The live entertainment industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus-induced global quarantine (please stay home). Streaming revenues contribute a pittance to but the biggest artists (while data sources vary, it typically takes between 200-250 Spotify streams to make the artist a single dollar). In the last few years, even large acts have been hitting the road more than before, in an effort to shore up both audience and bank balance.
Then came the global pandemic and along with most of the world, it has brought the live entertainment world to a screeching halt. Big acts like Pearl Jam have cancelled tours. India will need to wait a while for comedian Trevor Noah’s maiden visit. A hotly-anticipated comedy festival had to pull the plug on over a 100 shows. Venues across the country have sent notifications saying there would be no more live music for a while.
Sadly, today BookMyShow & Insider.in’s event listings look scantier than the toilet paper sections of American supermarkets.
The Show Must Go On: But How?
All crises bring panic, followed by innovation, and as the saying goes, the show must go on. In this case, artists have chosen to make the best of the situation by live-streaming themselves. This ranges from 15-minute Instagram Lives (like that by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin), to full-production stage gigs replete with lights and sound (ranging in genre from Celtic rock by The Dropkick Murphys to Western Classical by the Berlin Philharmonic). In India, talent management agency BigBadWolf has curated a Live From HQ series featuring live streams by artists such as Prateek Kuhad, Vir Das, Indian Ocean, Karsh Kale and Karan Singh.
But beyond these sporadic forays to infuse #TogetherAtHome cheer, the question to ask is this:
Will these experiments create a new trajectory for live entertainment, one that will not just last beyond the current constraints, but also spawn new models for monetisation?
Here are four ways this could happen:
- Gigs behind a paywall: This is straightforward. Only those who pay get access to the stream. One example of this: Swiss folk-metal band Cellar Darling have asked fans for an optional contribution, with those making the highest contribution of 15 Euros getting band merchandise. This might be the most viable format going forward, and it will be interesting to see if existing ticketing/streaming adapt themselves to this.
- Increased reliance on patronage: Many more artists will seek patronage from their fanbases. Several non-mainstream bands do this already. For example, Aussie metal band Ne Obliviscaris has had an active Patreon page for years. Canadian musician Devin Townsend started a GoFundMe after needing to cancel his tours. Even Mumbai band Gutslit requested fans to buy merchandise after needing to cancel shows. This is not a one-way street. Fans are rewarded with benefits like freebies, exclusives, shout-outs, etc.
- Sponsorship: Many brands rely on events to get the word out. With a lack of offline events, could they take it online? Coke Studio and AmEx Unstaged are two well-known ‘non-audience’ online music properties – it may be time for many more to join the fray. For example, Chipotle has just launched a series called Chipotle Together, a Hangout with celebrities to help fans cope with social distancing.
- Education: This could be a tiny niche but a lack of gigs might mean a good time for entertainers to offer courses and workshops. One of the finest rock vocalists today, British band TesseracT’s Daniel Tompkins, does vocal classes,. Maybe comedians and thespians too, should jump into the fray.
The New ‘Live’ Entertainment – What it Demands
So far, the live entertainment industry’s tryst with technology has been limited – or strange. For example, creating holograms of deceased stars like Whitney Houston on tour!
We believe that we are seeing the beginning of a new era for live entertainment. It does not mean that in-person live entertainment will die, but ‘watch-from-home’ live events will move into the mainstream, much as ebooks and OTT film and entertainment content did.What will this require and therefore, where are the opportunities?
1. Audience simulation and interaction
A large part of live entertainment is the audience reaction and atmosphere. Anyone who saw the awkward shows by Stephen Colbert & John Oliver, sans crowd, will attest to how off that felt, despite their comedic genius. This is a gap that needs to be addressed.
Remember that the laugh track was an innovation brought in to replace a studio audience back in 1950, and AI is already being used extensively in sports commentary.
We predict that existing formats for audience interaction will evolve and new ones will be added.
Imagine a live version of the popular video game Rock Band where you play along with the musicians, and top fan names are displayed on screen and read out by the band. The possibilities are endless.
Hotstar, during the IPL, has games to augment the live-feed. Long back, Heineken had a real-time predictor for the UEFA Champions League. As live streams become more commonplace, entertainers will learn to use their inherent strengths, rather than view the streams as a compromise.
We predict that we will soon see technology that allows audiences to collectively cheer in some way (such as actual laughs picked up but delivered only during ‘laugh breaks’, or applause after a song).
2. Inside another world
It is said that music can transport you – and technology will enable this in ways we cannot imagine yet (hallucinogens helpful but not mandatory).
Last year, electronic musician Marshmello created a stir playing a concert inside the video game Fortnite to an audience of 10 million!
Is there an intersect between gaming and live entertainment waiting to be explored? This extended quarantine period might force streaming of live entertainment to move beyond a flat screen and create more immersive virtual concerts – with all the jostling and searching for friends and prime seats for people who pony up!
All top tech companies are exploring AR/VR – Facebook with Horizon / Oculus, Google with Daydream, HTC with Vive and Nintendo with games like Pokémon GO. The demand for rich virtual experiences might just be the fillip they need to double down on investments. So don’t be surprised if you see your roommate bumping into walls –he’s probably just in a virtual mosh pit.
3. Discovering entertainment’s ‘micromoments’
Ever been to a gig, loved a song and frantically tried to find the name? Or laughed at a joke so hard you wrote it down hoping to share it?
By enabling ‘micromoments’, the digital world could add a layer to fan-performer relationships, that is not possible at a physical performance
Some examples of possible value additions to fan live streams:
- Links to the songs on all streaming platforms on your live stream
- Additional information that helps you explore each of the band members and their history
- GIFs and memes that are instantly downloadable and shareable
Additionally, analytics could get a leg-up. Just like YouTube shows drop-off graphs, technology could extend to when people are switching off or showing added interest. (Imagine if your heart rate-detecting smartwatch was connected to give real-time data about which song got you pumping).
Where Do We Go Now? (Axl Rose)
While I remain an avid fan of live music, I cannot deny that the entertainment world needed a bit of a shake-up in order to innovate.
The acid test, however, will be how the industry can ensure that online events retain a sense of occasion. Because of their democratic, available-to-all nature, live streams currently lack the excitement of a special occasion, as well as the exclusivity and bragging rights that come with being one of few ticket-holders
Moving anything online brings with it the promise of scale, but this may be exactly what live entertainment needs to be most careful of.
There are many questions to be answered before online ‘live entertainment’ becomes a ‘thing’. However, given that the industry may not have too much choice in the current circumstances, we think it is only a matter of time before we see a spate of digital-only music festivals. Remember, you heard it here first.
The author maintains a list of digital concerts & streams with an emphasis on Indian acts. You can check it out here.