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CYBERCULTURE | THE SCENE / Intel New York Music Festival

Are They Ready to Cyber-Rock? Only Time Will Tell

July 20, 1998|THOMAS S. MULLIGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Claude Leglise said he'd be satisfied if last week's Intel New York Music Festival turned out to be another Woodstock.

It might sound like a grandiose ambition for an event that featured mainly unknown bands in mainly small nightclubs, but Leglise, vice president of content for Intel Corp., was talking about mouse clicks rather than actual crowds.

The final numbers won't be known until later this week, but Leglise was hoping that the Internet site featuring live feeds from the four-day festival (http://www.intelfest.com) would draw 300,000 visitors--a moderate estimate of the crowd at Max Yasgur's farm in the summer of 1969.

Last year's festival--Intel's first as the name sponsor--boasted 125,000 visitors, and the company billed it as the biggest live event in Internet history.

In some ways, that's the story of Internet commerce: Annual growth rates may reach 100%-plus for page views or even online sales, but the absolute numbers remain minuscule from a mass-marketing standpoint.

Still, big companies such as Intel, Unisys Corp. and Ticketmaster Group--all sponsors of this year's event--keep kindling the flame in hopes that it will be roaring in a few years.

For the biggest boosters of online music performance, there was a high-tech reality check on display at the festival's operations center, a borrowed room on the ground floor of Consolidated Edison's Manhattan headquarters.

Against one wall of the bustling room, several technicians with headphones were monitoring computer screens that let them hear and see the concert performances as if they had only the relatively low-speed modems and Internet connections available to most home computer users.

The sound wasn't too tinny nor the visuals too jerky, but they were no match for the clarity and crispness of ordinary TV.

Today only about 400,000 U.S. households have the kind of high-speed Internet connections that would upgrade the audio and video experience to something approaching a stereo broadcast on network TV.

Leglise predicts that this broadband audience will grow to 3 million by Christmas 1999 and 10 million a year later, vastly expanding the market for live Internet performances--and for fast downloading of music onto home computers.

"That's when it gets interesting," he said.

Elsewhere in the operations center, musicians and Internet savants were being interviewed for programs to be aired between concerts on the festival site.

A big grease-pencil bulletin board listed the schedule of performances at the 20 clubs involved in the event.

Across the street at Irving Plaza, a converted movie theater that was one of the larger nightclubs hosting the festival, there seemed to be little awareness of the connection between the performances on stage and the Internet, despite the Intel posters and computer monitors stationed around the main room.

During a late-night performance by the alternative rock band the Jesus and Mary Chain, fan Carol Rafferty of Brooklyn was asked whether she had visited the Web site.

"No!" she yelled. "I like live music!"

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