ethel did try to keep a head count of people coming through after she ran out of program guides but she wasn't sure she counted everyone and I told her we would not count the extras beyond 2,000 anyway. So the official figure for 2012 is 2,000. We expect a larger crowd for 2013.

The dates of this year's event is September 19, 20 and 21, 2013. 
The convention website is www.MidAtlanticNostalgiaConvention.com

It is difficult to believe no one has video streamed seminars, panels and slide show presentations from other conventions. But we had discussions with a dozen people over the past year regarding video streaming to get their opinion. We consulted those who are experienced with such technology. Everyone has been enthusiastic and everyone, myself included, believe this might be the future of conventions and monthly club meetings. A year from now, we may know the answer.

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