From Periscope to Facebook Live, and from Twitch to YouTube’s revamped live features: live-streaming video is enjoying a new flush of fame. But will this be meaningful for music?
A panel session at Midem this morning explored the topic. It included Jonathan Kalter of The MGMT Company, who manages Pentatonix, the a cappella group who first built their audience on YouTube; and Gregor Pryor, partner & co-chair of the Global Entertainment and Media Industry Group at Reed Smith. The moderator was industry consultant Karen Allen.
“We’re seeing a huge phenomenon around how millennials are engaging with their audience. I think music is going to be a big part of live-streaming going forward,” said Pryor, by way of introduction. “This is a pretty serious industry,” added Allen, who added that many people in the music industry still don’t have a strong sense of what’s happening in that market.
Allen started with a primer. It’s about being on a platform like Periscope where there’s a host talking directly to viewers, with interactivity between the host and the audience – usually via chat. That’s a key point to understand: this isn’t just about streaming video live on the internet, it’s about the two-way aspects with an audience chatting to the host and to one another. Allen added that it’s not scripted or edited – the broadcast is totally live – and it’s often enabled by an app.
Examples? The first services on a B2B level were Ustream, StageIt and Livestream: platforms for online broadcasters to use, rather than real communities of viewers. On the B2C side, there’s Twitter-owned Periscope, Meerkat, YouNow, Twitch and Facebook Live. “The hallmark for that is there’s a community already built in. I’m not expected to bring an audience,” said Allen.
“For me, it defies everything we know about what works online. For the longest time we have these tenets that if you have content online, certain things have to be a certain way… we know shortform video is important, no one’s going to watch past three minutes. The best YouTube videos are super-edited… But that’s completely different to what works on livestreaming platforms.”
So sessions can be 1-3 hours long, they aren’t edited at all, it doesn’t have to be entertaining every moment either – it’s more just about hanging out. Allen also noted that some livestreaming has monetisation built in, versus the traditional YouTube model of building an audience to attract brands and ad revenue.
“This is the first social broadcast, social platform I’ve seen where it is natively monetised,” said Allen. “People do pay for this. People do pay for content. It’s not great content, it’s fun content. It’s engaging: it’s hanging out. This really resonated with me, just from being in the music industry so long and watching revenues decline.”
“How do we get people to recognise the value of content and open their wallets?” she continued, noting the struggle to get people to pay for music. Yet on the livestreaming platforms, they are opening their wallets and paying to subscribe to their favourite broadcasters; they’re using digital tip jars; they’re paying to use premium emoji in the chats that sit alongside the broadcasts; and they’re paying for “chat privileges” – for example to have their comments stand out in a crowded chatroom.
How much money can creators make? “People definitely make six-figure incomes just from sitting in their living rooms and doing silly things!” said Allen, noting that $15k a month is eminently achievable for a livestreamer with a decent audience. Meanwhile, the platforms are making money from their share of this spending, as well as from advertising.
Allen walked the audience through YouNow, Twitch, Facebook Live and Periscope as the four key platforms. “I don’t think it’s a fad. I think it’s going to be huge. I think it’s going to be as big as YouTube,” said Allen.
She pointed to some of the key metrics to show why: Twitch has 100m monthly viewers and more than 1m broadcasters; and YouNow has 100m user sessions a month and 150k daily broadcasts, with 70% of its users younger than 24. Periscope now has 1.9m daily active users, said Allen.
Over to the panelists. Kalter talked about using YouNow for a Pentatonix album launch. “For us, the goal was to sell as many records as possible in week one. We did press, we did TV appearances, we did two separate physical in-store signings: Pentatonix is a rare band that still sells 40% physical albums,” he said.
“The YouTube community is very interesting because it doesn’t hit a specific demographic. It doesn’t discriminate: nobody would feel uncomfortable sitting watching videos, because there’s nobody sitting there judging you.”
With YouNow, Kalter knew there was a younger fanbase for Pentatonix, who might buy digital albums directly from the live-stream. He praised the platform. “It allows you not just to speak to an audience, but it also allows the audience to participate with you,” he said. “The fans got to come and split-screen and ask a question. Some had a guitar and got to play one of the songs they’d learned.”
Kalter: “If you’re going to go somewhere online, you’re going to want as many of your social profiles interacting with each other. I’ve never had an artist doing anything online where you couldn’t also ask questions via Twitter or Facebook,” he said. “With YouNow it was a combination of their base being told about our stream, it was our Twitter and Facebook following being pushed there. And it worked.”
Kalter said it was important that it felt “very organised and professional”: the band streamed from a well-lit room on a good broadband connection. “And making sure the message was clear: we have an album out, we have some songs from our album, and we’d like to talk about it,” he said.
“The trickiest part is not having your fans buy too much. I don’t want them to feel like they’re just putting money in our bank… making sure people don’t feel you’re just asking them to pay for things,’ Kalter continued.
When do the lawsuits start around this, Allen asked Pryor.
“For me it’s about authenticity, but you can rest assured that when things go wrong, they’re going to go horribly wrong. There’s nothing you can do to control it. That’s the reason why in the television industry [with live broadcasts] broadcasters are terrified of it,” he said.
“The beauty of these services is that if you’re not authentic as an artist when you’re engaging with your community, and things go wrong, you’re going to get found out… Some artists don’t like that, they’re very uncomfortable with that. Some labels are uncomfortable with that. Almost every lawyer is incredibly uncomfortable about that!”
Pryor said that labels and artists should accept the inherent risks, because if live-streaming goes well, the rewards can be huge.
“The democratisation of media is incredibly powerful for the music industry. All of a sudden you don’t have the gatekeepers that you used to have,” he said.
Allen asked about the issue of music rights on live-streaming platforms, where musicians might play their own songs, but could also perform cover versions. Also regular users might broadcast shows they’re watching on TV – Game of Thrones, for example – or live video from gigs (Radiohead’s shows last week saw plenty of streams).
“There’s a few questions from a legal perspective. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle: you’re not going to stop it,” said Pyror. “Rights owners who believe that it can be stopped are wrong, and it won’t stop.”
He said one of the key unanswered questions is who’s broadcasting? “It’s clearly not the platform,” he said, adding that there is no equivalent for live-streaming of the takedown on YouTube: while a stream is in progress, it can either be shut down, which is difficult, or left to stream.
Pryor said that rightsholders will undoubtedly want to get paid for music that is streamed on the platform. The question is how they find out which music is being played, in which context, and what the value of that is. “The television industry has established a bunch of precedents that are not reasonable to apply in a platform environment,” he said.
Kalter was asked about dealing with timezones. He said it depends on the schedule of the artist. For Pentatonix, that’s about which country they’re in at the time and when they’re all together. “To be perfectly honest, the Asians get screwed, but they’re more the audience that will stay up to the middle of the night to watch it anyway,” he said. “We don’t generally do multiple streams to accommodate everyone,” he said.
Pryor talked about the tension between what labels want and what management wants. “The artist is going to engage because they can. Livestreaming is on whenever they want to engage, and that’s difficult to manage if you are the rightsholder,” he said.
Will other platforms come into this space? Snapchat, for example, or even music-streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music? Pryor referred to the “incredible job” that Twitch has done building its platform and its community from scratch.
“I don’t think Spotify or the other music services can easily emulate that success from a community perspective. You have to invest and you have to be there early,” he said. “it would be really weird on Spotify, unless they go hard on community,” agreed Allen. “That might be a good way to do group listening, for example.”
She pointed out that online video services may be thinking about how to work group viewing in to their services. “I know for sure there are some streaming services kinda looking at it and trying to figure out what makes sense for them,” said Allen.