Mobile phone gigs: they could be the next best thing to being there

Tomorrow night Natasha Bedingfield will perform not only to 300 at the ICA but also to thousands by phone

When Natasha Bedingfield takes to the stage at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London tomorrow night, it will not just be the 300-odd fans in the venue with their eyes on her.

When Natasha Bedingfield takes to the stage at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London tomorrow night, it will not just be the 300-odd fans in the venue with their eyes on her.

The gig isn't being televised and nor is it being broadcast on radio, but some 2,200 viewers and listeners will be taking in the show by holding up their mobile phones.

Bedingfield is well used to having her fans holding their phones up to take pictures of her from the audience - but these ones will be as far away as Scotland and Wales, having paid £5 for a live feed of the gig.

This is the start of a form of broadcasting that could revolutionise the music industry, offering in effect gigs on demand, provided you have a phone with the means to pick up a signal.

Bedingfield, who has been selected by phone company 3 Mobile to pioneer the technology, seems suitably impressed. "Record companies should really keep their eyes on this because it could become much bigger," she says.

The singer, who has just come back from a tour of major venues, is excited by the prospect of playing a small auditorium such as the ICA and yet performing to a comparatively large audience. "Intimate gigs a re special - there's nothing like them," she says.

It might not be everybody's idea of fun to pay for the privilege of watching an entire concert on a tiny screen, but 3 Mobile claims that the quality of sound and vision is exceptionally high.

Graeme Oxby, director of marketing at 3, says the gig will be filmed by a company with a proven track record in music television. "We have a number of cameras with different angles, as you would for any decent gig," he says.

The audience are all 3 Mobile customers who were told of the chance to view the gig through a daily video messaging service "Today on 3". The first 2,200 to take up the offer will have £5 added to their regular phone bills. People from Manchester, Glasgow and Bristol are among those paying for the gig to be streamed to their phones.

Oxby says the audience is supposed to listen to the gig through their headphones (or "headset") but that use of speakerphone would allow more than one person in the room to hear the show (if not to see it).

"There is a lot of interest among artist management because there is a lot of potential here," he says. "Some of the more inventive record labels will start to push this whole thing."

Bedingfield was chosen to take part in the experiment because she is the most popular British artist among 3 Mobile customers for video downloads.

But whether your preference is for the mosh pit at the Roxy or a box at the Royal Albert Hall, you will have to wait a while before getting concerts on demand. Oxby admits that the potential for expanding the service to gigs nationwide is severely hampered by the lack of technology at most venues.

Very few can match the ICA when it comes to editing and video mixing desks and suitable connections to the phone networks. For the time being at least, most gig-goers will have to content themselves with getting off their backsides and actually going to the show.

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