A Warped Sense of Technology

Ever been too busy to attend a concert? Or loved a band’s live sound much more than canned studio tracks? Receiving a recent push from the ever-evolving Vans Warped Tour, the latest digital technology has enabled artists to sort and legally release high-quality audio and video downloads of live performances, B-sides and other rare content.

The Warped Tour is America’s longest-running tour festival. Recognizing its young, zealous and techno-savvy fan base, it began releasing free, daily concert footage this year. Because Warped artists and select independent labels licensed all distribution, both free and paid files were made available across infamous, industry-disputed peer-to-peer networks such as Grokster and Kazaa.

Calling the service a good way to promote the tour and each band’s abilities on stage, Warped’s management partnered with Aloha Productions to capture nearly 50 shows from various stages and angles, including a daily report from a special mosh-pit camera.

For three days after each performance, Altnet, the leading online distributor of licensed digital entertainment, made free footage available on peer-to-peer networks. After this promotional period, audio and video singles were sold at 69 and 99 cents, respectively. By the end of the tour, consumers will be able to purchase entire tour compilations from the Warped Tour site, including performances by several of the 125 artists who did not perform at every show.

“Free is the basis of all these (peer-to-peer) networks because it aggregates users,” said Lee Jaffee, president of Altnet.

Two years ago, Altnet gained exclusive rights to distribute all legal content on peer-to-peer networks by acquiring patent rights for the network’s search engine tool. This means that all legal files currently available on file-sharing networks are sold through Altnet. The company sells to about 70 million users worldwide. Altnet says it uses the peer-to-peer system simply because it allows customers to download faster than a single, centralized system.

After collaborating with labels Epitaph and Vagrant on the tour, Altnet struck a separate deal with them and four other commercially successful independent labels. The contract allows labels and artists to customize which content they release on peer-to-peer networks and set the price of each file. Altnet currently has contracts with more than 100 record labels, film studios, software and video game developers.

Jaffee says he stands by his belief that the six major record labels that dominate the market cannot impede the progress of digital music technology, despite the fact that none have licensed content on a peer-to-peer network. Citing declining sales and the Recording Industry Association of America’s pending lawsuit against several file-sharing networks, major label representatives have publicly admitted hostility toward the networks and said they are hesitant to sign anything until the courts reach a final decision about file sharing.

Since it is “nearly impossible” for them to get in heavy rotation on today’s commercial radio, Jaffe says independent label managers have indicated that digital networks are their new radio. Altnet currently has contracts with the indie labels across all music genres.

“Independents are really more cutting-edge,” said Rob Williams, developer of TV Desktop, a new entertainment-based technology. “Major record labels are always afraid to be the first to try new digital technologies. Leading independent companies understand the power of new technologies and don’t have as much to lose.”

TV Desktop, which launched last February, is a desktop rich media player that delivers personalized content to computers and mobile devices. Its most recent client was the Vans Warped Tour, offering fans daily streamed video at no charge. The company has also partnered with independent rock label Orange Peal Records to offer exclusive extras such as album tracks, concert footage and up-to-the-minute tour news.

In addition to its music industry clients, T.V.D. also works with gaming companies, toy manufacturers and an instant messaging community that combines Findapix.com with instant messaging, allowing members to view the person they are chatting with.

Once you have downloaded the T.V.D. player, you can purchase any of the entertainment content available on its network, as well as receive information directly from the artists and other distributors.

Despite any hesitation, Williams said he is convinced “the majors will jump on.”

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