The following is an excerpt from the Fame House White Paper, "Owning Your Audience: Building a Direct-to-Fan Strategy in 2016".
Download the complete paper here.
Not even a decade ago, livestreaming was a luxury solely reserved for giant media entities like the NFL and the Oscars. Early online livestreaming platforms like Justin.TV and Ustream were the first to democratize livestreaming by making it possible for anyone with an internet connection and a webcam. When webcams ceased to be standalone devices and started to become pre-packaged within PCs and laptops, personal (one-to-one) and public (one-to-many) livestreaming became commonplace through platforms like Skype, Twitch, and Google Hangout.
Then, just last year, livestreaming became one of the most in-vogue activities on the internet thanks to Meerkat Mania, which was then overthrown by Twitter’s Periscope at breakneck speed. In 2016, Facebook followed suit by rolling out Facebook Live as a standard feature. This new feature is now already on course to become the dominant online livestreaming method due to Facebook’s scale
Regardless of which platforms ultimately reign supreme, the new generation of livestreaming apps — Meerkat, Periscope, and Facebook Live — have given artists the power to interact with their full audience in realtime for the first time ever.
The Livestreaming Landscape
Naturally, an artist’s first instinct in embracing these tools is to bring their music and performances directly to fans in realtime. Some artists have used these tools to peel back the curtain and bring fans into the creative process, and many other artists have used them to hold intimate and personal fireside discussions with their fans. Still, others have taken a craftier approach by using livestreaming as a promotional tool to push their latest single, t-shirt, or tour. Facebook Live is especially beneficial as a promotional tool for artists because it notifies your entire fanbase on the platform when you “go live”, allowing artists to nudge your entire audience to tune in.
Beyond enabling artists to simply interact with or promote to their audience, however, the mainstream tools currently available fall short of allowing artists to build and monetize their audience while owning the relationship with their fans. Despite the amazing capabilities that Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope have provided to artists, the shortcomings of these platforms lie in the fact that they don’t allow artists to own and customize the livestreaming experience.
For example, artists can’t easily direct viewers to outside links to purchase merchandise or tickets within the stream. They can’t embed streams within their digital fan club, or gate the stream exclusively to members of their fan club. They can’t collect any information from the fans that have tuned in live, and therefore don’t have the ability to interact with them after the one-time livestream event. Furthermore, they can’t download archived replays of their livestream and upload it anywhere they want (ie, YouTube, Vimeo, or their website) for posterity. (It is because of these missing features that I disagree that an artist’s time is best spent on platforms like Twitch.
This void in the livestreaming marketplace first became clear in discussions with long-time Fame House client Amanda Palmer. Amanda is an artist that controls her own relationship and messaging with her fans, and who values this relationship above all else. In her very active interactions with fans through online channels, Amanda often will notice shortcomings in the tools available to her. So, one of the things we help her with at Fame House is evaluating potential solutions to make sure that she is using the best tools available for both her and her fans.
After crowdfunding her album Theatre is Evil via Kickstarter in 2012 and hitting the Billboard Top 10, Amanda started an account on Patreon in 2015 to crowdfund her art on an on-going basis. Her Patreon, which has become the highest earning account on the platform, more or less functions as a crowdfunded fan club where Amanda’s backers receive exclusive content from and access to Amanda in exchange for their patronage. This exclusive content ranges and can include livestreams, stream-of-conscious blogs, new music, live performance art pieces, and music videos
Amanda was looking to provide these patrons with two different types of livestreams at the highest possible quality. She needed a solution that allowed her to host both intimate webcam chats with her backers and professional quality streams of her live performances and concerts. When we looked at the mainstream tools on the market, there was no one tool that could handle both of these needs. Periscope, the most prominent livestreaming app at the time, was great if Amanda wanted to talk to her fans from her phone, but there was a laundry list of things she couldn’t do with the app, such as make the stream available only to her patrons, allow fans to tune in from their phone or desktop, or archive the video on her own channels for later viewing.
Enter Huzza, Stage Left
After surveying the marketplace, we ultimately came across a fantastic livestreaming startup called Huzza who have helped us circumvent these shortcomings and take step towards perfecting the livestreaming experience for both Amanda and her fans. We were in need of a cost effective livestreaming method that Amanda could own and that her fans would love, and Huzza provided the solution.
Each livestream on Huzza begins with a “promotional page” several days or weeks before the event where fans can RSVP to receive an automated email at the beginning of the stream. Fans can also submit questions on this page, which the artist can answer once the stream is live.
Once inside the livestream portal, fans can share the stream to their social media channels and interact with one another (and the artist) directly via text or GIF selfies (a small but highly enjoyable feature that is unique to Huzza). The chat feed itself is collapsible, meaning that fans can choose to ignore the conversation and focus on the stream within a fullscreen view.
Within the Huzza stream, fans can tip the artist directly or donate to a cause that the artist has selected ahead of time. They can also head over to the Merch tab and purchase items that the artist has chosen to highlight. Through Huzza’s iOS app, a large portion of the desktop experience can be mirrored on fans’ mobile devices.
If the artist would like their stream to live outside of their Huzza account, artists can also pay a nominal fee to whitelabel their streams and host them on their own websites (ie, live.artistname.com), or embed them within a news item or blog post on their site via an iFrame (ie, artistname.com/live). Huzza also allows artists to gate their streams by requiring passwords or email addresses in order to enter the stream. Then, following the stream, artists can download a .csv of the email addresses of fans collected via the gate and/or pre-stream promotional page.
We’ve also been able to work with Huzza to integrate livestreams directly with Amanda’s Patreon. Using Huzza, Amanda can hold webcam livestream Q&As that are exclusive to specific tiers of her patrons, or give patrons exclusive access to archived replays of her professional-quality live performances. Huzza has also evolved to allow patrons to authenticate via their Patreon accounts in order to automatically verify their patronage tier and access exclusive content from Amanda. This was a feature that we knew would be highly convenient to Amanda’s patrons, and which has now been made available to all Patreon creators to leverage.
Through Huzza and comparable platforms, artists now have unprecedented superpowers to intimately interact with and promote to their fans while owning the streaming experience. While tools like Periscope and Facebook Live are immensely helpful for reaching the maximum amount of people, customizable streams like those described above are much more effective in converting viewers into purchasers (in the short term) and lifelong fans (in the long term).
Today, one possible application of this technology could include independently run web-athons (think telethons except livestreaming online), where artists band together to perform and raise donations for a shared cause. Another could be to premiere a new music video directly to their fan club, or launch a new line of merchandise or ticket pre-order that is only available to the fans within the stream. Artists could also hold online album listening parties limited to a certain number of attendants, and securely hide the stream once it is over, allowing fans to discuss new music as they’re hearing it for the first time together. Imagine pre-ordering an album from your favorite artist and receiving an invitation to an exclusive listening party prior to the album’s release.
Looking into the near future, this technology could also be used to create livestreamed subscription series, bringing artists closer to the ability to create the equivalent of their own TV programming.
The instant connection provided by livestreaming combined with this ability to customize the viewing platform should enable artists to create their own unique and premium experiences, thereby empowering them to take ownership back into their own hands and away from the hands of the giant social media platforms.