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A new dawn of digital: Behind livestreaming’s “massive explosion”

“Digital is not the same as live, but it’s the best we can do”: IQ talks to live event professionals moving online to entertain fans, boost funds and celebrate workers

By IQ on 20 Apr 2020

A new dawn of digital: Behind livestreaming's "massive explosion"

Cirque du Soliel's CirqueConnect hub has attracted over 30m viewers so far


In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, livestreaming is being used by organisers and artists alike in ever more diverse, versatile and creative ways, as virtual events and interactions help to keep brands alive, fans engaged and revenue flowing.

The One World: Together at Home took place over the weekend, becoming one of the biggest livestreamed music events in history. The mammoth livestreamed benefit concert, co-curated by Lady Gaga and organised by the World Health Organisation and Global Citizen, raised almost $128 million for vaccine development and local and regional charities.

The event has been compared by some to an online Live Aid – although organisers state One World is not a traditional fundraiser, with the majority of money raised by corporate partners and philanthropists, rather than by individuals.

The event featured the likes of Taylor Swift, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Chris Martin, Rita Ora, Usher, Elton John and Paul McCartney, in celebration of frontline health workers and in support of the WHO’s Covid-19 solidarity fund.

The concert was split into two parts, with a six-hour “pre-show” streamed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube; followed by the main two-hour broadcast, which was shown simultaneously by all three of the main US TV networks. The event also appeared on the UK’s BBC on Sunday evening (19 April), as well as on streaming services including Alibaba, Amazon Prime Video, Apple, LiveXLive, Tencent, Tidal, Twitch and YouTube, as well as airing inside virtual multiplayer game Roblox.

Elsewhere, livestreaming has been used to raise funds for those within the live events industry, such as those put on by Beatport, Bandsintown, TicketCo, or as a goodwill gesture to fans missing out on a shutdown festival, as in the case of DGTL Amsterdam, Lollapalooza Chile and Estéreo Picnic in Colombia, among others.

“I think people aren’t so bullish at the moment, and are trying to help each other out”

The breadth of opportunities in livestreaming is huge, with some monetising via an informal virtual busking, or tip jar model, through charitable donations, or via a ticketed, pay-per-view or subscription model.

For Cirque du Soleil, livestreaming is simply acting as a way to give viewers an escape from life under quarantine. The company’s new CirqueConnect content hub premieres a 60-minute special featuring highlights from live shows each week, before adding the content to an archive together with virtual reality experiences, tutorials and music videos.

“Digital is not the same as live, but it is the best we can do now,”  Sheila Morin, Cirque du Soleil’s chief marketing and experience officer tells IQ. “The goal is to make it easy for fans to find entertaining content. We are not making money from this.”

The first 60-minute special attracted 8 million viewers on Friday 27 March, with the content hub overall attracting 32m users so far. “We have a lot of ideas about what we could do with this in the future,” adds Morin.

Another live music company delving into the online space is management firm 11E1even Group, which has set up the ongoing virtual festival Live From Out There. The idea for the festival, the group’s owner Ben Baruch tells IQ, originated when clients starting to have tours cancelled.

“We immediately entered into the mode of how to keep money flowing to artists and crew with new streams of revenue ,” says Baruch, “and thought of livestreaming but with the mentality of booking and marketing it like a traditional festival.”

“We are doing this to make sure that artists and crew are paid for their performances to help them survive during these crazy times”

The team approached the festival in the same way as they would for booking a live show, says Baruch, putting together a virtual festival line-up and bringing in Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial assistance to industry workers and artists, as a charitable partner.

Artists upload 45 to 60 minutes of unique never before seen live footage which the Live From Out There team prices accordingly. The virtual event has raised over $250,000 so far, with fans paying for $50 six-week subscriptions, $20 weekend passes or paying per view, with single shows starting from $5. Of the revenue generated, 70% goes directly to the artists.

“We are doing this to make sure that artists and crew are paid for their performances to help them survive during these crazy times. I very much support many of the other models where all money goes to charity and artists involved don’t get paid, but for us, we are doing that through Sweet Relief, plus making sure the artists involved in our programming get paid.”

For the first week of programming, says Baruch, no major recording artists performed at the festival, meaning licensing has not been an issue. “I also think people aren’t so bullish at the moment, and are trying to help each other out,” says Baruch, adding that, “we will continue to go grow and diversify our platform and did so last week for the Bill Withers Tribute which had artists such as Finneas, Stephen Marley, Craig Robinson, Allen Stone and many more major artists.”

“We have no intention of stopping at this point and are already working on phase two of the platform and see everything that we are working on now still being relevant once we return to some sort of normal,” adds Baruch.

A mainstay in the livestreaming game, self-serve platform Stageit has been hosting concerts online since 2011, but has seen a “gigantic uptake” since the coronavirus outbreak.

“As people start to miss live shows more and more, we will see an increasing number turning online for their live music fix”

“There has been a massive explosion on the site,” says Stageit’s production and artist relations manager Nick Cox. “We are now having more big shows in a day than we have had in a month typically.”

Stageit is licensed by US performance rights organisations (PROs) Ascap and BMI and, as no content is archived on the site, there is no need to pay for any recorded rights, says Cox. Artists that have performed on the site include Jon Bon Jovi, Korn, Jason Mraz, Sara Bareilles, Rick Springfield and Bret Michaels, with a new influx of artists that have had upcoming tour dates cancelled now coming to the site.

Cox believes that the self-serving, “democratised” nature of the platform, and the absence of a middle man needed to access it, is liberating for many artists. If people want to play to ten fans and make money from that, we don’t want to take that experience away from them, he says.

In terms of the future of livestreaming, Cox states that “more people are going to be willing to pay for [livestreamed content] now”.

“It will never be a replacement for a live ticketed event – they are two completely different things and we are not trying to compete with this, but as people start to miss live shows more and more, we will see an increasing number turning online for their live music fix.”

Read more about the business of livestreaming here.

Moving online: The booming business of livestreaming


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