Live Earth Online

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MSN.com

Watching Live Earth on television, as opposed to online via MSN, is an effect not unlike being a passenger in your grandmother's car: "Go faster, turn here, oh hell, forget it, I'll drive."

At least the Web experience put the viewer at the wheel, and thus offered more opportunities to engage, than NBC Universal's many television broadcasts. NBC Uni might have learned from MTV Networks' bungling of Live 8 in 2005 (talk less, play music more), but only so much. The only benefit of the TV channels: By watching both the Web and the time-shifted TV programming, it was possible to achieve a media parallax in which Alicia Keys preceded Ludacris preceded Alicia Keys. Instant replay!

Each concert feed streamed via MSN without buffering or hiccups, meaning that each was as mouse-clickably close as the next. Japanese electro-pop pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra played beside Shakira played beside Nunatak played beside Keith Urban in an endless moebius loop of music.

And there were other Web goodies, too. MSN prompted you to watch interactive features like "Ask a Climate Expert" and short films from the Live Earth Film Project. You could mark specific streams or features as favorites, allowing easy return to the best content. You could measure your carbon footprint. If all of these features were delivered in MSN's typically bland site format -- are there no designers in Redmond? -- at least watching online meant no commercials, save those delivered by the artists and MCs themselves: Turn off your computers, use less AC, ride buses not planes.

And let's talk about that for a sec. The inescapable paradox of Live Earth is its mixed messaging. The MSN webcast's main sponsor is Chevy. The concert stages, no matter how carbon neutral, are power-sucking sound machines. The rock bands are jetsetting globo-tourists (a fact to which Duran Duran alluded during their set in London). And we all watched, in our air-conditioned homes, with our brightly lit LCD screens, as the world was pumped in through the middle-class medium of broadband. Sigh. How conveniently we rage.

There came a point during Saturday's Live Earth webcast, otherwise known as the global effort to canonize Al Gore, when you almost expected the man to levitate off the stage and, in all his tofu-pallored glory, transubstantiate into a higher being. Maybe Bono.

Such was his saintly presence: On the stage at Giants Stadium in New York. On 30-foot-tall screens in Brazil, Japan and Australia. On the penitent lips of Madonna, Metallica and Shakira. And, wait, are those his hands on the posters and title cards, cradling the globe? So unflagging is Gore in his devotion to climate change, and so ubiquitous on every continent's stage, that you begin to suspect the man himself runs on biodiesel, or at least slicks his hair with it.

The pageantry that sprung from his devotion was, as seen through MSN's Live Earth webcast, nearly perfect in its execution. With a reported 9 million streams for the event breaking the record set two years ago by Live 8, Live Earth is broadband's biggest event to date. And Al Gore, patron saint and band leader of climatology, is its biggest star.

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