BE-AT.tv was founded in 2008 as a livestreaming website specialising in electronic music. Since then, it has seen a number of competitors emerge, as well as watched various business models come and go.
Through it all, and despite rapidly-growing audience figures, founder and CEO Ray Smith is convinced that the pay-per-view model is inherently doomed.
“It’s all sponsorship,” he says of how his company makes money, citing major brands like Corona, Bud Light, Smirnoff and energy-drink Burn as among those willing to pay to reach the BE-AT.tv audience.
“I don’t necessarily believe in the pay-per-view model. We have tried it plus we have seen other people try it and fail miserably. You have to be quite creative in this world in terms of how you make money.”
BE-AT.tv was born out of Smith’s experience in the US before the current EDM boom, and his desire to have closer access to the dance-music scene in Europe. A trip to Ibiza sowed the seeds of his new venture.
“The parties were just amazing and I thought to myself that it is incredible that the only people who can experience these events are the ones who are physically present at the venue,” he explains. “There has to be a way that anybody can participate in these events. I wanted to set up a platform that lets you literally be at these festivals and clubs wherever you are in the world.”
BE-AT.tv got off the ground with an initial funding round of £150k, and then set about aggregating rights, something Smith says was easier in the dance world.
“The interesting thing about electronic music is that the majority of DJs are producers in their own right and also label owners,” he says. “It is very different to other genres of music where the artist tends to be signed to a label. In electronic music, the DJ is often the publisher and the label.”
Smith claims to have benefited from a first-mover advantage, signing direct deals with “the top 2,000 DJs in the world” in order “to get access to both their performance as a DJ as well as their catalogue of repertoire”.
He adds that, because the technology at the time was comparatively basic and also because most people were not used to consuming long-form content on their laptop or phone, events were willing to sign up as they had not spotted the long-term potential.
“We managed to secure the rights for the biggest festivals and clubs around the world,” he says. “That was mainly because a lot of the festival owners just thought we were crazy. ‘Who’s going to watch this?’ I knew there was a big audience who would want to participate in these events but they just didn’t have access to them.”
Those early deals put the company on the radar of Nokia, then the leading mobile handset company globally and yet to be toppled in the smartphone world by the likes of Apple and Samsung.
Nokia wanted to offer livestreams of dance festivals to its customers on an exclusive basis, so BE-AT.tv became its partner. Deals with Phones4U and O2 followed and this gave the company the financing it needed to launch fully.
Its first three livestreams were of Swedish House Mafia, deadmau5 and Calvin Harris, at a time when they were known acts, but far from the household names they became at their peak. Smith argues that it was their early involvement of technologies including livestreaming that propelled their careers forward.
“Digital allowed their careers to grow very quickly,” he says. “It really amplified every single thing that they did.”
In June 2014,BE-AT.tv acquired dance download store Trackitdown.net which came with a variety of licensing deals that it was able to parlay into a video streaming context.
“That acquisition gave us a number of different label contracts for downloads which we converted into streams,” says Smith. “There is a myriad of different ways that we clear a performance. We have to clear the festival or event; we have to clear the artist; and then we had to clear the music. In each case, we attack each part separately.”
He adds, “Whenever there is any spillover, we will take out a licence like in the UK with PRS and PPL. We will do that in each respective market. With PRS and PPL, they are pretty standard deals and we pay a flat fee every year. Then for the artist and DJ deals, it all depends on the terms of the deal as they are done on a case-by-case basis.”
Since BE-AT.tv’s launch, however, others have moved into this space, from Twitch (now owned by Amazon) to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Smith suggests that these are partnership opportunities, rather than lunch-eating threats.
“We leverage Facebook Live and YouTube for all of our events as well as going through Twitter and Periscope. They are more distribution partners for us than competitors. If there wasn’t a Facebook Live, we wouldn’t have the business we have today,” he says.
“A lot of the work we have done with brands is mainly because Facebook Live allows us to reach a bigger array of customers than we could if we were just doing it on our own platform.”
Smith feels that these platforms are more in the business of fulfilment rather than content creation and, as such, a platform like BE-AT.tv can slipstream them, especially as they are helping educate mass audiences (rather than just early adopters) about livestreaming.
“We were livestreaming at the highest level for a number of years, but I don’t think the consumers were ready, I don’t think the brands were ready and I don’t think people still understood what we were trying to do,” he accepts. “That’s until you saw the likes of YouTube and Facebook enter into the livestreaming market. What that did was educate consumers about how they should be consuming content.”
He adds, “Those guys are broader shoulders for us to stand on and for us to be able to show the experiences that we have,” he says. “At the end of the day, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Periscope are platforms. They are not in the business of putting production and cameras on the ground at festivals.”
Smith also notes that the engagement levels are markedly different on each of these platforms, due to the very specific contexts of consumption. The average dwell time on BE-AT.tv’s dedicated channel is 35 minutes, whereas its YouTube dwell times are between three and five minutes, and on Facebook they are between 45 seconds and two-and-a-half minutes.
There appears, then, to be a clear split between destination viewing and aggregated viewing, suggesting different audience behaviours and expectations for each. “On our own platform,” says Smith, “it is very sticky.”
He feels now is the time to double down on what the company has been working on since the launch, rather than rushing to diversify the kind of content that it’s offering.
“Our numbers are continuing to rise,” says Smith. “We have grown our userbase over 1,000% in the past two years. That is not a time to diversify; that is a time to put the pedal to the metal for continuing to expand your audience.”
BE-AT.tv is, however, planning for the next shift into VR and 360. While not a consumer-facing push just yet, the company is preparing for the moment when consumers catch up with the latest wave of technology.
“We have quietly been filming a lot of our events in VR and 360 to ensure that we have a back catalogue of content,” Smith reveals. “The issue for us with regard to VR is that a lot of our audience simply don’t have the hardware. If we want to do something here, we want to make sure we are executing at the highest level. We want to make sure it’s available for consumers at a very high quality.”
He is also considering what other genres to move into outside of dance music. “But I think, at the moment with what we are doing, we have our hands full already,” Smith says.
While some are predicting the EDM bubble is going to burst in the US, Smith’s company is seeing sharp uptake in emerging markets that suggest the coming years will see electronic music become truly global.
“In terms of music streaming, Mexico and Brazil are probably the two biggest markets right now,” he suggests. “Mexico is exploding. Brazil is exploding. Latin America is exploding.”
The UK, Europe and the US might be starting to feel over-saturated in terms of dance festivals (and, hence, livestreaming from then), but the festival market in Latin America it’s relatively new and still has a long way to go.
“In Mexico where you don’t have that big festival culture, there is this huge yearning for young people to experience these events,” he argues. “[Streaming and social media] platforms have really set us up to allow secondary markets like Mexico to experience these things. For us, Mexico is in the top three territories for everything that we do.”