LiveTV:LA Tackles Live Theater Broadcasts

by Lee Isaacs, SVG Contributor

LiveTV:LA covered the gamut of live transmissions, from those intended for smartphones to what was billed as “The New 2nd Screen: Live Theater Transmissions.” Mark Schubin, freelance engineer-in-charge of the Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD, pointed out that the idea isn’t exactly new. The Met’s first live theatrical transmission went to 31 cinemas in 27 cities in 1952, and Schubin said he has worked in “live projected television” since 1967.

Although the Met series is, according to Schubin, “the number-one alternative content in the world” (it has been sent live to all seven continents, including Antarctica, and to 19 ships at sea), others are making money, too. Schubin mentioned London’s National Theatre’s NT Live and BBC Worldwide, which, he said, took in $16 million for a one-time theatrical showing of a single episode of Doctor Who.

According to Schubin, there are many differences from broadcast television, including perceptual factors related to vertical viewing angle and distance from the screen (the latter can introduce an acoustic delay conflicting with the image of a tight closeup). But the biggest challenge, he said, might be dealing with multiplex projectionists using different receivers, projectors, and sound systems.

Each Met transmission begins with a test sequence, including an old-style clapstick for lip sync, “the only thing all the projectionists could agree on.” Then small names identify subtitle languages even during the audience walk-in period, “because we never know when a projectionist will get to look in on our auditorium.” And the last 10 minutes of each transmission is a white card to provide reflected exit lighting, because the projectionist doesn’t know when the opera is over.

The techniques seem to be successful. The Met Opera: Live in HD is currently in the middle of its ninth year and is transmitted to more than 2,000 movie theaters in some 70 countries.

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