How and why festivals stream shows for free
Rejoice: it’s Bonnaroo week!
And for the first time, I’m headed to the farm! However, I’m only going out for Friday’s shows (guess which one I’m most excited about). For the other days’ sets, I’ll be tuning in to the Bonnaroo webcast on Ustream.
I deal with the intersection of music and technology all the time, so I don’t take festival broadcasts for granted. There’s a ton of brainpower and manual labor that goes into cost-justifying and executing these.
I was asked recently how and why live performances are streamed for free, especially by festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Coachella (and, uh, Salmonella).
Here are my thoughts on why/how they pull this off, and where I see things going in the future…
1. Free keeps it simple
2. Free is the norm - for now
3. Branding is very, very valuable
Let’s dig in…
1. “Free” keeps it simple
Now: Let’s start with the basics: It’s just easier to get the artists’ OK to stream when you’re talking about a free show versus a paid one. Ticket revenue splits and broadcast licensing are crazy complicated and therefore difficult to agree on – free promotion for the artist is not. (Related: unless these acts are live streaming all the time, cannibalization of in-person ticket sales should not be a concern… at all. Anyone knows the power of live-live compared to a broadcast.)
The future: I can only guess at the specifics, but it’s inevitable that this will get worked out as the idea for charging for a stream gets traction. As streaming becomes more accepted, artists (and labels, etc.) will want to make money directly from their biggest asset - the fanbase. Once the kinks are worked out here, and a working “split” model is discovered, it will just be a matter of dropping the details into the contract.
2. Free is the norm - for now
Now: Good and free content is still expected online, whether it be news or entertainment - and live event broadcasts are no exception.
The future: This is changing before our eyes. There are great products like VenueStage and EvntLive that are breaking out of this box, proving that high technical quality, unique features, and excellent content are worth paying for. In other realms, look at how newspapers and magazines are experimenting with paywalls and digital subscription options. They haven’t nailed it yet, but they’ll get it right eventually: someone has to foot the bill for great content.
In the music world, we’ll continue to see players like Stageit offer very simple and cheap options for streaming performances. But as time goes on, the novelty of “streaming from anywhere” or “I shot this on my phone” will dissipate. It’s already not that big of a deal anymore. The demand for quality over novelty will become huge.
This is all very similar to how just a few years ago people expected radio to be free (i.e. ad supported). But then a part of the population realized the value of satellite radio - a large selection of stations, exclusive shows, commercial-free. And they started paying $20 a month for it.
A quality product attracts an audience. it may not always be a mass audience, but catering to the masses isn’t a game most of us should play anyway. Find a niche and embrace it.
3. Branding is very, very valuable
Now: So, we’ve worked out some big logistics and kinks above, but why stream in the first place?
Live streaming results in killer branding for the festival: people who have never heard of a particular festival (yes, some people still are unaware of these massive brands) are now exposed to “Bonnaroo, Bonnaroo, Bonnaroo…” This happens to audiences worldwide who think they’re just tuning in to see their favorite artist - but then stay for hours of additional great content, immersing them in the vibe. (Tell me you’ve never watched Woodstock and badly wanted to be there.)
So guess what happens next: the more you see, the more you want to go next time. Ticket sales are surely impacted by the natural marketing happening here - not only the direct impressions, but word-of-mouth/social, too.. (Caveat: “They’re more likely to come next year” is the prevailing opinion in music/tech, but I haven’t seen the research to back this up. Anyone?)
Two more quick but important points here:
- The exposure in turn helps the festival bring on more sponsors. i.e. Ford is all over this year’s Bonnaroo. (Seriously, read about how tightly they are integrating.)
- Streaming is high profile for the acts, too. They get to essentially brag to their fanbase that they’re billed on a major festival, and they also get the cross-exposure to other music lovers
The future: We’ll see major festivals attempt online ticket sales in the near future. But it may not be as simple as “pay $5 to watch.”
Streaming has been around for years for these events, but as services have come and gone (remember AT&T’s Blue Room?), fests and promoters have been trying new things all the time. Even Bonnaroo is changing things up by leaving its 2012 distributor, YouTube, and trying Ustream this time around.
But I doubt free streaming will completely go away. As festivals (and - more broadly - the music biz) look for new revenue streams, be prepared for things like ads at varying degrees of annoyance (please - no prerolls!) or maybe even “premium” streams that include additional artists or camera angles.
Personally, I’m going to enjoy the simplicity of how things are right now: you open up your browser and just watch the show. But I’m not going to be surprised if it’s a little more complex next year.
Listen: Walt Grace’s Submarine Test
John Mayer has long been a favorite artist of mine. I guess I’d say I’ve been a fan since my first listen to some tracks on MP3.com in my dorm room in 2000. From there, the ear candy of Room For Squares rocked my world and I was hooked.
Mayer has had turbulent times over the past few years. And frankly, his last album, 2009’s Battle Studies, can’t even come close to touching its predecessor, Continuum. I think it lacked weight and (forgive the cliché) authenticity.
But his new record, Born and Raised, came out last week, and it’s good. Reviewers are tossing around descriptors like “folk” and “70’s vibe” and an old “California sound.” Albums have to marinate with me for a while, so I can’t say yet if it’s going to be something I’ll still be listening to months or years form now.
But one song stands out: “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.”
I was discussing the album briefly this morning with Jon Acuff, and he and I, in sync, mentioned the greatness of the “storytelling” in this track. Good to know it’s not just me.
I’ll spare you more words. Have a listen.