Victorian electrophone - a distant ancestor of modern streaming services

1890s Electrophone Promo

British theaters were among the hardest hit by the coronavirus epidemic. Live broadcasts of the show are helping to partially compensate for the losses, and some theater companies, including National Theater Live, are successfully mastering this format.

Interestingly, the idea of ​​broadcasting theater performances directly to spectators' homes dates back to the distant Victorian era. From 1883 to 1925, the London Electrophone Company broadcast online theater performances to residential buildings using a special device - an electrophone.

Alexander Bell realized that the telephone he invented could be used not only for conversations between individual subscribers, but also for the simultaneous transmission of information to large groups of people.

Then began the first "streaming" broadcasts in the homes of wealthy British music concerts, scientific lectures, church services and theatrical performances. For those who could not afford it, special listening salons were created.

Electrophone Salon, London (circa 1903)

Broadcasting was made possible by the electrophone, a device equipped with a primitive headset that was a simplified copy of the French theatrophone. He reproduced the broadcast from theaters and music venues. There were also Hungarian and Italian versions of the apparatus.

The broadcast from the electrophone went over wires to a central receiver in the house, where one or more headsets could be installed. For each additional headset you had to pay extra. In places from which the broadcast was going, in particular in theaters, small microphones were installed hidden behind the ramp, and in churches - in wooden dummies of the Bible.

An annual subscription to use an electrophone in the 1890s was £ 5 (roughly equivalent to £ 120 today). Such a high cost was calculated exclusively for wealthy users. However, kits installed in hotels and other public places, thanks to coin slots and much more democratic prices, have become available to a wide range of listeners.

The London Electrophone Company ceased to exist in 1925 - it simply could not get enough customers. For people of that time, the idea of ​​sitting in one place for a long time and listening to music through headphones was extremely strange and ridiculous - this predetermined the fate of the electrophone.

Advertising image of the London Electrophone Company