Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi No Doubt: Intimate & Interactive

By Devin D. O'Leary

On April 13, pop stars extraordinaire No Doubt jumped into the Guiness Book of World Records with the largest interactive concert in history. While massive concerts (from Woodstock to Live Aid) are nothing new to the world of music, the word "interactive" is. Internet giant America On Line now hosts almost nightly chat sessions with major music stars, and the World Wide Web is currently choked with fan databases, record label sites and band home pages. Computers, it seems, are the newest tool in promoting musical acts.

No Doubt's interactive concert came courtesy of MuchMusic, a computer-age cable-television station that features music videos, concerts and dance shows with a high-tech twist. MM employs the latest technology to provide two-way communication with music fans. At the No Doubt Intimate & Interactive show, for example, viewers were able to witness an unprecedented event. Thanks to a "high-tech digital phone line" hookup with HMV music stores across the globe, fans from Singapore, New York, Toronto and Sydney asked questions live on air of Gwen Stefani and the other band members. In addition, MuchMusic's Web site (www.muchmusic.com) carried a live "cybercast" feed of the entire show.

MuchMusic has a unique philosophy when it comes to television. They do not believe in television "studios," instead preferring to shoot everything in informal "environments." MuchMusic is based in Toronto's Chum Building, and the entire structure is wired for sound, so to speak. Ninety miles of cable snake through the building, integrating audio, video and lighting. Shows can be shot in the hallways, at someone's desk, on the street, wherever. No Doubt's I & I concert was shot in MuchMusic's main office. Desks were shoved aside, walls were decorated and the band simply performed as thousands of low-tech fans pressed against the fishbowl windows of the MuchMusic environment to get a better look.

Following the concert, the members of No Doubt traveled upstairs to MuchMusic's Interactive offices (better known as "The Rumpus Room") to engage in a computerized chat with their fans on AOL. Standing behind the scenes of such an online event can be an enlightening experience. In the Rumpus Room, a young woman by the name of Sher weeded through thousands of computerized questions and sent appropriate ones over to the band for answers. Sher equates her job to that of a party host who introduces guests to each other and keeps the conversation lively. At the midpoint of the 30-minute online chat, Sher had welcomed 4,078 guests, weeded through 9,924 questions and scanned 2,595 comments. In such a sea of information, it may seem impossible for one person's voice to be heard. Truthfully, the majority of online questions are nonsensical ("XYXYXYXYXYXY?"), redundant ("Gwen, will you marry me?) or pointless ("You guys ROCK!"). Actually, just about any thoughtfully formed query is likely to be addressed. Gwen fielded queries such as "Where do you buy your clothes?" (she sews them all herself) while Adrian answered the burning question "How many drum kits do you own?" (four).

MuchMusic is a pioneer in the use of "Web casting" and "cyberchats." Recently, MTV's spin-off M2 made a sojourn into the interactive arena with its introduction of Intel's Intercast technology. M2's programs require a hardware upgrade that installs in your computer and allows you to bring cable TV to your computer screen with the addition of Web-style information pages. Unfortunately, this hardware costs upwards of $150 and does not allow true interaction. It's basically like reading small footnotes while you're watching TV. MuchMusic's interface works with current technology and allows users to really interact. All you need is a computer with a video card and you've got access to MM shows like "Combat Des Clips" (which lets wired users vote for the videos shown) and "Go With The Flow" (in which viewers chat online with the station's VJs).

MuchMusic is one of the channels Jones Intercable is considering adding to its basic line-up. Representatives of MuchMusic will be in town June 5 from 4 to 11 p.m. at two area Hastings stores (4315 Wyoming NE and 1630 Rio Rancho Blvd. SE) to promote awareness of their services. Drop by, check out the programming and win some prizes.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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