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How does livestreaming fit in a post-pandemic industry?

The livestreaming gold rush is far from over. As live gigs and festivals return, the future for this fledgling industry looks rosy, as artists around the world now know that they can leverage the global reach of the internet to allow fans to remotely view their performances.

Whereas the argument in 2019 was that people surely wouldn’t pay for tickets to watch something on their computer screen, the reality of the past 18 months has debunked that theory, while technology has also allowed those viewers to watch their favourite artists on their wide-screen TVs.

“We’ve had a year of almost working in a vacuum,” notes Driift co-founder Ric Salmon. “In this phase, now, where life returns to normal as touring starts, managers, agents and artists themselves will become hyper-focused on trying to get back out on the road and generating as much money as possible, so understandably the focus might fall away a little bit from doing live streams.

“We’ve pre-empted it for months, but now we have to see how livestreaming will fit in the overall plan for an artist. I don’t think we have the answers to everything yet, but there’s still a huge amount of interest and there’s a lot of new business coming our way.”

“[StageIt] did 6,400 shows in 2020. That’s about a third of what Live Nation does”

While some predict a temporary downturn in livestreaming activities, others are more bullish about the prospects as touring resumes.
“The past year has been bananas,” states Stephen White of San Francisco-based StageIt. “We did 6,400 shows in 2020. That’s about a third of what Live Nation does, so it was a crazy year for us, in terms of volume, as artists just didn’t have other ways to connect with their fans.

“When I took over as CEO in May of 2020, we immediately started a venue programme, as we knew that without some sort of revenue stream these venues were going to die. So, we started putting cameras into venues where folks wanted to work exclusively with us, figuring out how to bring in mobile crews safely, and really getting venue staff trained on how to do this, so that the sound and lights guys can also operate the live stream without a huge learning curve.

“That was massively important for us as it established a network of venues that were already using the platform. And now that they are starting to reopen, we’re not seeing any downturn. If anything, what we’re seeing is, the more shows there are, the more opportunities there are to live stream.”

“The more [in-person] shows there are, the more opportunities there are to live stream”

Changing Landscape
When Live Nation acquired streaming platform Veeps in January, it became apparent that partnerships between livestreaming platforms and venues would play a major role in the future of the business.

Veeps is installing its technology in more than 60 Live Nation venues, including institutions like The Wiltern in Los Angeles, where From the Wiltern shows are already available to stream from $15 (€13) a ticket.

Elsewhere, YouTube is working on a new 6,000-seat theatre in Los Angeles from where it intends to stream shows, while on a smaller scale, streaming platform Mandolin recently agreed an exclusive partnership with City Winery to stream concerts from its eight music venues around North America.

However, the fact that a venue signs a deal with a livestreaming platform does not necessarily mean that the artist will agree to that service streaming their show, because broadcasting contracts are usually thrashed out between the artist/artist management and the streaming service itself.

“The agents and promoters are coming back into the picture, so we’re having to do a bit of that education cycle again”

But the landscape is changing and Live Nation’s deal with Veeps, in particular, is prompting some to envisage new exclusivity clauses appearing in promoter contracts to cover streaming rights.

That doesn’t deter White, who notes that if a venue has an existing agreement with the likes of StageIt, that presence will give the incumbent platform an advantage when it comes to any visiting act.

He comments, “One thing that has been really interesting for us is that we’re now having a different set of conversations. Through the pandemic, all of the efforts from our side were with the artist – either directly with the artist or, in some cases, through artist management.

“All of a sudden, now that the world is re-opening, the agents and promoters are coming back into the picture, so we’re having to do a bit of that education cycle again.

“[Agents] are now seeing us as a service provider rather than a chequebook”

“We know that artists are probably going to perform fewer times on a tour but do bigger shows as they try to address sustainability.”

That’s a scenario the hierarchy at UK-based LIVENow also recognises. “During lockdown, some agents struggled to find out where their place in the ecosystem was and some were trying to generate revenue for their clients,” says chief content officer James Sutcliffe.

“There were some tough conversations because the approach was ‘my client wants to do a live stream, make us an offer.’ But now, they are back to their day jobs and we’re having much more sensible and collaborative conversations. It’s not true of every agent and every agency, but, generally, they are now seeing us as a service provider rather than a chequebook.”

Nevertheless, there’s no escaping the numbers. Steve Machin reveals his former company, LiveFrom, paid out substantial sums to its artist partners in the past year. “LiveFrom did 400 shows last year, using about 1.5 petabytes of streaming data, and we wrote cheques to artists for $3million [€2.5m],” Machin tells IQ.

“There is a lot of content that has been filmed, shown once and is languishing, so there’s a wealth of under-monetised stuff”

“That $3m came from tickets and merch. We would bundle packages so that we’d have, for instance, a $10 [€8.50] ticket; a $30 [€25.50] ticket with a T-shirt; and a $70 [€59.30] ticket with a T-shirt and poster.

“We also got into a super bundle that involved a moderated Q&A with the band, which was a $75 [€63.50] ticket for a limited run of tickets. But we did it for a week, so you’d do 15 meet-and-greets a day, Monday to Friday, then the show would go out on the Friday night, and you’d have the Q&A afterwards. It generated a lot of money.”

While LiveFrom was all about live-streaming shows, Machin’s new operation, Concert Vision is developing a different business model. “It’s going to be like Disney Plus for concerts,” he says.

“So, we’re going to be licensing everything from Blondie or The Ramones at CBGBs, all the way through to all the Eagle Rock catalogue and then stuff that’s taking place in a month’s time. There is a lot of content that has been filmed, shown once and is languishing, so there’s just a wealth of under-monetised stuff for a mix of casual and super fans.”

Hundreds of new enterprises have taken advantage of the demand for entertainment over the past year, with varying degrees of success

Competition & consolidation
The relatively low cost to entry in the livestreaming sector means that hundreds of new enterprises have taken advantage of the demand for entertainment over the past year, with varying degrees of success.

Online events hosting service Hopin has been on a strategic shopping spree, acquiring the likes of Attendify, Boomset, Jamm, Streamable, StreamYard and Topi in its attempts to bolster its portfolio.

Other players such as Flymachine are expected to target independent venues, making it the indie to Live Nation’s Veeps, much in the way that Ticketfly was the indie to Ticketmaster.

And elsewhere, pure-play tech players like Mandolin and Maestro are offering back-end services, while other platforms such as Moment House have been compared to a Patreon model for music artists, thanks to its fan engagement capabilities.

“It will be tough for some of the smaller platforms to sustain a real business when they do not have the volume of performances”

“There are already a few companies that have quietly disappeared, and I think there will be a few more go the same way,” observes Salmon.

“There was a moment in the middle of it all when there were a bunch of crazy offers flying around – bidding wars between streaming companies and platforms who had only in been in business for a month – and that was not sustainable. So, in many ways, a bit of consolidation is probably a good thing.”

StageIt’s White agrees. “A lot of the companies that started in 2020 are now at the one-year anniversary and are wondering what to do as they figure out how to be a real business,” he says.

“It will be tough for some of the smaller platforms to sustain a real business when they do not have the volume of performances, so we’ll continue to see consolidation over the course of the next 12 months, in pretty significant ways.”

“The pandemic has been a catalyst for people taking livestreaming really seriously”

One operator that is benefitting from the mergers and acquisitions element is Melody VR, which in August 2020 pulled off the surprise purchase of Napster.

“We’ve rebranded as Napster, but we’re still operational as Melody VR,” explains Melody VR founder and CEO Anthony Matchett. “We’re re-building the Napster platform to have a lot of Melody’s content, to give it a real edge and create a service that isn’t really out there.”

Matchett is quick to acknowledge the role that the pandemic has played in helping to establish the credentials of livestreaming.

“It’s one of the sectors that got overlooked when it really probably shouldn’t have been,” he says. “But the pandemic has been a catalyst for people taking livestreaming really seriously, which is interesting because when you can’t tour, you suddenly realise that there was maybe a different way to do things, all along.”

“To say that it is here to stay would be an understatement – it’s very much part of the fabric now of live performance”

In terms of business models, StageIt’s White reveals that his company now operates on an 80/20 split with the artists – a deal he believes will become the industry norm. He adds, “To realise that you can still have an experience – which is not the same as being there – but you can do it from the comfort of your living room, on your big-screen TV, across your nice hi-fi system, and not have to pay $14 for a beer, has been a real eye-opening experience for a lot of people. Both fans and artists figured it out, so to say that it is here to stay would be an understatement – it’s very much part of the fabric now of live performance.”

The importance of control
Unsurprisingly, for a business that relies heavily on technology, there have been a number of broadcasting failures that have hit the headlines over the past year – notably a Marc Anthony show, and a live stream from the site of Glastonbury Festival. Despite such problems, consumer confidence has remained high, while for the streamers themselves, the lessons appear to revolve around ensuring they have control over all aspects of operations.

“There have been enough bad live streams where customers are asking why they paid £15 or whatever, especially with bands you thought would have done better. And fans only have so much patience with that stuff,” notes Driift’s Salmon.

“Look at what happened with us at Glastonbury: we delivered something that I’m hugely proud of, artistically, but with the access code issues that we had, which affected about 25% of ticket purchasers […] If anything is anything other than perfect these days, if you cannot access it immediately, we’re out, and that’s one of the great challenges of all of this.”

“Having numerous providers of tech trying to interlink with one another is where issues can occur”

Dissecting the Glastonbury experience, Salmon tells IQ, “The biggest takeaway for us was that having numerous providers of tech trying to interlink with one another is where issues can occur. Ultimately, the best solution is for a platform or a company like Driift to have everything housed within one vertical – to have ticketing, access codes, stream hosting, the video player itself all within one singular ecosystem.”

That’s a concept Napster’s Matchett recognises. “We don’t rely on anyone external, apart from internet providers,” he says. “So, the servers, the back end, the cameras, are all ours, because you cannot really rely on a third party when you are going to put your name to something. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to the fan and the artist, so we do everything in-house to give us greater control. It’s more costly, but it provides stability, and artists knowing your stream isn’t going to fall over, is a really important element.”

Thankfully, the sector has seen many more successes than failures, with some events like LIVENow’s Studio 2054 show with Dua Lipa, in November 2020, introducing millions of new customers to the livestreaming concept. That event, along with the company’s growing roster of shows, has required an army of people to join the operation’s ranks.

LIVENow’s chief commercial officer, James Massing, who became employee number 12 in September 2020, reveals: “We’re now at more than 100 staff!”

“When the pandemic hit and live paused, we had to then create our [own] events”

Indeed, the pandemic meant a rapid re-examination of LIVENow’s remit was needed as the company pivoted to take advantage of the situation. “The business was originally set up to stream live events that were happening: we wanted to be the go-to place to stream an event anytime from anywhere in the world,” continues Massing.

“But when the pandemic hit and live paused, we had to then create our [own] events, and that’s why shows like Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054 originated.”

Acknowledging that control over such events is crucial, Massing adds, “We became a virtual venue, a promoter and a ticketing platform – we were investing in the content, investing in the show and then we were monetising that content through pay-per-view ticketing sales, bringing sponsors on board, sub-licensing after the event, and selling merch, which is a simple formula and very similar to what live music promoters do.”

Economies of Scale
While livestreaming allows artists to tap into a global reach, it’s not just established acts and big corporations that have been benefitting from the opportunities that the technology can deliver.

“We’ve also been approached by artist management and a couple of labels who would like to do album release events using our software”

Berlin-based promoters Z|art agency tapped into the possibilities of livestreaming to help expand its capabilities during the pandemic. MD Max Wentzler says the broadcast element will play a bigger role in the business as physical touring returns.

“As promoters of international acts, sometimes we only get two or three markets to play in and sometimes those markets are more of a logistical decision rather than based on the fans,” says Wentzler.

“Germany is huge and we have a lot of people living in densely populated areas outside of the popular media cities, which often means those people cannot get to the actual gig.”

He continues, “We see ourselves as an add-on to existing shows. We’ve also been approached by artist management and a couple of labels who would like to do album release events using our software – something we’ve successfully done for Giant Rooks who went into the charts at number three after the show.”

“Being existing promoters means we know the politics of the business… a pure tech company does not have the same knowledge”

Wentzler reveals that Z|art received funding from the German government to help it develop its livestreaming platform, while more recently, CTS Eventim has inked a deal for Z|art to distribute content.

“It was only us [in Germany] at the beginning, but relatively quickly there have been a couple of other livestreaming platforms that have launched here. They are more tech companies that developed software for conferences and other areas but who see music as a great market where there is high demand.

“But we’re still a little ahead of the curve, because we’ve been doing it a bit longer than the others, and the fact that we’re also existing promoters means we know the politics of the business and what is involved in putting together a show, whereas a pure tech company does not have that same knowledge.”

Of course, the ability of livestreaming to reach every device screen on the planet can pay dividends for acts hoping to build a fanbase. That realisation spurred Liverpool Sound City organisers to become early adopters of the technology.

“Fans of grassroots music from around the world are also coming into the platform to discover new talent”

“We’d been looking to branch out through some kind of digital strand for the company, even pre-pandemic,” explains Sound City marketing manager Sean Fay who talks up streaming’s ability to connect to a global audience, “because Sound City at its core is a music festival for new music discovery.”

He tells IQ, “For instance, we had a band called Say Sue Me from Korea, who are capable of selling out arenas in their own country, and we brought them to arguably the most famous music city in the world, Liverpool, where they played a tiny venue like the Cavern Club. But their hardcore fans back in Korea would love to see that, so that’s one of the reasons behind our investment into livestreaming.”

The move was accelerated when it became apparent that Fay and his colleagues could not even put on a gig by a band from around the corner. “It became a question of how can we continue to provide entertainment to audiences who come to our festival for music discovery, off the strength of our curation, as well as how we could help to support artists through the pandemic.”

As a result, Sound City launched its Guesthouse platform in April 2020, and since then, it has showcased more than 300 artists. “Everyone is looking forward to getting back out to gigs and festivals, but Guesthouse is very much here to stay as it’s a new opportunity for artists and we really believe it can continue to grow in the future. Fans of grassroots music from around the world are also coming into the platform to discover new talent,” reports Fay.

“We’ve found over the past 16 months is that a lot of artists do not have a good way to communicate with their fans”

Wentzler says Z|art is also advising acts on how they can use the broadcast format over a longer period of time “to help build a fanbase and strengthen those artist/fan community relationships.” He discloses, “One of the things we’ve found over the past 16 months is that a lot of artists do not have a good way to communicate with their fans – they maybe have Instagram or Facebook, but that’s not wholly reliable with the way the algorithms work.”

And, of course, the soar-away success of livestreaming has also led to the birth of a support industry. Switchboard Live, for instance, has a remit to help operators boost the number of eyes that see their content.

“Our SaaS [software as a service] application was built to manage the distribution and syndication of live content to more than one social channel,” says Switchboard Live CEO Rudy J. Ellis. “Our end goal is to get any type of live content creator or publisher more viewers on their live streams by leveraging multi-streaming, which is the ability to take that one single stream and publish it to multiple social destinations at the same time.”

Recently, Ellis oversaw the launch of a new product called StreamShare that allows clients to invite participants, sponsors, brands, influencers and ambassadors to opt-in their own social channels, so that they can also carry content live.

“What we’ve built was germane to the pandemic, where now you have more people watching content on different platforms”

“Switchboard Live has experienced 4x growth in monthly subscribers since the beginning of the pandemic, primarily due to the fact that a lot of people were scrambling to figure how they could take an in-person event to online.”

Ellis adds, “What we’ve built was germane to the pandemic, where now you have more people watching content on different platforms. Some people who have a Facebook account may not have a YouTube account, for instance, so we are facilitating the video to make it to those platforms.”

Experience is Key
With so many platforms now competing for attention, those that are focussing on the details may well emerge triumphant, as delivering excitement to fans who watch online will undoubtedly help persuade those consumers to return again and again.

Revealing that Z|art has established set-ups that allow events to break even after just 300 or 500 ticket sales, Wentzler says that the company has spent much of the last year creating something unique.

“We’ve tried to emulate the gig experience, so that when you buy a ticket you get to the venue door and enter into the foyer”

“My business partner, Hauke [Steinhof], and I have always been interested in technology, behavioural economics and psychology, and we’ve approached our events in a way that we try to create an experience from the point you buy a ticket to when you leave the show as well. So, we brought that same ethos to our livestreaming concept,” says Wentzler.

“We’ve tried to emulate the gig experience, so that when you buy a ticket you get to the venue door and enter into the foyer where there is a merch stand and a virtual bar. If you visit the merch stand and click on an item, it will directly link to the band’s online merch store, so 100% of the revenue goes to the artists.

“The virtual bar is a pure interactive space where you’re thrown together with four or five random fans from wherever in the world they’re watching. And in the concert room you’re thrown together with four random people to emulate the people around you at a gig: you can interact with them, or mute them, which is maybe something we’d like to have in real life when we’re at a gig too.”

And as a promoter, Wentzler has already identified solutions to address key areas of concern for event organisers. “If a show in Berlin is sold out but Hamburg isn’t, we can geoblock off Hamburg plus 20 or 30 or 40 kilometres. And then, if Hamburg also sells out, we can bring those people back in.”

“If a show in Berlin is sold out but Hamburg isn’t, we can geoblock off Hamburg plus 20 or 30 or 40 kilometres”

Licensing & Rights
Although the revenues are flowing, the elephant in the livestreaming room remains the question over rights, which many territories are still trying to come to an agreement on.

Concert Vision’s Machin declares, “The bit that remains elusive is the licensing and the rights stuff, and there will be a natural coalescing around the organisations that get those rights nailed down.”

Napster’s Matchett comments, “A lot of people who have entered the space don’t really understand the rights. So maybe as well as consolidation, we’ll just see some of the start-ups who lacked the tech infrastructure or the means to secure the rights licences just fading away.”

Machin adds, “The licensing side is definitely going to become a driver in livestreaming as the market matures. The rights stuff is going to bite a load of people on the ass. It needs solving and we have a solution that Concert Vision will be marketing later in the year.”

“The rights stuff is going to bite a load of people on the ass”

Noting that the rights issues become hugely complex when multiple territories are involved, Machin predicts that some platforms may opt to only operate in certain countries. “National players might spring up, so that anyone that does a deal with the PRS in the UK might end up having a different approach and a different model to someone else in the States who has a deal with ASCAP or BMI,” he says.

The Future
Far from spelling the end of the livestreaming boom, the return of live events is invigorating action in the sector, with many predicting that most tours will now involve at least one livestream show.

Napster’s Matchett says, “From the artist side, if they’re already doing the show, they can see the livestreaming side as pure upside. If they can sell an additional 40,000 tickets for the live stream, then wonderful. That’s part of the mentality shift: people now realise there is actual money in livestreaming, whereas a few months ago I’m not sure anyone had really done it that successfully.”

While the livestreaming business is having a significant impact on the popular music world, Wentzler says Z|art is taking lessons from its classical compatriots. “The philharmonic in Berlin has been running its own livestreaming for years, so we can maybe look to the classical world to learn a bit more and take that as inspiration,” says Wentzler. “In fact, we’ve recently started to do dynamic pricing on ticketing – something the classical world has been doing for years too.”

“The future will depend on where you fit your livestream element”

Predicting massive growth in the years ahead, StageIt chief Matchett is eyeing global expansion. “Overall, what we’re going to see is just 100% more livestreaming,” he states. “Our user base and artist base is broader than North America. It’s still about 65% North America, but we’ve got quite a footprint in Ireland and the UK, and we’re now live in South Africa and Nigeria and starting to do a good volume of shows there.”

Sutcliffe is similarly optimistic about the year ahead for LIVENow, highlighting that the pent-up demand for live music brings real opportunities. “There are going to be waiting lists of people who could not get a ticket to the actual show for any number of reasons […] and that’s where livestreaming can really layer in.”

Machin concludes that the development of the online gig will open doors for operations like Concert Live to introduce other entertainment packages for fans. “Imagine it’s David Bowie’s birthday, so you do a Bowie Weekend where you make available all of his concert video for fans to watch, but crucially you also allow those fans to interact, because we’ve discovered that the ability for fans to connect around the world is a significant part of the streaming experience.”

Driift’s Salmon believes that there is still some evolution needed in livestreaming, but the format has now been established, thanks to the revenues it can provide. “The future will depend on where you fit your livestream element,” he says.

“We’re finding our position within the music ecosystem, working with people rather than against them”

“Do you fit it around an album campaign, or an album launch, or an album announce, or a tour announce, or the beginning of a tour, or the end of a tour? I think you can look at it in all those ways, but it will all depend on the type of artist, type of demographic, genre of music and so many other factors.”

Massing highlights the growing desire of artists to cut their carbon footprints as another driver. “We know that artists are probably going to perform fewer times on a tour but do bigger shows as they try to address sustainability,” he says.

“We’re finding our position within the music ecosystem, working with people rather than against them,” continues Massing.

“LIVENow has sold tickets across 190 countries, our platform is in ten languages, and we have a proven ability to reach and engage audiences live for the artist. So we’re expecting huge growth in terms of the number of events on the platform in the year ahead.”

 


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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.”

 


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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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