The controversy over AT&T’s blueroom chopping out some anti-administration rhetoric from Pearl Jam’s performance of “Another Brick In The Wall” at Lollapalooza heated up over the weekend, with Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis tying the incident into his tireless complaining about Lollapalooza’s overwhelming corporate sponsorship, the Daily Swarm scouring message boards for incidents of the sound dropping out on other blueroom performers, and Wired‘s Listening Post blog finding that there was no “editing for content” clause in the release handed out to performers. One question that remains, though: Why is AT&T censoring for content in the first place, when its site makes no mention of the fact that live content is pre-screened before being beamed to the world?
A spokesperson for AT&T passed along a statement from the company that said, in part, “It’s not our intent to edit political comments in webcasts on attblueroom.com. Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases.” But the setup that the Sun-Times points out does intimate that the blueroom does edit for content, despite there being no disclaimer on the site that said screening takes place:
A suburban Chicago company provided a live video feed from the park to AT&T, and a freelance company in Los Angeles broadcast that stream on the Web several seconds later, after the footage was reviewed by a “content monitor” who could “bleep” or edit the footage because of objectionable content, much as network television does with shows like the Grammys.
“Ordinarily, they would not be at all interfering with the performance of a song — with lyrics or anything along those lines,” said Tiffany O’Brien Nels, AT&T’s Austin, Texas-based spokeswoman. “A good example of what they’re there for would be an artist engaged in typical stage banter where the profanity gets excessive. The reason we have that person in place is the Blue Room [Web site] is not age-restricted.”
Surely it would be nice for AT&T to be up-front about its content-screening policies, instead of having to let viewers know about them only after a particularly embarrassing screw-up. And given that AT&T is the only company that’s streaming these huge outdoor festivals–and it’s trying to trade on the cool factor of the “edgy” artists on their bills–the option to hear the unrated version of the shows would at least allow the adults in the audience to, you know, be treated like adults instead of condescended to “for the children.”
But what’s even more shady about this whole thing is the nature of the content-screening. Just who is this L.A.-based company–the absence of its name from the Sun-Times piece seemed a bit jarring–and what is its guidelines for profanity being “excessive”? We’ve already seen how MTV’s bleeping policies border on the incoherent, and I’d think that the “I know it when I see it” definition of obscenity for fans of artists like Pearl Jam or, shoot, even Tom Petty (whose performance of “You Don’t Know How It Feels” had its “let’s roll another joint” line allegedly bleeped by blueroomers) would be a lot different than those outlined in a training manual for people who are probably making about $15 an hour. So will AT&T come out with its guidelines for content screening? Or are users just supposed to guess at lyrics the way they have to with TRL broadcasts of Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls”?
Corporate sponsor or corporate censor? [Chicago Sun-Times]