BeApp, Coca-Cola and New Hybrid Models For Streaming Concerts
The need for live concert streaming options for both musicians and fans has triggered a plethora of pivots, expansions, and startups each promising a unique solution.
BeApp and its CEO Ray Smith are not new to live music streaming and with deep-pocketed sponsors like Coca-Cola their side ranging aspirations are both more ambitions and possible than most.
Even in the best of times, many look to live music as a crucial resource — a place to turn for comfort, community, and relief from anxiety and the broader stresses of day-to-day life. Yet, for the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has closed down venues around the country, and it’s hard to picture when gathering in nightclubs or amphitheaters will be deemed safe again. This has put an incredible strain on artists and venues across the country to the point where the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) declared that 90 percent of independent venue owners, promoters, and bookers say that they will have to close permanently within the next few months, if they can’t get an infusion of targeted government funding. With a need for new revenue streams for both artists and venues, live streaming has come under the spotlight to see who can innovate the quickest to build a new monetizable model for digital events. There have certainly been some signs of positive innovation that have hit the market to give the live industry hope.
For example, K-Pop supergroup BTS held a paid livestream recently that sold 756,600 virtual tickets at $26 and $35 a stub. While few acts have the massive dedicated fandom BTS does, even a smaller-scale version of the concept is drawing the industry’s eye. Indie act Waxahatchee charged $15 to catch a show on the platform Noonchorus while acts like Josh Groban charged a premium price of $55 for ticket/t-shirt packages for his paid livestream show.
With the short term survival of so many concert venues, promoters, and artists relying on live stream innovation, we sat down with Ray Smith, founder of BeApp, a music industry veteran to talk about the launch of BeApp, their brand partnership with Coca-Cola, how BeApp plans to partner with venues, and why every event will have a live-streamed component post-COVID-19.
Tell us what inspired the development of BeApp?
The inspiration is really born out of a lack of being able to access entertainment. I’ve been thinking about this problem for decades – about how you take somebody in a remote part of the world and allow them to really experience a different place, a different location, a different music scene. I think COVID-19 really accelerated everything and has made people feel landlocked, even if you’re in a bustling city like New York, London or LA – we still don’t have access to art or culture or artists. We’re using the power of the web to connect people with music when there is no music venue, which is super important, especially in times like this.
BeApp partnered with Coca-Cola to host Coke Studio Sessions, a series featuring high-profile artists like Katy Perry, Miguel, Steve Aoki and the cast of the musical “Hamilton.” Can you give us some background on how that brand deal came to be and why Coca-Cola was the right brand partner for your launch?
When I was setting up BeApp, we were trying to figure out who the right brand partners were – which brands encapsulate joy and uplifting moments in life. One thing I was seeing at the beginning of COVID-19, was that a lot of live streams were just really depressing and they didn’t really provide a sense of escapism. I wanted to do something that was a bit more positive.
Coca-Cola really embraces joyful moments and that’s what we’re trying to do on BeApp – hopefully, you forget your day-to-day problems.That’s what music has always done, you lose yourself in that music moment. That’s what I wanted to do with BeApp and Coca-Cola absolutely embodies that element of sparking joy, so they’re the perfect partner.
BeApp, much like a venue, aggregates an artist’s fanbase into one place, however, the experience of being at a live concert is difficult to emulate over social media. With live-streaming platforms currently replacing live concerts, how is #BeApp’s platform and technology looking to fill the gap of that hard to replicate in-person experience for the fans?
You’re never going to replace going to a music venue, with that shared experience. But in many ways, facilitating a live stream allows certain types of access and certain types of connection that you can’t get in a real-world music environment. On BeApp, in many ways, the connection between an artist and a fan is a lot more intimate than at somewhere like Madison Square Garden or at a festival. I think that kind of direct access with an artist, being able to chat and communicate directly with an artist in real-time, allows you to have a different kind of connection with other people enjoying that same music moment. Music events aren’t going anywhere, but there’s a lot of people in the world that take for granted the fact that they live in a city where artists are touring. What we’re doing is providing global access to the masses that may never get to these concerts. If you live in middle America and an artist doesn’t come to your city or you don’t have money for these events, I think we’re doing something quite special for the vast majority of the population.
You mentioned the possibility of partnering with venues in the future. How do you envision BeApp working with the major venue holding groups (Live Nation / AEG) as well as the thousands of independent venues across the country?
Pre-COVID-19 we had signed a three-year agreement with AEG in my last company, BE-AT.TV, to stream the majority of their tent-pole festivals. The physical space of the festival is coming back, but there are so many different monetary opportunities by moving the four walls of a festival ground or a concert venue. If you’re an AEG or a Live Nation, you’re limited to the size of your room. What we’re doing is taking that room of 500 people and we’re opening it up to 5 billion, we’re really democratizing access. The days of doing an event without amplification are gone. From a business model perspective, you’re going to have to really think about how to monetize with everything that’s available at your disposal.
We have seen different ways of monetizing digital content become more prominent, such as a pay-per-view, donations, subscriptions, or the ability for fans to buy “badges” on apps such as TikTok. How do you plan to monetize future live streams and payout artists in regards to BeApp? What are some of the lessons your path to monetization can teach venues across the country who are being crippled financially due to the pandemic and live events coming to a complete standstill?
There are a number of different business models being explored. It’s a very hard thing to get people to pay for a virtual ticket, but if you look at what BTS did with their live stream from a pay-per-view, that was incredible. They used the power of live to open up to a global audience. With brands trying to connect with different consumers, there’s definitely a role for them to play. If you look at how people are consuming content these days, especially when they can’t go to a sporting event or a festival or concert, they’re streaming. We have inserted ourselves into this conversation. We’ve got a lot of young people who are hard to reach, staying online for a very long time. I think the sponsor model is a win-win proposition: the artist gets paid, the brand is aligned and gets to communicate and the fans are getting this experience that they wouldn’t otherwise get.
With live concerts anticipated to return at reduced capacity, will there be an emergence of a hybrid concert model? How would apps such as BeApp make up for lost revenue at the door?
The days of being just a physical concert are gone, you need to think about how you blend the world between real and virtual at all times. That’s from when you book the talent, to when you interface with a potential sponsor, to when you sell tickets to your consumer, to when you sell merch. If you’re communicating with a sponsor, you need to make sure that from the 400 people in the room, they know that this will be seen by 4 million people online. The virtual world is going to force concert owners to think about how they do business in a different way. I’ve been a digital guy my whole life and from a fan perspective, if you have to pay $400 to go to Madison Square Garden vs. seeing that same artist, for free, at home, brought to you by a big-brand sponsor – you have to think about the value proposition. If you’re going to make your price point that expensive, it better be worth it or you’re going to be out of business.
You shared a really interesting statistic with us which said that 46% of people who watch BeApp live streams end up clicking through to the artist’s merch funnel, riving massive amounts of physical merch sales. Can you describe why you think there is such a high demand for merch through virtual streams and some of the other trends you are noticing that fans do while watching live streams on your platform?
I think the biggest thing is the audience that’s on BeApp. Again, we’re streaming to a global audience and a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to buy this stuff in their day-to-day. You look at how streetwear brands have cultivated this culture, but the reality is that access to this kind of merch is limited to a very slim few. Again, we democratize access to things that people want and have made it easy for them to get it – right at their fingertips. If you’re an artist, what better way to move a product than having an engaged audience sitting there watching you perform? This is going to be the future, to take the content and turn it into commerce.
In our conversation, you noted that you were not too bullish on the pay-per-view model for live streaming performances. Can you give our readers a little more insight into why that is, and what alternative revenue models you are betting on both on your BeApp platform as well as the industry at large?
Again, it’s about the value proposition. I’m not saying a pay-per-view model doesn’t exist, it’s just that you need to figure out what the price point is and how that stacks up against the other forms of entertainment that are in the marketplace. If you’re paying $9.99 for Spotify to have access to every song in the world, where does that world for the single-artist stream fit in? How do you price something like that considering all the entertainment mediums and platforms and pieces of content that are available to consumers today? If you’re going to charge for an artist’s performance, it’s got to be mindblowing.
Advertising has been a big topic as of late in the music business, particularly with sports continuing to be out of the picture. Do you see live streaming concerts having an opportunity to grab away advertising and sponsorship dollars from brands that were traditionally meant for sports?
Brands are limited to where they can place their brand’s dollars. There are huge amounts of branding and advertising dollars that have no home at the moment, they have no way to effectively communicate with a hard to reach audience. Right now, we are one of the few entertainment properties that has managed to keep people entertained during COVID-19 and it means something. I think that brands have a role to play because it makes that consumer experience even better.
For our music industry readers, can you give us three predictions around what a post-COVID-19 live music industry will look like given the fact you are on the cutting edge at BeApp?
I think that people are going to be much less willing to travel for destination events. I think we also have to look at what the economy is going to look like, where people’s dollars are stretched. We’re also starved for human connection at this point, so rather than flock to festivals I think that people are going to flock to their friends for much more intimate, home-based events. I went on a bike ride to Central Park the other day and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done – I don’t need to go to a festival to be entertained, my entertainment threshold right now is much lower and I’m appreciating so many things right now. That experience is happening at scale. I think events are going to be much more stripped-down, intimate, closer to home. I think the first thing that’s going to happen is going to the local bar to hang with friends and it’s going to be an amazing moment and that will be enough. Finding happiness right now is in the small things. I think artists and entertainers need to fit into people’s lives and how they’re behaving, rather than trying to bend people to the products we’re trying to sell. We, as people in the entertainment industry, need to see how people are living and adjust to that.