Inside the music industry’s livestreaming bubble [part two]
Audio quality, internet speed, security, lack of vibe and inability to make money.
These were some of the reasons that Australian musicians and the music industry were apprehensive about pissing rainbows over livestreaming.
But with gigs, festivals and tours out of action for at least another six months, the digital goalposts are now shifted for two major reasons.
Consumers have changed their behaviour, and the industry has opened up to more options to survive.
David Grice, producer of last year’s BIGTECH points out, “Live streaming has been coming for a while, however, it often takes a crisis to jolt industries into action.
“I don’t feel we have taken that long to embrace this change since the COVID-19 crisis hit us, as artists and consumers of music have immediately flocked to use the available free platforms.
“The challenge has been how to use this crisis as a way to reinvent how we do what we do in a way that is financially viable for both music businesses and the artists who are all suffering right now.”
Australia is among those countries which saw an increased intake of TV and music streaming during the lock-in, suggests a study by research company Conviva.
It’s presumed that Australians have a similar response to new attitudes to livestreaming, as revealed by a survey conducted in early April by live event discovery platform Bandsintown.
It found 74% of consumers intend to watch live streams on a regular basis after live shows return.
Further data from the survey revealed that over 40% had never seen a livestream before or after COVID-19 closed physical gigs, 7% had no intention to check them out but over 30% plan to watch them all.
More heartening, over 70% will pay artists to access their streams so they can make money.
Assuring to the live sector is that another Conviva study found that livestreaming doesn’t cannibalise attendance at physical events.
In fact, 67% of live streamers are more likely to buy a ticket to a concert by the artist or a similar act.
45% of live streamers would pay for live or on-demand video for their favourite music performers, and 87% would go for the livestream option if there were bonus content.
Grice emphasises, “I don’t believe that live streaming of a performance will replace the live experience, but rather enhance it.
“One of the advantages I can see is that there will be great opportunities for artists to further monetise their live shows but it’s more way than that.
“Venue capacities won’t matter any more as artists can sell unlimited tickets to their shows to fans wherever they are.
“I also look at the engagement opportunities for artists and fans beyond just the streaming, to bring together communities of music lovers together through their common love of an artist. And their mutual passion for a common cause.
“This has the potential for an artist to build loyalty, create a broader community and invite fans into their lives in an intimate way.
“Artists management teams can also use live streaming as a way to value add on album launches or create a pre-tour stream in the lead up to a tour.
“Festivals can utilise streaming services to assist their customers not only experience what the event was like, but keep the festival going across the year providing content in the build-up to the following years’ event to further drive ticket sales and further build their community of festival-goers.”
INXS manager and Petrol Records founder Chris Murphy this week made the news when his signings The Buckleys, reached almost 1 million streamers on their virtual world tour.
Such numbers (and those achieved in other livestreaming events) have opened the eyes of the music industry to the immense opportunities of livestreaming, he says.
“In a very short time, every major promoter and record company in the world will have a dedicated livestreaming division.
“It’s 100% going to be the new business model for the music industry. We’re not talking about in two or three years. It’s the current currency of entertainment.”
Unlike many in the Australian music industry, Murphy hasn’t just discovered livestreaming.
An early technology adopter, in the mid-90s he’d quit INXS after 15 years to work on two things he’s got excited about – digital radio and technology, and organic farming.
As far back as 1999, his Digital One company live-streamed the Sydney short film festival Tropfest to 20 countries.
“I knew even then how livestreaming would be crucial to expanding one’s brand,” he said.
Livestreaming had its challenges then: “we’re talking narrowband, we’re talking copperwire. There was no wireless.”
But excited by the opportunities that the much talked about broadband would bring, Murphy set up 13 digital radio stations playing different styles of music and waited for its arrival.
That year he and his IT chief flew to Melbourne to meet with Telstra’s top brass to enthusiastically pitch a broadband entertainment package.
Murphy recalls, “A senior Telstra executive told me bluntly that they didn’t believe in broadband and that copperwire was the future.”
A week after he returned to Sydney, Murphy called up his digital partner, Channel 7.
He told them, “Let’s get out of here fast. Telstra, our biggest telecommunications company is going to extend the copperwire era when I’m already dealing with a Korean company which has 1 million broadband subscribers and which I have licensed my digital radio stations.”
He shuttered 12 of the stations: ”I wasn’t going to wait around for Australian technology to work this out.”
That’s when he set up Petrol: the different styles of the stations now became sophisticated CD compilations.
An album of cool Cuban music sold 250,000 units. One exploring Tokyo’s underground sounds did 120,000.
“In 2004 I got a call from Apple iTunes for me to fly there and discuss Petrol’s catalogue. “We were the first independent music label in the world to sign a worldwide deal with iTunes.”
He glowers, “Anyone who wants to take me up on that, come forward!”
TAKE THE MONEY AND HUM
The livestreaming boom has seen moves to monetise it.
In the past week alone, as TMN reported, Facebook is to introduce a feature which allows musicians and other creators to charge for livestreams.
Users can further “tip” the artist and also join their fundraising campaigns.
British ticketing platform Dice, which opened Australian operations last year, has launched Dice TV.
It will personalise livestreaming gigs, festivals and DJ sets by enabling fans to discover and stream events and to let artists ensure their content finds audiences more effectively.
Dice CEO Phil Hutcheon sees this as another significant step in livestreaming becoming a crucial business model for the music industry.
“Our mission has always been to get people out more, but we can’t go out. However, artists have shown how important music and culture is to us all and they inspired us to adapt Dice to this new world.
“This is a crucial moment for the live industry to develop a sustainable ecosystem that helps creators and artists thrive.
“This is just the start, we have a dedicated team on Dice TV and this will grow to be a long term solution for the industry.”
Grice says only a small handful of players have emerged.
The one that ensures artists are given the tools to enable them to benefit financially, and the rights holders are appropriately compensated for the broadcast of their works, will be the one that wins.
He cites NETGIGS, also from his hometown of Adelaide, as a global game-changer in this.
TMN has championed NETGIGS since founder Joe Ward two years ago set up a studio in his backyard and streamed six gigs by Adelaide bands and reached 500 punters.
They charged $10 to $20 each, depending on additional features, on length of the stream, how many cameras and production crews are used, and extra offerings such as interviews and backstage shenanigans.
NETGIGS streamed gigs from Adelaide venue Fowlers’ Live and the Queensland segment of the National Live Music Awards.
It now has laptop and mobile apps in Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Germany, France, UK and Ireland, and production teams in 100 countries.
Grice points out, “They already hold public performance licences in multiple territories around the world, have a revenue model that will bring significant benefits to artists incomes, and have a platform that assists artists to build an intimate community of fans across the world, and they are moving fast.”
The problem of latency or the time it takes for sound to get around the network (and makes the idea of band members playing in time together when in different spaces), which could be sorted out by 5G.
Artificial intelligence could solve the issue of video quality.
An Eventbrite study found that video quality is the most important factor for 67% of viewers when watching a livestream broadcast.
The study cautions creatives: “Yes, you can use your phone for quick off-the-cuff videos, but stabilise it on a tripod. Don’t give viewers video vertigo.”
Artists might not be able to interact with fans during the performance, but there are many opportunities for live interactive video.
Eventbrite points out, these include behind the scene content (“a huge draw for 87% of audiences”), pre-show artist Q&As, and digital VIP meet and greets which in turn could drive sales of VIP packages.
THE NOT-SO-SLOW RUSH
With livestreaming opened up as a new business model by both the industry and consumers, all eyes will be on the next step.
Grice forecasts: “As internet speeds get better, the quality of the vision will improve and the capabilities of data speeds will bring with it many more features that will enhance the experience for both artists and fans.
“Everyone talks about VR being the next big thing, but it currently isn’t cost-effective to enter this world and I believe we are still a few years away from being able to see any real impact.
“The exciting thing about tech is that anything is possible and we are only limited by our own imaginations.”
As to whether these technological advances will be financially expedient for the music industry, Grice’s take is, “By encouraging the development of new tech from within our industry and ensuring these developments have the industry at their heart, there will definitely be significant abilities for this to happen.
Murphy has two pieces of advice if live streaming is to sustain as a viable model.
One, the content has to be compelling, creative and of consistently high quality.
“When humans discover something new, they will run at it like sheep. In the next year or so, everyone’s going to jump on livestreaming, and we’re going to have a lot of shit.
“Were going to be inundated or awhile by people who think that the technology is the asset. No it’s not, it’s the distribution point.
“The asset is the content that pours through the technology. So remember this mantra: bad content, bad result.”
He doubts, given that pockets of online technology took ten years to start making money, that livestreaming is going to make people wealthy in the short run.
“But the money will be on smart agencies and smart marketing brains who’re going to realise that they need to come up with a fresh approach for streaming.
“Forget the 40-second ad breaks – 16 every hour – because they just annoy people.
“Better to encourage brands to sponsor live-streamed events, with a banner popping up at the bottom very subtly every four minutes. So to get sponsorship, you need great content.
“You would expect brands to specify that if they sponsor an event, no other brand can be part of it.
“Which means the event becomes a total branding exercise. I believe that’s where live streaming and revenue will get along. But the content has to be great, and the profile of the act does not matter.
“If a band like The Buckleys, who are virtually unknown outside Australia and can reach near 1 million on a virtual world tour, it’s because they’ve got great songs and are great players.”