Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Reality ruins 'Live 8' boasts

By Jennifer Harper
Published July 6, 2005

Was the TV audience 3 million, 3 billion -- or maybe 3 kajillion? Depends on who's counting.

According to organizers of the "Live 8" concerts staged at nine cities Saturday, 85 percent of the planet could watch the "poverty awareness" music events studded with rockers, rappers and other musical elite.

Concert point man Bob Geldof told the press Monday that 3 billion viewers had tuned into the festivities.

Or did they?

According to Nielsen, fewer than 3 million watched ABC's two-hour special on the concerts, which featured Paul McCartney, Bono and the Who, among others. An additional 5 million watched the innovative video streaming of multiple concerts available at America Online.

The British audience, meanwhile, ranged from 4 million to 9 million, according to the British Broadcasting Corp., which received 400 complaints for airing foul-mouthed remarks from Madonna and other performers.

"Passions are running high, and many celebrities are emotional," a BBC spokeswoman explained.

Meanwhile, the French channel M-6 drew 1.9 million viewers, and two Italian broadcasts of the concerts pulled in a combined 2 million. In Canada, the TV audience numbered 10 million, the Hollywood Reporter said yesterday.

So simple math reveals the audience in these TV markets -- the biggest in the world -- to number about 30 million.

Concert organizers estimated live crowds of 205,000 in London; 150,000 in Philadelphia; 35,000 in Barre, Canada; 8,000 in Johannesburg; 200,000 in Rome; 150,000 in Berlin; 100,000 in Paris; and 10,000 each in Tokyo and Moscow.

In addition, 26 million people sent in text messages via their cell phones in support of the musical cause.

Though the roughly 27 million radio listeners were not factored, the number still does not bring the grand total of concert watchers in these markets to 60 million -- or about as many people as watch a typical Super Bowl in the U.S. alone.

Numbers aside, the "Live 8" events drew criticisms from charities and African leaders who felt the event was "too focused on money, rather than the problems of unequal trade and good governance in Africa itself," the BBC reported.

Others were offended by commentary from on-camera hosts, confused editing and heavy advertising of expensive goodies during a supposedly "anti-poverty" presentation.

"For one day while our culture united to do something good for the world, do we have to put the worst of it on display?" Ari Rabin-Havt asked in an article at the Huffington Post blog yesterday.

A few performers reported a spike in record sales. Some -- such as Pink Floyd and Mr. McCartney -- announced they would donate the profits to charity.

Others were not so generous. Pirated copies of the concert were available on EBay by Monday, but they were removed quickly from the online auction block after complaints from organizers and a record company that had bought the rights to the concert.

The pirates, Mr. Geldof told Reuters, were "cretins and scum."

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