Peter Gelb, GM of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, revealed details during the MidemNet conference in Cannes of the Met's success with cinecasting of live opera.

The former president of Sony Classical joined the Met in 2005, admitting that friends suggested he was going from "one sinking ship to another."

The Met was "pretty much regarded as the most conservative bastion in classical music," said Gelb, during his keynote conversation with Billboard international bureau chief Mark Sutherland.

At the time of his appointment, the Met was "suffering from an ageing audience and a declining one," and he decided to break down its image of "being veiled in elitism."

On a creative level, he moved to give the Met more creative purpose and "reconnect it to the public," doubling the number of productions a year to eight.

Gelb decided to experiment with live cinecasting in 2006, based on the popularity of radio broadcasts from the Met over 80 years, although he admitted it was "no easy task" to get agreement from the 16 unions representing workers at the Met.

The digital HD cinecasting, live and time delayed depending on territory, now reaches 1,000 theaters worldwide, and with 12 cameras Gelb compares it to covering a major sporting event.

"It is kind of a sport to hope your favorite tenor is going to hit the high note when he's supposed to," he said. However, he said that 3-D was not possible at present because cameras need to be up close to the subjects - not possible during a production at the Met.

The recent production of "Carmen" was the most successful cinecast to date, Gelb revealed, reaching 330,000 people who paid top-rate cinema prices - $20 or €20 ($28) in Europe - at 1,000 screens in 36 countries. The U.S. and Canada accounts for 50% of the cinecast audience, with a big following in Germany, France and Austria, too.

Such is the quality of the cinecasts, he said that many of the tickets sell to opera lovers, although research showed that 10% of the audience was new to opera and they said they would go to future cinecasts and some would also try an opera production.

There has also been a knock-one effect on productions at the Met Opera, now operating at 88% capacity over 330 performances, up from 76% in recent years.

The huge global audience also has a "great and profound effect on the talent pool" for opera, Gelb added, as opera performers now realize how big their appeal can be globally.

The Met Opera also has a radio station, Metropolitan Opera Radio, on Sirius Satellite Radio and has partnered with Rhapsody on a digital subscription service for access to its archive.