Billboard - September 14th 2003

Bowie Simulcasts 'Reality'

By Paul Sexton

LONDON (Billboard) - "This is my band. I'm in front of it. That makes me David Bowie."

Thus, one of music's most technologically imaginative artists launched a new adventure that placed him onstage and on the silver screen at the same time.

Bowie's concert Sept. 8 at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London, was an intimate yet grand-scale introduction to his new CD. Bowie performed the forthcoming "Reality" album in full at the show. It will be released internationally by ISO/Columbia Sept. 15 (Sept. 16 in North America).

The gig itself - for some 300 members of his Bowienet fan community plus about 150 media reps, celebrity fans and record company personnel - exuded the exclusivity of a private party. But it was beamed live by satellite in widescreen and 5.1 DTS digital surround sound (mixed by the album's producer, Tony Visconti) to cinema audiences in the U.K., Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland.

It was not the first time a band used a digital simulcast to theaters to bring an intimate show to a large number of fans. In June 2002, Korn broadcast a live New York concert to theaters in dozens of U.S. cities. But the Bowie event reached more countries and included a Q-and-A segment.

Demand for theater tickets in Paris prompted an expansion from two screens to 14.

With the attendant time delay, this inaugural interactive cinema event aired in Australia and Asia the following day and broadcasts Sept. 15 in the U.S., Canada and Brazil.

A total of 86 theaters in 22 countries will participate, for a total audience of 50,000, according to Julie Borchard, senior VP of international marketing at Sony Music U.S.

The event, she said, "has raised awareness of the new album to a fever pitch."

A label source estimates technical costs to be about $350,000, which were covered by Sony with a "small but significant" sponsorship contribution in the U.K. by communications company O2, which had on-screen advertising at participating Odeon cinemas in Britain.

The full performance of "Reality" by Bowie and his band was followed by a Q-and-A session overseen by U.K. TV personality Jonathan Ross. Bowie took live questions from fans in cinemas in Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, London and elsewhere.

This interlude was followed by a second live set in which Bowie played such hits as "Hallo Spaceboy" and "Modern Love," and other material from his vast catalog, including "Hang on to Yourself" from 1972's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust," "A New Career in a New Town" ("Low," 1977), "Fantastic Voyage" ("Lodger," 1979) and "Cactus" and "Afraid" from last year's "Heathen."

"The publicity generated has been incredible right across the board," says music media consultant Alan Edwards of the London-based Outside Organisation. "The whole undertaking was of course dependent on having an artist of caliber and vision to pull it off. People may well look back on this as a watershed in the presentation of live music."

Marc John, head of digital cinema for Odeon and managing director of Quantum Digital, which was responsible for digital delivery of the show, says: "This technology is affordable, and now that Bowie has done it, that should burst open the doors. I guarantee digital cinema will transform the multiplex."

Borchard says that Sony will ship 400,000 copies of "Reality" internationally. Bowie's world tour opens Oct. 7 in Copenhagen and will stretch well into 2004.