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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 09:02 GMT
Madonna gig: Webcast review
Madonna web cast
The web cast attracted nine million people
The BBC's John Hand was unable to get a ticket for the Madonna gig so he joined the nine million watching it on the web.

Sitting in front of a computer was the last place I wanted to be.

Madonna - a singer I had trailed around Europe in the past - was playing just down the road at Brixton Academy and I was still trying to grasp the difference between realplayer and mediaplayer.

It's not as if I hadn't made the effort. In the past week, no record company contact went unpestered and no competition unentered.

The Sun's challenge to guess Bizarre columnist Dominic Mohan's three favourite Madonna tracks only had 120 possible combinations, I calculated, as I cleared my newsagent's shelves.

I encouraged, bribed, cajoled and bullied friends into risking redial strain injury entering radio phone-ins on my behalf.

And I bid with the best of them in online auctions before the four-figure sums being bandied about became a bit too tasty for me.

So it was a date with a computer screen at my work desk after all.

Fans were glued - until things went wrong
Try as I might to get into the pre-gig spirit by asking the BBC canteen staff to serve up a Wembley-style hotdog, it still felt like I was sitting down to an evening at work.

And my scepticism about the whole thing wasn't helping my mood.

In the past, live concert webcasts seem to have been linked to more newspaper headlines about failures and crashes than a typical Murray Walker commentary.

So it was a revelation when I did manage to link to the live webcast hosted by without a hitch.

Sound and vision came together in the unmistakable form of support act Sharleen Spiteri.

My cynicism disappeared as I watched a link as good as any TV....for two minutes.

Then the whole thing crashed. I reloaded, got sound with no picture. Crash.

Reload. Picture with no sound. Crash. Reload. No picture with no sound.

HMV queue
Fans did all they could to get their hands on tickets
But eventually I got there again and caught most of Spiteri's impressive solo set.

Bored with MSN host Kate Thornton's light grilling of celebs between the on-stage action, I logged into a Madonna chat forum for the webcast equivalent of making smalltalk at the Brixton Academy bar.

The diehard bunch at Dotmusic's Madonna forum were reporting varying degrees of success in getting a clear picture of the proceedings and offering plenty of useful advice for webcast virgins.

I soon realised - from the experiences of those suffering similar torture - that the safest tactic was to stick to the less ambitious 56k broadcast rather than the all-singing, all-dancing, all-crashing 700k.

But then again, being at work put me in the privileged position of being able to set up another computer with the compromise 300k version in place when it felt like making an appearance.

I then settled back to enjoy a glitch-free broadcast of Madonna's performance.

When it came through, especially on 300k and 700k, it was fairly glorious - but of course it couldn't last

Fan Jom Ferguson

The picture may not have been perfect TV quality but, to be honest, I've seen pop videos which blow big budgets to achieve a similar effect.

To MSN's credit, I probably made out the names of Rocco and Lola on Madonna's T-shirt quicker than I would have done down in the moshpit at Brixton.

The performances of the new tracks from music and particularly the electronic update of Holiday would frankly have sounded and looked enchanting if I'd been forced to watch them underwater.

The occasional interaction with other Madonna fans ensured it was a fairly social event as well. They agreed it was a success of sorts.

Chris Parsons, 21, of Oxford, said: "MSN did a pretty good job. My feed was working perfectly until the intro of Holiday, which was annoying.

"But overall it was actually better than I expected from my experience of previous webcasts."

Jim Ferguson, a longtime fan from New York tuning in during an afternoon at work, said: "Overall, it was an exercise in frustration.

"When it came through, especially on 300k and 700k, it was fairly glorious. But of course it couldn't last.

"I worked my way down to the 56k connection, for no other reason than I'd rather have mediocre sound and choppy streaming than constant lapses in continuity."

Did you go to the "party", or watch it on the web? What did you think? Were you disappointed that she only played for twenty minutes?

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