Napster and the State of Crowds Circa Right Now

One of the more-entertaining caper movies is the 2003 The Italian Job, a remake of the 1969 film (which I argue gets more credit than it deserves as it has Noel Coward and Benny Hill, with the former mailing it in and the latter giving it all that he has, which was generally more than enough when he was reeling it it). The movie features Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Donald Sutherland, Jason Statham, Edward Norton, and Seth Green. (Note I said “entertaining,” not Citizen Kane.)

Seth Green’s character—the obligatory computer hacking genius—is named “Lyle.” But Lyle insists that he is called “The Napster.” He explains that Shawn Fanning, who he says was with him at Northeastern University, was not the person behind the peer-to-peer file-sharing service launched in 1999.

Lyle rants: “I should have been on the cover of Wired Magazine. You know what he said? He said he named it ‘Napster’ because it was his nickname because of the nappy hair under the hat. But he. . .it’s because I was NAPPING when he STOLE it from me!”

Ah, Napster.

The company was sold last week by RealNetworks an internet streaming platform provider—which also owns SAFR, which it describes as “the world’s premier facial recognition platform for live video”–to MelodyVR, a British firm that streams virtual concerts.

It was a $70-million deal, with $15 million in cash, $44 million to be paid to music publishers and labels and $11 million in MelodyVR stock. Which seems to be pretty much a case were RealNetworks is getting $15 million in money, $44 million in what could be argued is debt-relief and $11 million in something that seems not to be, well, $11 million, because reportedly MelodyVR had a £16.1-million pretax loss in 2019. Hard to imagine things are going to be much better in 2020.

(One wonders: were The Italian Job to be remade again, would Lyle want to be called “The Napster”?)

But perhaps the virtual concert model is going to gain some traction in the pandemic world.


A few days before the Napster deal was consummated, a test with real people at a real concert was conducted by German researchers from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenburg at the Arena Leipzig.

The performer was Tim Bendzko, about whom I know nothing, but evidently he has the chops to draw 1,500 people who had to undergo COVID-19 tests 48 hours before the concert. (A less-charitable way of looking at it is that Bendzko or no Bendzko, the Leipzigeres wanted to get the hell out of their apartments.)

The attendees were given FFP2 face masks that were worn throughout the concert, wore contact tracing devices, and were given hand sanitizer that included a fluorescent material so that the researchers could see what surfaces had been touched. The participants were in three scenarios: one like a pre-COVID concert with no social distancing (or a contemporary event held at the White House); a second with multiple entrances and some distancing; a third where the number of attendees was reduced and those who were in the arena were told to stand five feet apart (or as they knew it: 1.5-meters apart).

The results of the study are to be released by the end of the year.

Admittedly, the experiment was rather artificial, as it’s not like the researchers could say to the attendees: “Hey, we want to see the consequences of about 1,500 concert goers all jammed together in a country that had 711 new COVID cases on August 24 and 1,571 on August 28.”

Professor Michael Gekle, the dean of the university’s medical school and a professor of physiology there acknowledged to CNN, throwing some evident shade at Tim Bendzko, “Of course, a concernt with Rammstein would be different.”

Presumably fans of Neue Deutsche Härte would be somewhat less apt to undertake the restrictions of the experiment.


This is something somewhat inexplicable. Tim Bendzko and/or Rammstein could perform at a concert in France with 5,000 people in attendance.

Emmanuel Macron’s government has said it is permissible to have mass events assuming that they’re held in open-air facilities, there is individual seating, and the attendees wear masks.

This seems somewhat odd in that on August 28 France had 7,379 new cases, the second-highest number since March 31, when it was 7,578.

One can only imagine that that 5,000 number is going to collapse rather rapidly, especially as French school children go back to the classroom the week of August 30.

And this is almost inexplicable: Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes in Paris knows that Gauloises are as much a part of the culture as a café au lait.

Yet according to the BBC, a mandatory mask-wearing requirement for people in public went into effect in Paris on August 28 and asked whether people could remove their masks to have a smoke, Paris Deputy Mayor Anne Souyris said, “You’re not allowed to smoke on the street without a mask; you can’t take it off, so you must find another way.”


As for things on this side of the Atlantic, according to the most-recent Morning Consult polling, when asked when consumers think they’ll attend a concert, 27% said they don’t know, 46% said >6 months, 10% the next 6 months, 7% the next 2-3 months, and 10% next month.

By political affiliation, 23% of Republicans are comfortable with the concert scene right now, 13% of Independents are, and just 7% of Democrats. (Which brings us back to the White House lawn.)

Maybe the folks at MelodyVR are on to something.

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