No Escape as Live 8 Saturates

This weekend’s global music event, Live 8, is using every medium possible to raise awareness about poverty — from streaming music and video to texting, blogging, satellite radio and television.

One of the biggest efforts is by AOL Music, which will host live feeds of the concerts in six cities: London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Toronto and Philadelphia. Anyone can log on and watch the shows for free, not just AOL members.

Live 8 is an effort to raise awareness about poverty and to encourage leaders of the G8 nations to forgive the debts of poorer nations, increase aid to Africa and embrace fair trade. The event is timed to coincide with the G8 summit in Scotland on July 6.

“We’re living in a different world now than the first Live Aid,” said Jeff Greenfield, a marketing expert who plans to blog the event. “One person’s voice doesn’t carry as far as just their neighbor or their friends.

“Just seeing that people are involved and (poverty) concerns them will raise awareness,” he added. “This is something that everybody cares about, all over the world.”

An A-list of bands is on the performance roster: the Black Eyed Peas, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder, Madonna, U2, the Who and many more.

AOL said it has been continuously updating the schedule as more performers are added. Each of the concerts will run for at least six hours apiece.

Additional concerts in Johannesburg, Moscow, Tokyo and Scotland will not be broadcast live on AOL, but portions will be included in the full streaming video archive — along with all the major concerts — for six weeks after the event.

“I think it’s close to 50 hours of concerts in total,” said Al Reitz, director of production for AOL productions. “The opportunity to find your favorite groups and watch them on demand after the fact is pretty cool…. Folks can’t be in six countries at once.”

Reitz and a team of 80 people will be in AOL’s Los Angeles office at 4 a.m. PDT on Saturday morning to get ready for the first concert, which begins at 5 a.m. PDT in Berlin. The concerts are staggered to begin at different times throughout the day.

Live feeds from each of the cities will be beamed by satellite to the AOL studio in Los Angeles where they will be reformatted and branded, then sent to AOL headquarters in Virginia where they will be encoded into Windows Media streaming format, Rietz explained. Then the concerts will be uploaded onto servers for the world to watch.

AOL would not release projected traffic numbers, but expects the archived concerts to be particularly popular since many people in the United States will be spending the holiday weekend outside, Reitz said.

Text messages are also playing a part to increase awareness about poverty. U.S. cell-phone subscribers can message their name to “UNITE” (86483) as a show of support, and their name will scroll by on an LED screen above several of the concert stages.

The idea is borrowed from previous U2 concerts. The band often encourages audience members to text their names in support of the fight against African poverty and AIDS, and flashes the messages on concert screens.

It’s the modern version of holding up cigarette lighters, said Danny Malks, technical lead and chief architect for Sun, which designed the Java platform that enables the audience participation.

“With a ubiquitous device like a cell phone, suddenly you’re an activist,” Malks said. “(People) can get involved. It’s fun and it’s for a good cause…. When someone sees their name up there, it creates an excitement and a buzz.”

The blog search engine Technorati has set up a special Live 8 page to aggregate Live 8-related posts, which then show up in search results. As of Friday afternoon, there were nearly 10,000 posts tagged Live 8, and the concerts had yet to begin. Fifty bloggers are reportedly getting backstage passes to blog the event.

The Live 8 concerts will also be broadcast by MTV Networks, Premiere Radio Networks and XM Satellite Radio.

For most companies participating, the support generates great publicity. But the losers might be several companies that contributed to $12,000 luxury gift bags that will be handed out to celebrities, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Greenfield, the marketing expert and blogger, said the blogosphere has already been chattering about the gift bags, which will reportedly include Hugo Boss suits, Seven jeans, Gibson Guitars and Bertolucci watches, among other fancy gewgaws. Greenfield said it would have been much smarter for the companies to make a donation on the celebrities’ behalf.

“We think it’s interesting that brands want to be included in a swag bag that has to do with poverty,” Greenfield said. “They’re kind of missing the whole picture.”