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VNUE to acquire livestreaming company Stageit

Music technology company VNUE will acquire livestreaming platform StageIt in a deal that will allegedly add over $9 million in revenue and access to performers and creators.

The deal brings fans and technology to VNUE’s portfolio, in addition to boosting the company’s Soundstr platform with music recognition technology.

The companies expect to close within 60 days, pending the completion of diligence and the required financial audit. Stageit will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of VNUE. Further terms of the deal were not disclosed.

According to the announcement, StageIt, launched by musician Evan Lowenstein in 2010, hosted 6,280 shows in 2020 and paid out over $7m to artists. The platform has over 58,000 performers and over 900,000 users from 135 countries.

The platform is complimentary with VNUE’s set.fm ‘instant live‘ mobile and web service, and the company will add a feature that allows fans to enjoy a livestream and purchase the audio of the performance immediately afterwards.

“The addition of StageIt will enable the first full monetisation suite for venues, festivals and events”

Zach Bair, CEO of VNUE, says: “The acquisition of StageIt represents the first step in a multi-pronged plan to grow the business and enhance shareholder value, as I have committed to since day one.

“The company will pursue both organic and inorganic opportunities that are synergistic, and with StageIt, we have incredible synergy not just with the StageIt platform and how we can integrate with our existing content platforms such as set.fm, but with the incredible leadership and talent pool that we will now have access to in order to move our Soundstr technology forward.”

Stephen White, Stageit’s CEO since 2020, says: “VNUE, as their name suggests, has been creating a platform for artists, labels, rights holders and venue operators that enhances revenue and helps resolve complex rights compliance.

“The addition of StageIt will enable the first full monetisation suite for venues, festivals and events that will make it simple for our clients and operators to generate more revenue and embrace the hybrid future that livestreaming provides. We couldn’t be more excited to join Zach and the VNUE team and to help push this vision forward.”

 


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Together in Electric Streams: Inside the business of livestreaming

Here’s a great pop-quiz question: can you name the first ever artist to perform live online?

Zooropa-era U2, perhaps, with the band’s prescient satirisation of a dystopian technological future and the emptiness of consumer culture? Or the Rolling Stones, who rode 1994’s Voodoo Lounge – a ragged and glorious return to their rock and roll roots – around the world for 13 months, raking in an astonishing US$320 million?

Or maybe it was Brian Eno, a technological and conceptual pioneer who, at the time of the internet’s invention, was playing around with self-generating musical systems?

Nope. Nope. And nope. It was, in fact, an unknown rock four-piece from California called Severe Tire Damage, who broadcast a 90-minute set in June 1993 and promptly declared themselves “House Band of the Internet” (although you were close if you guessed the Stones – they were fourth).

Of course, a lot has changed in the intervening 27 years: the internet is now the primary means of consuming music for fans the world over, and never more so when you’re quarantined at home for an unspecified amount of time due to a global pandemic.

But as we all know, the rise of streaming services and platforms has been mirrored by a collapse in revenue for artists. Live shows remain one of their few reliable sources of income, yet with concerts now an impossibility for the foreseeable, a huge hole has been left in their earnings. A host of future-orientated new apps, platforms, and digital services – many of them employing virtual and augmented reality – have rushed in, aiming to fill it, but how realistic are some of their claims, and what can artists really hope to earn while replicating gigs in the digital realm?

It should be noted that many of the ideas or tech here are not new. Second Life hosted the first virtual concert back in 2007, while last year, Marshmello gave the “first-ever live performance in a video game,” DJing for 11 minutes in Fortnite.

Understandably, though, there’s a new urgency in the sector, with platforms reporting an explosion in use over the last few weeks as both fans and musicians grapple with the new reality; a captive audience, desperate for entertainment, are glued to their devices.

“Over the last month … active users, watchtime and broadcast hours have all jumped 40–50%”

“Between 22 February and 22 March, revenue from our iOS sales increased by 255%,” says Anthony Matchett, founder and CEO of MelodyVR.

“We’ve had a four-fold increase in new users signing up over the last month,” says Rudiger J. Ellis, of Switchboard Live. “Daily activity on our platform has skyrocketed,” adds Jake Branzburg, president of YouNow. “Active users, watchtime and broadcast hours have all jumped 40–50%.”

It’s a trend confirmed by everyone IQ spoke to, with many choosing to ramp up advertising, expand, or roll out new features to take advantage of this surge.

All these platforms, at their core, fall into variations of one of two concepts: video hosting and streaming platforms, or some form of virtual or augmented experience.

YouNow is the former, allowing anyone to broadcast live video 24/7. So too is Streamlabs, an ‘all-in-one livestreaming app’.

Restream allows users to broadcast live video to multiple social media networks simultaneously; Switchboard Live is a multi-streaming platform geared towards all types of live content; while Switcher Studio makes capturing video from multiple angles and editing it in real time, a cinch.

On the other side is MelodyVR, a platform that claims to put fans “inside huge live performances”. According to Matchett, “Music lovers can watch performances in immersive 360° on smartphones or in VR via headsets. And they can choose where they watch from – from deep in the crowd to on stage with the band.”

“YouNow partners earn anywhere from three to five figures per month by sharing their talents”

Sansar, a new live events destination from the makers of Second Life, goes one step further. “The future of concerts is virtual,” declares their website. “Join the revolution.”

To this end, the company has built an entire virtual universe of thousands of connected, user-created spaces to socialise and perform in. “Audiences of all kinds can come together for innovative events and stunning, photorealistic live performances,” says press and marketing manager Hari Raghaven.

Just like everyone else, artists the world over are in lockdown, too; bored, frustrated, and eager to connect. Many have taken to social media to broadcast rudimentary performances and even clips of their daily lives.

TikTok, Twitch, Instagram Live, YouTube, and Facebook are full of these, with stars such as Coldplay, Christine and the Queens and Keith Urban giving fans raw, unvarnished footage and encouraging a community vibe.

But such posts are not a long-term solution. As ever, the question of monetisation looms large, for promoters and event organisers as much as the artists themselves.

“Restream is not the end platform – we’re just the middleman between an artist and, say, YouTube,” explains Victor Bous, the company’s head of marketing. “We just help you increase your reach, grow your audience, and make your streaming experience better.”

It’s a similar story for Switcher Studio, and Switchboard Live – both are more of a tech solution than a platform explicitly designed to generate income. Streamlabs goes one further and allows donations and tips to be made direct to content creators.

The self-enclosed virtual environments of Sansar and MelodyVR allow for far greater – and, it is hoped, far more lucrative – monetisation

“We take a 0% cut from donations, and handle all main payment methods,” says George Kurdin, Streamlabs’ product manager. On top of that, content creators can sell merch via the platform, and may also monetise their stream on their own via affiliate deals, ads, and direct brand sponsorships.

“For some it has been quite lucrative – we’ve processed over $500m in donations over the last few years.”

YouNow offers an extra tier for those looking to cash in on their audience. “Musicians with a strong following can apply to the YouNow partner programme,” says Branzburg. “YouNow partners earn anywhere from three to five figures per month by sharing their talents. Community members support partners by subscribing to their broadcasts monthly and/or by sending them virtual gifts – the more gifts partners get, the more they trend, and the more they earn.”

But the self-enclosed virtual environments of Sansar and MelodyVR allow for far greater – and, it is hoped, far more lucrative – monetisation.

“Because Sansar is the only live events platform that allows partners to generate multiple revenue streams in customised virtual spaces, we are the go-to platform in the space,” says Raghaven. Access to a fully integrated ticketing system, merchandising and sponsorship offerings, and microtransactions (peer-to-peer tipping, so that fans can send money directly during a live show) are just some of the options offered. The virtual-reality element allows them to go even further, though; Raghaven says artists are only limited by their imagination.

“They can have special tiers of tickets – a more expensive VIP ticket, for instance, that grants special in-world privileges or access (the ability to fly, say, or entry into an exclusive meet-and-greet). They can sell real and virtual merchandise – branded virtual tees, hats, jackets, you name it – that can be purchased for their avatars or in real life, and within their virtual space they can include branding from external sponsors.”

Being based on an actual, real-world show, MelodyVR aims to leverage scale to help performers maximise revenue. “MelodyVR means that no event is ever sold out, and no show is off limits,” says Matchett. “Artists’ performances can reach fans around the globe, both in real time and on demand, in a way that we see as the ‘next best thing’ to physically being there.”

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 89, or subscribe to the magazine here


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

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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