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Immersive music startup MelodyVR acquires Napster

Live music virtual reality platform MelodyVR is acquiring Rhapsody International, which operates as music subscription service Napster.

The US$70 million acquisition will eventually combine Napster’s library of over 90 million audio tracks and Melody VR’s catalogue of virtual live music shows, to create a platform where users can stream music and experience immersive live performances.

“For music fans today, live and recorded music are intrinsically linked. We are as keen to see our favourite artists perform live as we are to listen to their albums,” says MelodyVR CEO Anthony Matchett.

“Our purchase of Napster, one of the music industry’s original disruptors, is born out of our wish to deliver the world’s foremost music experience, available seamlessly across audio and visual media and in turn presenting a truly next-generation music service.”

Napster CEO Bill Patrizio commented: “This is a tremendous outcome for two organizations with complementary platforms and loyal audiences, and we could not be more excited to be moving forward as one company.”

“Our wish is to deliver the world’s foremost music experience… a truly next-generation music service”

“The product, technology and cultural synergies of Napster and MelodyVR will bring tremendous innovation for music lovers, artists and the entire music industry. Good things come from being together, and we look forward to creating a powerful platform that combines our strengths and offers an even wider range of content to consumers, creators and advertisers.”

The UK-based MelodyVR broadcast its first live concert in virtual reality in 2018 with Liam Payne in London, after releasing its app – touted as the world’s first dedicated virtual reality (VR) music platform – in 2019, and subsequently partnering with O2 in the UK.

Since Covid-19 hit the industry, the company has delivered a digital edition of Wireless festival in London and live music VR series, Live from LA, which has featured artists including Cypress Hill, Kesha, John Legend and Tori Kelly.

The shows were available to watch in 360° for free via the MelodyVR app and VR headsets.

MelodyVR and Napster, which is currently 84% owned by RealNetworks, will operate independently for the foreseeable future.


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The O2 Arena opens as NHS training facility

The O2 Arena in London has been made available free of charge to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) as a training facility, starting on Easter Sunday (12 March).

Initially operating from 12 April to 29 June 2020, staff trained at the O2 will go on to work at the NHS ‘Nightingale’ field hospital at the ExCel centre in east London.

The O2 – the world’s leading indoor arena – says that while becoming an NHS training centre “will require further rescheduling of events booked to take place during this period, the priority for us all at this time is to help save lives, and we know our customers will understand our desire to support the NHS in this way.”

“We know our customers will understand our desire to support the NHS in this way”

The rest of the O2 remains closed to the public until further notice.

Mark Evans, CEO of the AEG-run venue’s naming partner, O2, comments; “Mobile connectivity is more important than ever before, and we’re continuing to work hard to keep the country connected…

“From providing additional capacity for the NHS, to working with our partners to utilise venues such as the O2, we’re committed to giving customers and key workers the network they need to keep in contact with those closest to them.”

 


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Report: 5G to bring £2.3bn to live industry by 2030

Research from mobile operator O2 has shown that 5G, or super high-speed mobile internet, could be set to boost the live entertainment industry by as much as £2.3 billion in the next ten years.

In the wake of the launch of O2’s 5G mobile internet in October 2019, and the concomitant partnership with music-focused virtual reality platform MelodyVR, the company commissioned consultancy Ovum to conduct the 5th Generation Entertainment report.

Up to 100 times faster than 4G internet and with the capacity for 1 million users per square kilometre (as opposed to 4,000 with 4G), the rollout of 5G presents many opportunities for the live industry, as will be discussed in detail at the 5G workshop at the International Live Music Conference in March.

The report findings show how 5G will improve fan experience and engagement through the enhancement of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), live streaming and smart ticketing.

Fans unable to attend a show will be able to purchase a high-quality livestream and watch in VR or AR. Viewers will also be able to personalise the experience, opting to focus on specific elements of a live event, enabling brands to target advertising. O2 is also looking into the possibility of broadcasting live through high-definition cameras on British television network ITV.

Pre-show opportunities include AR-assisted shopping that allows fans to virtually try on merchandise and order for collection at the show. Similar advance ordering systems can also apply to food and drink purchases, with real-time analytics allowing fans to find the quietest bar, easily navigate around venues and meet up with friends.

“5G will revolutionise live entertainment”

Event organisers may also capitalise on the superfast network to send personalised highlight reels directly to fans’ devices after the show.

“Through our sponsorships with England Rugby, The O2 Arena and 20 iconic O2 Academy venues, we aim to engage fans with relevant, useful and exciting experiences before, during and after a live event,” comments O2’s head of sponsorship Gareth Griffiths, who will present ILMC’s 5G workshop along with AEG Europe’s David Jones, O2/Telefónica UK’s Brendan O’Reilly and production manager Chris Vaughan on 5 March.

“The low-latency and superfast connectivity of 5G, underpinned by fan insights, bold branding and customer benefits, enables us to tailor these experiences to the diverse audiences we see at our venues in real-time.

“Whether for an England Rugby fan at Twickenham, a Kano fan at O2 Victoria Warehouse Manchester or an Elton John fan at The O2, 5G will revolutionise live entertainment.”

David Jones, senior vice president of IT at AEG, owner of the O2 Arena, adds that 5G is set to particularly enhance the use of augmented reality and virtual reality technology.

“The O2 is at the forefront of O2’s 5G rollout in the UK, and I’m eager to see how the creative people who produce the hundreds of events each year at The O2 will embrace 5G and the technologies it enables, and use it to deliver fun and engaging experiences for fans,” says Jones.

 


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CTS Eventim partners with O2

Live entertainment behemoth CTS Eventim has entered into a multi-year live entertainment partnership with O2, the core brand of German telecommunications company Telefónica Deutschland.

Under the new deal, customers of O2, which has a long-term partnership with AEG in the UK, will gain access to exclusive pre-sales, free streaming and a brand experience at Eventim-promoted events. O2 will also use Eventim Brand Connect media channels, including newsletters, display ads, banner advertising and social media pages to broadcast its message.

The partnership is designed to run for several years.

“By forging this new partnership between CTS Eventim and O2, we are entering into a long-term strategic partnership,” says Eventim CEO Klaus-Peter Schulenberg.

“We have gained a strong partner in CTS Eventim, one who pursues the same philosophy as ourselves”

“It is a prime example of how we can create great products and unique value for our partners and customers with our combination of many years’ experience in the live events business and our ticketing operations.”

“We have gained a strong partner in CTS Eventim, one who pursues the same philosophy as ourselves, namely to do our best for the best,” comments Wolfgang Metze, chief consumer officer at Telefónica Deutschland. “For O2, these are the customers, for CTS Eventim the concertgoers, and our aim is to draw their attention to our brand by offering fantastic moments.”

Dr Frithjof Pils, vice president live entertainment and international growth and managing director of Eventim Brand Connect, adds that the collaboration is “probably the biggest branding partnership in the German live entertainment industry”.

The deal signals the latest move by O2, the naming rights partner of London’s 20,000-capacity O2 Arena, into the live entertainment space, following its partnership with music-focused virtual reality company MelodyVR in October. It is also the naming partner of most UK venues operated by Academy Music Group (majority owned by Live Nation), including the O2 Academy Brixton, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire and O2 Forum Kentish Town.

 


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MelodyVR expands user reach with O2 deal

Music virtual reality (VR) company MelodyVR has announced an exclusive UK partnership with mobile operator O2, the title sponsor of the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena in London.

The partnership was unveiled today (Thursday 17 October) as O2 launches its 5G mobile internet. Through the collaboration, users of the mobile network’s ‘5th generation of music’ custom plan will receive 12 months free access to the MelodyVR platform, as well as an Oculus Go VR headset.

The deal with O2, one of the largest mobile networks in the country, with a customer base of 25 million, is part of MelodyVR’s goal to “significantly increase” its audience, according to a press statement.

“O2’s 5th Generation network has the power to enable an entirely new suite of technological advances and experiences that will revolutionise how we all engage with technology,” says MelodyVR CEO Anthony Matchett.

“We look forward to welcoming even more fans to the MelodyVR platform”

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with O2 to deliver incredible music experiences to their customers and we look forward to welcoming even more fans to the MelodyVR platform.”

O2’s chief marketing officer, Nina Bibby, adds: “Partnering with companies like MelodyVR creates a perfect way for O2 customers to enjoy virtual reality like never before – experiencing legendary gigs from around the world, reliving ones they’ve been to and seeing performances they can’t get to.

“At O2, we’ve always been a customer-led business, with a rich heritage in live music, so the opportunity to create unique experiences like this with MelodyVR, that bring customers closer to the things they love, is fantastic.”

Launched in 2018, MelodyVR has a large portfolio of VR shows from the likes of the Streets, Post Malone, Lewis Capaldi, the Chainsmokers, Kiss, Liam Payne, Jamiroquai and Kelly Clarkson.

 


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AMG expands venue portfolio in Manchester

Academy Music Group, the UK’s leading venue operator, has entered into a lease agreement with Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse, adding the property to its 19-strong venue portfolio.

The 300,000sqft events and hospitality venue – of which AMG will lease a 90,000sqft music and conference space, including the 3,500-capacity auditorium – will be renamed O2 Victoria Warehouse Manchester as of 1 September 2018.

Located in Stretford, the venue was originally home to two monumental warehouses, built by the Liverpool Warehousing Company in 1925 and 1936, which dominated Manchester’s canalside. It was renovated as a venue in 2009, with multiple rooms and various formats and configurations.

“Manchester’s warehouses are so important to the history of the city. They give Manchester its local distinctiveness, identity and character,” comments Graham Walters, CEO of Academy Music Group, whose shareholders include Live Nation (LN-Gaiety and Metropolis Music) and SJM Concerts.

“We are delighted to welcome this stunning venue in a prime city to our group”

“Iconic venues are the lifeblood of what we do, and we have significant expertise in running some of the most historically important entertainment venues in the world. We are delighted to welcome this stunning venue in a prime city to our group, especially as Manchester is such an integral part of the UK’s live music scene.”

Gareth Griffiths, head of sponsorship at O2, which recently renewed its naming-rights deal with AMG, adds: “The new O2 Victoria Warehouse Manchester is a brilliant addition to our O2 Academy estate and further demonstrates O2 and Academy Music Group’s commitment to live music in Manchester. This expands Priority Tickets for O2 customers 48 hours before general release, and we can’t wait for more late nights in this fantastic city of musical heritage.”

Venue owner James Cohen, of VW Group, comments: “We are delighted to have entered into a lease agreement with Academy Music Group for our large music and conference space […]. It’s a fantastic move for our site to add both live music and club shows by partnering with AMG.

“The VW Group will continue to deliver all corporate event business and to place music shows at the venue, thus working hand-in-hand to drive profitability. This deal is testament to our vision to create one of the most iconic events and hire spaces in Manchester.”

 


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O2 renews Academy naming agreement with AMG

O2 has agreed a new ten-year deal with Academy Music Group (AMG) and Live Nation, with the British telco retaining naming rights for AMG’s network of O2 Academy venues.

The agreement secures O2 – a subsidiary of Spanish multinational Telefónica – as the naming partner for AMG’s 19 venues in 13 UK cities, and follows a similar extension of its naming-rights deal with AEG’s The O2 in February.

The renewed alliance will see O2 double the number of 48-hour priority tickets made available to its customers for O2 Academy shows and Live Nation-promoted non-festival events across the UK, as well as offering fast-tracked entry, free cloakrooms, drinks offers and complimentary wifi.

The company also plans – as at The O2 – to install new technology to track crowd movements in all O2 Academy venues, generating data on crowd noise, calories burnt and the most popular songs and offering it as a free ‘digital momento’ after the show.

O2 CMO Nina Bibby comments: “We know our customers love live experiences, and O2 Academy venues are a huge part of the UK’s live music scene, which is why we’re extremely pleased to be continuing our longstanding relationship with both Live Nation and Academy Music Group.

“Continuing this deal with O2 ensures that these venues remain a vibrant part of their local communities and an integral part of Britain’s healthy live music market”

“Just under ten years ago we pioneered the pre-sale model with [O2] Priority Tickets, giving our customers exclusive early access to tickets for the best shows around. This new, long-term deal takes that even further, with double the number of tickets available for O2 customers to not just every show at 19 O2 Academy venues, but also all Live Nation shows across the UK.”

“We are incredibly proud of our partnership with O2, which has revolutionised the way brands work within the live sector,” adds Paul Latham, COO of Live Nation in the UK and Republic of Ireland. “This is more than just a naming rights deal. Over the last nine years, we have worked tirelessly together to build the O2 Academy brand, investing in these iconic buildings and giving O2 customers access to millions of Priority tickets.

“Close to four million live music fans come through O2 Academy doors each year to see the artists they love across the UK. Continuing this deal with O2 ensures that these venues remain a vibrant part of their local communities and an integral part of Britain’s healthy live music market.”

The O2–AMG/Live Nation partnership dates from late 2008, with all former Carling Academy venues rebranded on 1 January 2009. Three former Mama venues acquired by Live Nation in August 2015 were renamed as O2 Academies in October that year.

 


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Foo Fighters added to The O2 birthday shows

Fresh from their Saturday-night headline set at Glastonbury Festival, Foo Fighters today announced a one-off show at The O2 this September as part of its birthday celebrations.

The O2/Wembley Arena programmer Emma Bownes told IQ earlier this week that planning was underway for the venue’s next spate of tenth-birthday shows, following the conclusion of its first wave with alt-J, Celine Dion and Ed Sheeran.

Foo Fighters will play the 21,000-cap. O2 Arena on Tuesday 19 September, with tickets on sale at 4pm on 28 June.

Watch the Foos’ video announcement above.

 


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Past, present and future: The O2 at 10

When, back in 2001, AEG founder Phil Anschutz brokered a deal with the British government to turn the much-maligned Millennium Dome into his company’s flagship London venue, many were, understandably, sceptical.

The Dome was, after all, widely ridiculed as an £850 million vanity project for then-prime minister Tony Blair: a “great, frayed tent by the Thames” that very nearly finished off the political careers of cabinet ministers Peter Mandelson and John Prescott.

It’s a credit to Anschutz’s vision, then, that, 16 years later, a once-derelict site on the Greenwich peninsula polluted by toxic waste from a nearby gasworks is now home to the world’s busiest music venue – a far cry from the unoccupied white elephant that came to epitomise what many saw as the blind optimism of the early New Labour era.

What is now The O2 Arena – the 21,000-capacity centrepiece of The O2 entertainment complex – opened its doors on 24 June 2007, with a concert for staff featuring Tom Jones, Snow Patrol, Basement Jaxx and Snow Patrol. Its first major show, by Bon Jovi, followed the next evening.

It took just a year for the new venue to leapfrog New York’s Madison Square Garden and the UK’s MEN Arena (now Manchester Arena) to become the world’s top arena for ticket sales – 1,806,447 in 2008 – a position it has held ever since.

As The O2 celebrates double figures by signing another decade-long deal with naming partner O2 and hosting a series of big-name tenth-birthday shows (with more dates to be added later in the year), IQ catches up with The O2’s general manager, John Langford, and programming director, Emma Bownes, to find out what the future holds for the world’s most successful arena…

 


IQ: How have the tenth-birthday concerts been so far?
Emma Bownes:
 Really great. We started with alt-J on Friday [16 June], then we had Celine Dion [on 20–21 June] and Ed Sheeran [on 22 June]. It’s had a real party atmosphere – we even had an impromptu conga line in one of the bars!

Plus, thanks to the guys at O2, we’ve had the huge birthday present [a 6x6m installation housing a game show hosted by Vernon Kay], life-sized cakes of Ed Sheeran, Celine Dion and Jamiroquai, a marching band out the front, lots of free activities… it’s been like having our own festival.

Was it difficult to persuade the acts involved to come and play? All three are mid-way through tours…
John Langford:
Two things helped: Firstly, we went out chased artists who are currently playing festivals – we thought it might make sense for them play a few arena shows in between festival dates.

Secondly, we had massive marketing support from O2, which put up huge billboards across London. There’s a really brilliant picture Jay Kay [of Jamiroquai, whose planned O2 shows have been cancelled owing to the singer’s back problems] posted in front of his ad.

What have been your highlights of your time at The O2?
EB: Definitely Monty Pythonfarewell gigs [in 2014]. Muse’s Drones tour was amazing, and Adele was fantastic – she’s such an endearing individual.

JL: I’ve really enjoyed some of the sport –the David Haye vs Tony Bellew fight was amazing. I’m a bit of a production geek, so I also loved the lighting ‘balls’ at Red Hot Chili Peppers in December.

John, what made you make the jump from The SSE Hydro?
JL: Well, when you’re at the UK’s number-two venue there’s only one place to go!

What’s the secret to The O2’s success?
JL: It was the right venue at the right time in the right city. London is the pinnacle of the live music market, and it was under-served prior to The O2’s opening, which filled a gap in the market.

AEG really had incredible insight to understand that – they always knew it was going to be a winner, when lots of us didn’t.

EB: The design of The O2 lends itself to intimacy. When you get a lot of people in a venue, you get a lot of energy, but some venues let all that out – The O2 is big but it’s intimate.

“Going to a gig has changed significantly in the past ten years. Expectations are much higher than they used to be”

How has the security situation changed over the past ten years?
JL: From an AEG perspective, it’s always been high on the agenda. But the Bataclan – that’s when things really changed.

AEG has always been on the forefront of responding to these things: for example, The O2 was the first venue of its size to have full search and scan on the doors.

Did you see a drop-off in attendance after the Manchester Arena bombing?
JL: No, there was no drop-off – in fact, we had Iron Maiden here the week after the attack.

Bruce Dickinson put it well when he said, “When we’re all together like this, it sends a message of love, of peace, of joy…”
JL: We all have a role to play to ensure the industry stays healthy and vibrant. We can’t let them change our lifestyles.

EB: The fans, too: At Ed Sheeran we had people wearing Manchester T-shirts, which was great.

Emma, what are you booking most of at the moment?
EB: From the programming side, comedy is definitely on the rise again. We’ve got 12 nights with Micky Flanagan coming up, all sold out. Rock shows are still big, and we’re doing more sports – as well as our own festivals, which we’re trying to schedule for quieter periods.

“It was the right venue at the right time in the right city”

How about esports?
EB:
We haven’t had any esports at The O2 yet, but watch this space. I’m also programming director for The SSE Arena, Wembley, where we have League of Legends events. Last time we had 6,000 people per day for four days.

It feels a lot like a gig – the crowd are really excited. If I watched it I wouldn’t understand what was going on, but they know the games so they can appreciate the strategy.

Finally, what’s your goal for The O2’s next ten years?
JL
: To ensure we’re meeting needs of fans. Going to a gig has changed significantly in the past ten years, and expectations are much higher than they used to be.

It’s really about focusing on the fan experience. Content is obviously an integral part of that, but it’s also about matching what you’d get in the centre of London: cold beer, decent food, hospitality…

Are you finding fans like the ‘entertainment district’ model of having everything in one place?
JL: Definitely. It’s what consumers want. We’ve got our designer outlet coming in September next year, we’re expanding our cinema concept – people want 24/7 entertainment, and these sorts of facilities should be integrated into entertainment complexes when they can.

Not every venue has the capacity – but the advantage for us is that we’ve got the space to do it.

 


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The O2 to keep name for another decade

The O2 in London, the world’s most-visited music venue, is to keep its name for another next ten years following the signing of a new agreement by operator AEG and naming partner O2.

The partnership between AEG and O2, a subsidiary of Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica, dates back to 2005, when the two parties announced they were to redevelop the then-empty Millennium Dome in Greenwich into The O2. The new venue, and its 21,000-capacity arena, opened in 2007.

More than 60 million people have passed through The O2’s doors since, with close to 20m tickets sold.

As part of the renewed deal, O2 will from 2018 the number of priority tickets available to its customers, and both it and AEG are investing in high-density wi-fi for the venue, expanded pre-show facilities and a 205,000sqft designer shopping centre, due to open in 2018.

“Together AEG and O2 have created the world’s most popular music and entertainment venue, now celebrating its 10th year of operation”

The partners have also announced they are to install new technology in The O2 Arena to track and analyse crowd movements – providing information such as calories burned; noise generated by the audience; and as the most popular moment of the night, based on the crowd’s response – which will be shared with fans and on social media, “enhancing the live experience before, during and after each event”.

Mark Evans, CEO of Telefónica UK, comments: “We are incredibly proud of our highly successful partnership with AEG, which has made The O2 into the internationally renowned music and entertainment venue it is today. Over the past ten years our work together has set an industry gold standard and it will continue to do so for the next ten years.

AEG Europe vice-president Paul Samuels adds: “Together AEG and O2 have created the world’s most popular music and entertainment venue, now celebrating its 10th year of operation. From signing the deal back in 2005, O2 as become a significant and transformative force in the music business, and our partnership has enabled countless benefits and experiences for their customers and all music, sports and entertainment fans.

“We’re thrilled they’re committing to The O2 once again, and know it will enable the venue to become even better for fans and the artists that play here. The O2 would not be the success it is without the support and commitment of our partners.”

 


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