Sirius, The Met, and Rhapsody or Why Recording Executives Should be Permanently Retired

Peter Gelb has earned much praise for the innovations he has initiated during his brief tenure as General Manager at the Metropolitan Opera. Among these is broadcasting several live performances a week on Sirius. He also has released past performances from the Met’s 75 year old archives, again on the Sirius network. But remember he was the president of Sony Classical before he came to the Met.

Recording companies specialize in antagonizing their customers – they sue them and insist on digital rights management schemes that make no sense. They also don’t understand their own business model. If they did they wouldn’t have given the store away to ITunes. DGG wouldn’t have finally offered compressed downloadable music at a greater price than a CD that’s not compressed. So it was inevitable that Gelb would shoot himself in the kneecap and antagonize his audience.

Consider what’s happened to the Met broadcasts on Sirius. At first they were offered on the internet just like any other of Sirius’s online content. But now they time out after 90 minutes. There’s a beep, a screen appears asking if you’re still there, and if you don’t respond in a few minutes you’re logged off.

Why would anyone do this? When I asked Sirius about it they said they wanted the Met broadcasts to be an “interactive” experience. Listening to the radio is interactive? Only if you’re in a bath tub and you drop the radio into the water. If you listen to the Met on a radio, rather than the internet, there’s no 90 minute alarm.

The real reason is that the Met has just released 100 broadcasts for listening and downloading on the Rhapsody network. The Met obviously doesn’t want its listeners on Sirius to record the broadcast instead of getting them from Rhapsody – hence the clumsy 90 minute beep. The failure of thought here operatic – only a tenor or a recording executive could have thought it up.

First since the old broadcasts are repeated often one can record the first half of the opera while away from the computer and record the second half the next time it’s broadcast. Or you could record it from a radio instead of the internet. Sirius says recording the broadcasts violates its Terms of Agreement, yet the company sells radios with built in recorders so its listeners can record its programs.

Next why would anyone who pays $12.95 a month to listen to Rhapsody pay extra to download broadcasts which can be listened to on demand and recorded without any extra charge? The upshot of all this tomfoolery is that the Met has offended part of its audience and devalued its broadcast service through Sirius. On second thought, even a tenor couldn’t have thought this up.

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