The Future of Live (Streams)
Finding near and mid-term fixes for live music and the income derived from it are essential to the survival of both artists and the wider music industry, according to a new MIDiA report.
Within those solutions also lies major opportunities that go far beyond the lockdown era.
By analyst Mark Mulligan of MIDiA
The almost total cessation of live music has sent shockwaves throughout the wider music industry. Though live companies are clearly at the epicentre, labels and streaming services are the in the blast radius too as the gaping hole left in most artists’ income is causing them to question their other income sources, streaming especially – with both labels and DSPs in the sights.
Finding both near and mid-term fixes for live are therefore crucial for the wider music industry and artist community. There is a big opportunity here that goes far beyond lockdown era. This is more than the future of games and music, it is in fact an alternative future for live music. It is the ultimate lockdown legacy.
MIDiA’s latest subscriber report ‘Recovery Economics: Music, Games, Live Streams and the Future of Concerts’ has just been published and subscribers can read it here.
In this blog post I am going to highlight some of the key themes.
Live streaming’s teething pains
From a value chain perspective, Lockdown came too early for live streaming; it is under-developed, under-monetized, under-licensed, under-professionalized. Unfortunately, the live-streaming surge is showing all the signs of a goldrush with a lack of clear structure and the first signs of artist backlash, with some artists feeling that some platforms are relying on them to build their audiences while performing for free.
Furthermore, quality is patchy and artists are becoming concerned with the impact on their brand image. Saturation is another Achilles heel: with traditional performances saturation is negated by artists moving from one city to another. Live streaming has no geographical constraints so the effect of multiple performances is analogous to playing repeated concerts in the same small town.
Virtual concerts, not live-streamed concerts
Arguably the biggest single mistake the music industry made with music streaming was to think of it as a format rather than a paradigm. As a consequence, the (western) streaming services lack differentiation and true feature innovation. We must think of the live opportunity as something that goes beyond live streams. Live streams are just one part of the mix. The true opportunity is virtual experiences, that can range from 100 attendee super-premium intimate sessions, through mass scale ad-supported YouTube streams, to avatars performing in games.
If we start this journey thinking narrowly, the scale of opportunity will be constrained. And right now, the industry needs to get as many virtual event innovations going as it can, because it will have to continue to carry the baton for live for some time yet.
In a best case scenario COVID-19 recedes later this year and we have a small number of limited capacity concerts happening before year end.
Alternatively, we may see recurring waves of COVID-19 denting consumer confidence with fewer people wanting to go to concerts even if they could. Either way, artists are not going to get most of their live revenue this year.
“the best fix is monetization”
It is this post-lockdown opportunity that virtual events need to meet. But there is a lot of work yet to be done. The biggest problem to fix is monetization.
Fans pay around 80 times more per minute for a real-world live performance than they do for listening to music on paid streaming services. The value exists in the shared moment. The problem with live streaming in its current manifestation is that it is abundant and is delivered in a ubiquitous format that is implicitly low value. If this sector is to become a serious income stream for artists then we have to stop giving it all away for free. What is needed is a sophisticated freemium monetization model that can cater both to large free audiences and better monetize fans.
A set of principles for virtual events
There is also a lot more that can be fixed. Here are some meta principles that virtual events should adhere to:
- Scarcity (fewer gigs, geo-restricted – Laura Marlin has just announced geo-restricted live streams – let’s make that the trailblazer not an isolated initiative)
- Better production qualities
- More sophisticated monetisation (freemium, pay-to-stay, super premium / VIP etc)
- More sophisticated segmentation of types of shows (not all live streams are the same, but we currently only have a one-size-fits all product
- Better platform segmentation (e.g. big tech platforms can play the role of stadiums and arenas while off-portal destinations like artist apps can host smaller, scarcer, super-premium events)
- Better discovery (the equivalent of the TV EPG needs creating for virtual concerts, Bandsintown has made a decent start but much more needs to be done)
- Better alignment between what artists want and what the platforms want
The birth of a new industry
COVID-19 will likely be a mid- to long-term part of life, so the traditional live sector will face a ‘cost of confidence’ as portions of artists and fans alike will initially stay away. Virtual concerts (live streaming and generative virtual performances) can become an important component of the live music sector as it builds out of lockdown. But it will not get there without concerted efforts to fix the problems that currently define this nascent sector.
A new virtual concert value chain is starting to emerge that traditional live companies are not – yet – well embedded in. The future market will be one defined by both incumbents and insurgents. The big live companies will bet big on virtual but we’ll also see new types of companies like virtual booking agents and avatar agencies. The whole concept of what a concert is and what a venue is, can be turned on their heads. Fortnite’s Party Royale island is now hosting regular live-streamed concerts. With 350 million users, Fortnite can lay claim to being arguably the biggest capacity venue on the planet. This may be the birth of an entire new ecosystem.
The lockdown lag will create a whole new set of economics across all industries. Driving a recovery during this transition period will require innovation and a willingness to downplay old ways of doing things. For music it will be about exploring new income streams to recast a new music business. The first step is for live streaming to have a product refit that delivers a genuine value exchange for fans if it is to ever get out of its free / charity / tip cul-de-sac and become a genuine income stream of scale.