Board Report on Livestreaming at the Annual Meeting
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Report on AMS Board’s Discussions on Livestreaming at the Annual Meeting
In December 2018, the President charged two groups, the Committee on the Annual Meeting (CAM), and the Technology Committee (TechComm), to investigate the possibility of providing remote access to the AMS Annual Meeting. CAM did extensive research on the practices of sister music scholarly societies and the cost to have such service from a commercial vendor. TechComm, on the other hand, concentrated their research on the technological aspects as well as the different types of possible remote access. In compiling their report, TechComm discussed the issue with their colleagues and students, and reached out to IT staff in their workplaces. Both committees discussed the legal and ethical implications as well as pros and cons of streaming.
Practices of other societies
Of the sister societies, only the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) streams and archives multiple sessions. For their annual meeting in 2018, SEM streamed around 15 sessions, including their business meeting. The streams are available at no charge, and the archives are available on their website. The reason for their being able to offer this is largely due to their association with Indiana University. Although SEM owns its video equipment, it uses IU streaming software and IU hosting computers, relies on an IU support team that includes a paid stream/AV assistant who coordinates video streaming onsite, and hires 8–10 student volunteers. Therefore, other than the upfront equipment costs, there are many hidden costs that cannot be easily quantified. In 2016, SMT and SAM both offered streaming for a very small number of conference sessions. These efforts were limited to 2 to 3 sessions per conference. In addition, SMT archived and made available these sessions on their website. Some of the challenges these societies faced included the cost of the video/streaming equipment, the quality of the videos, and the reliability of conference internet/streaming connections. AMS, too, is streaming its own business meeting using non-professional equipment. Individual session organizers sometimes stream their own sessions or enable remote speaker participation.
Cost of commercial streaming
In 2018, the estimated price for professional vendors for streaming the 3-day conference was about $7,500. This cost is prohibitive considering AMS’s current finances. Of the societies that we polled, only the Music Library Association (MLA) is using a commercial vendor to provide streaming. MLA’s conference is much smaller, with about 3 simultaneous sessions, compared to AMS’s 9–10 simultaneous sessions currently. Partly to pay for the streaming, MLA’s conference registration rates are much higher than AMS’s: $250 for early registration and $370 for regular registration, compared to AMS’s $145 registration rate for Minneapolis.
Legal and ethical issues, and interest in streaming
In addition to these issues, there are also legal and ethical issues in live-streaming experiential materials. Some societies have experienced threats of legal action against them because of the streamed sessions. If AMS is to proceed, all legal and ethical issues must be carefully considered, including obtaining signatures of participants.
It is also uncertain how many people would use this service. One special session that AMS livestreamed several years ago because of vocal demands ended up with two people tuning in.
TechComm considered both “remote participation” (allowing those not physically present at the AMS Annual Meeting to hear/view the keynotes, plenary sessions and panels via technologies such as livestreaming or video recording), and “remote presentation” (where a presenter who cannot attend the meeting for any reason presents remotely or sends a video of the presentation, and then answers questions remotely).
The committee agreed that remote participation would increase accessibility to the activities of the Society but concluded that at this point the challenges of providing a “remote participation” option for the entire conference outweigh the potential benefits. Concerns around remote participation include costs, the risk of a substandard experience, and issues around intellectual property issues (for video or audio clips, for example; and for presenters).
With these concerns in mind, TechComm suggested developing a pilot program, where the sessions in one conference room would be livestreamed and/or recorded in order to assess costs and logistics. Select sessions could be recorded for viewing at a later time, using YouTube and Vimeo, which are simple and work well. During this pilot phase, TechComm recommends a cost-benefit analysis: both a qualitative analysis of the experience and a quantitative analysis of the actual use of the livestream or remote presentation options. Before incurring any large-scale costs, we should assess the degree to which the livestreamed meetings are used or useful.
Techcomm reached a clear consensus that developing ways to enable remote presentation at the Annual Meeting is in the best interest of the society and its members. Reasons for being unable to attend might be financial, family or health reasons, and weather emergencies. It would further democratize the AMS by increasing the opportunities for scholars to present their work. Bandwidth requirements are relatively low; pre-recorded sessions could be played on the chair’s computer, while the presenter could be available over telephone or videoconferencing for the question period at the end. The AMS could develop guidelines for a good recorded presentation, guidance for chairs on how best to facilitate a recorded or remote presentation, including the chair’s review of the presentation prior to the conference.
With these reports in mind, the Board discussed the feasibility of streaming AMS Annual Meeting sessions during their November Board Meeting for remote participation. The Board, as a whole, thinks that this is a good service to people who are unable to travel. However, the downside could be that the members’ institutions would use this as an excuse to reduce the travel budget. In addition, we would have to solve the legal and ethical issues mentioned above. The Board is also uncertain about the number of members who would like this service; no systematic survey has been carried out. Considering the technical, financial, and legal problems surrounding remote participation, the Board concluded that livestreaming sessions for remote attendees remains too challenging for a society as small as ours to implement any time soon, especially given the lack of evidence that members would actually use the service. Therefore, the Board proposed that a pilot program of remote participation be carried out in 2022, at the joint meeting with SEM and SMT, if the finances of the Society improve by then. The Board believes, however, that the Society should facilitate remote presentation in the next meeting in Minneapolis under Board-approved guidelines. (These Guidelines will be discussed during the April 2020 Board meeting.)
Members who worked on the remote access reports
Members of CAM who worked on the report to the Board were Tekla Babyak, Abigail Fine, Bonnie Gordon, Charles Hiroshi Garrett, Stephan Pennington, and Judy Tsou (chair). Members of TechComm who worked on their report to the Board were Julie Cumming, Karen Desmond (chair), David Kigder, Debra Lacoste, Joshua Neumann, Colin Roust, Caitlin Schmid, and Matthew Vest. Council members who helped with the TechComm report were Evan MacCarthy, Kendra Leonard Preston, Reba Wissner, and Emily Zazulia.
Respectfully submitted by Judy Tsou (CAM), Julie Cumming (TechComm), and Karen Desmond (TechComm)