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Digital Concert HallClassical music comes to smart TV's - at a price

By Jim Bray
October 6, 2016

If you're going through classical music withdrawal and would like to hang out with a famous symphony orchestra, there - to repeat a hackneyed phrase - is an app  for that.

It's called Digital Concert Hall and it comes courtesy of the Berlin Philharmonic. And if you love classical music performed live in concert you might find it a wonderful app to add to your smart TV's apps menu. Just beware that once you finish your seven day free trial it's going to set you back 15 Euros a month.

That seems like a lot of lucre to me, cheapskate that I am, but I'm sure enjoying my free week and not looking forward to it ending this weekend. But as much as I appreciate the service, I'll be going back to YouTube for my live classical fixes once my time is up.

Too bad. There's an abundance of material on their site (, including live concerts and music-related videos, and of the ones I've seen so far the audio and video are first rate. They aren't all in HD and/or widescreen, but there's lots that is and even the non-HD stuff I've watched had very good sound.

And the names you'll find! Not only is this the famous Berlin Philharmonic, but it features such conductors as Sir Simon Rattle and Herbert von Karajan as well as a huge "Who's Who" of guest conductors such as Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozama, Manfred Honeck, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and many, many others of whom, as a casual classical fan, I've never heard.

Ditto for the composers. Laid out alphabetically in the app, there's an amazing selection that stretches from Hans Abrahamsen to Bernd Alois Zimmermann. In between, you get the usual suspects - the Mozarts, Bachs, Beethovens, etc., with personal favourites like George Gershwin, the Strausses, and even a bit of the great John Williams.  

There are also live concerts scheduled you can watch as they unfold - as I write this they're advertising one by Bernard Haitink, conducting Schubert and Mahler - Schubert's Symphony No. 7 in B minor D 759 Unfinished (I guess it just peters out…) and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. Obviously, I'm not familiar with either, though of course I've heard of the Unfinished Symphony - I've just never heard it - but I imagine the people at whom the service is aimed will know all about it.

The concert is scheduled for Saturday, October 8 at 11 a.m. MDT. I'd tune in and be entertained and educated, but there's football on. The service's website says there are about 40 concerts streamed live each season, and once that's done they're archived with the others that were performed previously. There are hundreds of concerts in the archives, and don't forget the documentaries and bonus films that are also on the menu.

The site is laid out logically in the app, and the website, allowing you to scroll selections via concert, conductor, composer, etc. and the navigation is easy and straightforward.

It doesn't cost anything to sign up for a week after which time I assume you'll be shut out unless you buy a subscription. As well as the abovementioned 14.90 per month rate, "Tickets" are available for seven days (9.90), 30 days (19.90) or a year (149 - all figures in Euros). Probably a lot, but my local philharmonic wants $100 for a five concert season in the cheap seats, where you probably don't get nearly as good a view (or as good sound) as you do from the HD TV cameras and professional audio recording. And you don't have to leave home…

Wave of the future?

Berliner Philharmonker's Digital Concert Hall isn't just a great place to find classical music concerts; it also points the way to the future of television "broadcasting," which is a direct threat to the conventional, traditional networks. And it's about time. It's a specialty TV channel you can watch on all your smart devices (I used it chiefly on Panasonic's 4K TC-55CX850U - and it looked great! - though I could have streamed it to my iPad or smart phone if I were travelling). You can do that with some TV channel or network apps as well, but as far as I've seen so far you still need to subscribe to their main cable (or whatever) "service" to get it.

But imagine the freedom that you, as a consumer, could have if you could cut that cable completely, ending their tyranny of forcing you to purchase packages of channels you don't care about in order to get the handful you do. If more of these specialty channels were offered (and more are coming online all the time) you could potentially subscribe only to the ones you want, and ignore the ones being force fed you via the cable/satellite giants.

Now, if they were all 15 Euros a month you could go broke very quickly, but how about if you could subscribe to, say, the IndyCar season or the Canadian Football League season the way you can now subscribe to other sports packages. Speaking personally, those are the only sports I watch so even if it's $100 a season for each, that's only $200 a year instead of paying $100 or more a month for 500 channels I ignore mostly. They'd undoubtedly have to make a deal with the current broadcasters, or replace them with their own, but they could also sell their own commercials to help bring the price to consumers down; I certainly wouldn't want to affect their profitability.

I wouldn't object to commercials if, instead of $100 a season, I paid $25 (I'm obviously pulling numbers out of my, well, mind here just to "blue sky" some possible scenarios). Heck, I'd even be happy if, for CFL games, I only got one camera angle that showed the whole field, and commentary from the stadium announcer. In fact, I might like that better; while I appreciate the closer angles we get from TSN's CFL broadcasts, the broadcaster over the years has gotten increasingly bad at letting the viewers actually watch the game. Instead, they seem to concentrate on "the show," giving us replays ad nauseam and talking over plays and referee announcements. It's really annoying.

I'd be happy if the announcers would just shut up and let us watch - and if they want to analyze things to death at half time that's fine.

Under such a scenario of using apps exclusively I'd lose the network feeds and local TV, but the only thing I'd miss there is Jeopardy! - and why couldn't they also stream that from an app?  

Obviously, there'd have to be some things worked, but in a 500 or more channel universe where most people only watch a few channels it makes little sense for anyone but the content providers and the owners of the little-watched channels to keep forcing consumers to pay for them. And thanks to smart TV's and smart devices, there's no reason a content creator - whether a sports league, game show producer or whatever - couldn't send their content directly to its viewers.

Heck, these days, anyone can create his/her/its own streaming TV channel, and if you've seen the apps available for devices such as the Roku, you can see that people are doing that already, giving the established media much needed and deserved competition. I can see this only becoming more widespread. Right now there's a lot of crap out there - but probably no more so than on broadcast TV. And you can find some obscure programming via some of these apps that you may not find from the conventional broadcasters.

Do you hear the people sing?

Copyright 2016 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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