Revolving Web options blanket Live Earth

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When the mega-musical event Live Earth kicks off Saturday, online spectators can alternate between the live crooning of Keith Urban outside New York or the ballads of James Blunt in London with a simple click of the mouse.

That ability to simultaneously watch performances in real time at LiveEarth.MSN.com from across the world is just one of the reasons why the event's exclusive global online home, MSN, predicts that Live Earth will be a record-breaker.

"We expect it to be the most highly watched entertainment event online," MSN senior director Lisa Gurry said.

MSN will be vying for eyeballs in the U.S. with NBC Universal, which is spreading its television coverage across its many channels (HR 7/5). MSN also is streaming Live Earth to 25 overseas markets as localized experiences catering to the language needs of that particular area. Some nations have more than one market with a specific language, so altogether 39 markets will have simultaneous feeds available.

In comparison, AOL — the online partner of Live 8 two years ago — streamed its concerts worldwide through one U.S. site in English, with four separate portals targeting fans in the U.K., France, Germany and the U.S.

AOL ultimately reached 5 million unique users for Live 8 globally, delivering about 175,000 concurrent video streams at the height of its coverage, making it a record-setting event for the Internet.

Nina Guralnick, GM for Control Room, the digital entertainment distributor that also orchestrated Live 8, sees Live Earth's partnership with MSN and the event's multiple live online streams as a major coup.

"With Live 8, we had no global partner," she said. "That's a huge distinction in terms of online reach. This issue is not unique to one particular country. MSN is reaching 42 countries in 21 languages and has 465 million unique users monthly."

Guralnick also cited the collaboration with streaming media production outlet Incited Media as responsible for the ability of people worldwide to catch any show at any time and never miss a beat.

The capability is a result of Incited's on-demand encoding technology and its team of about 80 technicians who will stream nine live feeds to LiveEarth.MSN.com.

"You can actually watch every single show from beginning to end, up to eight shows broadcast simultaneously, and you can pick what's happening live," Guralnick said. "It's more like being at the concert — or all eight at the same time — but from the comfort of your own home."

Guralnick said the other distinction is the site's search feature for on-demand content. This capability allows users to locate concert video by song, location and artist once the event has concluded. If, for instance, viewers don't want to watch the entire London show of Madonna, they don't have to. While AOL had a video search feature with Live 8, it didn't accommodate such specific searches.

Gurry said that a crew of more than 100 people will be working out of MSN's Redmond, Wash., location in an effort to have on-demand video edited into editorial packages by Sunday.

Additionally, the MSN site is giving audiences a deeper look at the artists performing through backstage footage and interviews along with a bevy of interactive tools designed to connect with others in the name of environmental awareness.

Photo galleries and message boards, an instant-messaging feature and the ability to share playlists are additional features, along with editorial and video content designed to heighten users' awareness of climate change and its solutions. Interactive maps will display concert cites and venues.

The site's "green" section is where users can pledge an environmental commitment and where the Friends of Live Earth platform is being built. Those who want to participate and throw their own Live Earth party will apply online, which also is where willing participants can locate where those events will be held geographically.

Other features include a "greenometer," a "carbon calculator" and an interactive map with climate "hot spots." LiveEarth.MSN.com's sponsors include Philips, Chevy and Zune, with each incorporating its own environmental message into its presence on the site.

"We are offering a tremendous amount of supporting content," Gurry said. "Users will be able to watch all their favorite performances, but we've also made it easier to learn more about the artist, the cause and to engage with the community."

Online video of the performances on the Web will come in the form of a straight feed and include stage announcements from celebrity presenters identifying the acts and assisting with the transitions between them. A "ticker" running beneath the video window on the Web page will include short updates regarding performances at various venues.

National Geographic footage relating to climate change that will be displayed on Jumbotrons at the nine live concerts also will be available on the site.

On the wireless platform, MSN has a deal with Sprint in which mobile simulcasting and on-demand replays of shows from the U.S. and the U.K. will be available to Sprint Vision and Power Vision customers in the U.S.

Additionally, an SMS campaign created in partnership with digital infrastructure platform VeriSign will allow participants to message a basic environmental pledge related to everyday life activity through a short code. In turn, they will receive a message confirming its receipt and providing simple environmental solutions to apply daily. The names of committed participants will be listed on LiveEarth.org at event's end.

The power of participation through the mobile phone was one lesson learned through Live 8. Organizers said that more than 26 million people globally used the platform to lend their support to that campaign.

"It gives people an easy way to engage with the concert," Guralnick said about the event's mobile component. "It's all about practical things people can do and using their vote to solve this problem."
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