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Behind the scenes with the Stream Team

After a successful trial season including the world’s first ever Ultra High Definition (UHD) livestream, the Wiener Staatsoper is half way into its first full season packed with over 40 worldwide live streams. For our valued customers living outside Vienna, who are passionate about opera and ballet, this new initiative enables them to enjoy the Wiener Staatsoper’s world-class performances from the comfort of their own homes, be it in bed or even in the bath tub if they so wish. Or perhaps they want to watch the opera or ballet while sitting in the train on the way home from a long day in the office. Where ever they are, it’s no problem – the Staatsoper brings the performance to them.

It is likely that some people, who experience one of our livestreams, will simply associate the experience like any other video experience on the internet, e.g. like watching a video on YouTube. But little do these people know of the highly technical and complex activities which occur behind the scenes of each stream, ensuring the highest possible quality and enjoyment. First things first, for those who may not know what a stream is, as compared to a YouTube video, a live stream is the transmission of a performance in real time via the internet that cannot be stored and can only be viewed once. Three video teams at the Wiener Staatsoper consisting of directors, cameramen and assistants work closely together in a newly created video studio (pictured below). They are able to control 8 HD remote cameras which are installed in hidden locations, so as not to distract the artists performing on stage.

Christopher Widauer (Head of Digital Development) in the new Wiener Staatsoper Video Studio

During a live stream, one of the video teams consisting of two camera operators, a director, a director’s assistant, and a score assistant will be in full concentration mode for the duration of the whole performance.  Viewers have the option to choose between watching two channels: either a full and fixed view of stage, as if one if sitting amongst the audience, or a live cut opera film with close-ups and moving shots. It is for largely for this second channel that the team of camera operators, director and assistants are required. So what exactly does this highly qualified team do on an individual basis?


The director of a stream is the person in charge – they will decide, through rehearsing beforehand, how the various scenes will be filmed, and will direct the camera operators during the performance.

Director’s Assistant:

The director’s assistant will be constantly telling the camera operators exactly where they should be directing the cameras and who they should be focused on at any given time and how. A typical command from the director’s assistant may be something like “Camera 3, portrait shot of Plácido Domingo”

Camera Operators:

A team of two camera operators control the 8 HD cameras, which are installed around the stage, in a way that does not disturb or distract the singers or musicians on stage or in the orchestra pit. They will have a clear idea as to who they should be filming and when from having practiced the run through of the opera/ballet several times before the live event.

Score Assistant:

Without the score assistant, the rest of the team would have a hard time knowing where in the opera/ballet they are at any given point. The job of the score assistant is to have 110% concentration from the start to finish, and to read along the orchestral score so as to inform the rest of the team as to where in the performance they are and when.

Broadcast Technician:

The broadcast technician is responsible for the smooth running of the entire stream in every technical context. He will ensure all the pictures are sharp enough, and that the appropriate texts come into the picture at the right time, e.g. the end credits or the title and cast names. He will also be in charge of the program before the performance and in the intermission. The Broadcast Technician will always be the one to push the start and stop button at the start and finish of the stream.

For a selection of the live streams, viewers have the option of reading along the orchestral score on a second screen App during the performance. This way, all the “wannabe – conductors/opera singers” can place their tablets onto a music stand and conduct or sing along. For musicians, or for those who can read music, this extra feature can be a great experience - especially because often the original orchestral score is shown, with the conductor’s notations dating back decades! This feature of course does not happen on its own and for the select performances where this is made available, there will be an employee sitting in the 6th floor of the Staatsoper, turning the pages for you or “watermarking”. Next to him, for every stream, there is another employee who is in charge of the subtitles. Again, these can only be viewed on a second screen App so as not to disturb the beautiful scene on the television screen.

So for one beautifully filmed and edited live opera or ballet stream with subtitles and moving scores, a team of at least 8 people is required, with a complex work flow (pictured below).

  1. We start with a production on stage at the Wiener Staatsoper.
  2. Around the stage, there are 8 hidden HD remote cameras filming the artists.
  3. The video signal gets sent to the audio studio where the sound is mixed.
  4. This video/audio signal is then coupled with the subtitles and moving scores.
  5. This growing amount of data goes through one of two encoders, one for HD and the other for UHD. For UHD 6GB per second of data goes in and 12 Mbit of data per second gets sent out.
  6. The now huge amount of data is then sent to Ooyala (one of the leading partners of the Wiener Staatsoper).
  7. Ooyala, with their Content Delivery Network (CDN) and other resources, will finally send the final product to you, the viewer, at home.
  8. The viewer is now experiencing a live production directly from the Wiener Staatsoper on any of their devices at home or on the go.

Customers who subscribe to the Wiener Staatsoper’s live streaming service shouldn’t expect a platform where only videos are available. For this reason, a CMS (Content management system) is needed to ensure that entertaining and informative content can be uploaded onto the website quickly and efficiently prior to each stream. This varied content will include anything from artist biographies, synopses and trailers to “making-of” videos, as well as the full streaming program and different subscription offers. The Staatsoper´s treasured Dramaturges, the brothers Oliver and Andreas Láng, are responsible for the written and filmed content around each livestream. Their job revolves around the research and comprehensive exploration of the context in which the opera or Ballet resides. This can be anything from the historical meaning of a composition to the composer’s biography, a behind the scenes report or any interviews between the Staatsoper and various artists/singers.  And – last but not least – they produce the multilingual subtitles for each livestream and for select streams they also prepare a historic score to be shown in the 2nd Screen App.

The various Wiener Staatsoper Websites and apps are managed by the head of New Media, Uta Sander with the help of one or two valuable interns. She also takes care about the promotion of the livestreaming programme in the Staatsoper´s Social Media channels and builds the communities interacting with the various audiences. She also closely cooperates with NOUS/Pocket Science, a developing company who deliver the powerful backend, the CMS, the interfaces and the standard modules for the website and Apps. Without NOUS, the Wiener Staatsoper livestreaming would not be possible.

We live in an ever growing digital world, and no matter what business one may have, it is important for companies to be prepared to change and adapt to changing trends and demands. Even one of the more traditional enterprises like the Wiener Staatsoper have proven that going digital while keeping traditional values can work – and can work well!

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