“Sports rights are very easy to deal with: they’re federated. And of course, music rights as we know are a clusterfuck. That has traditionally been offputting for brands.”
Richard Cohen, CEO of video agency LoveLive, is explaining to Music Ally why he thinks there’s a big opportunity in branded music content, despite those complications around licensing.
LoveLive is trying to make the most of that opportunity: the London-based company was recently named in the Sunday Times’ Tech Track 100 table of the fastest-growing UK tech, media and telecoms companies, thanks to annual revenues of £7m – representing 47% growth over the last three years.
Continuing that growth will rely on convincing more brands that music deserves a bigger slice of their marketing budgets, as that spending continues to shift from TV to digital platforms.
“Sports sponsorship in the US last year was worth $10.4bn. Music sponsorship globally was $1.4bn. And yet if you look at consumption, the inverse is true at almost the same disproportionate value,” says Cohen. “Nowhere else in media have I seen such a disproportionate sense of consumption versus spend.”
A value gap between consumption and revenues from online video? Haven’t we heard that somewhere before? Yet this value gap is one that will hopefully be tackled by inventive ideas and partnerships, rather than legislation.
LoveLive has been filming gigs and artists for years, producing videos and live streams for digital platforms, while also becoming a key partner for Spotify, Vevo and other music services.
“The company has come through a series of evolutions, but now the articulation is very clear: we can comfortably call ourselves a music-specialist branded-content agency,” says Cohen.
That means three parts: a creative agency producing music-related video and putting it on digital platforms; technology to handle the content, rights and distribution; and a ‘predictive data and insights’ team. More on them later.
Cohen says LoveLive is now at the centre of a potentially-lucrative Venn diagram of trends.
“There’s live music, which is clearly growing: it’s the fastest growth area for music. There’s online video, which is huge and ever-growing. And then there is branded content, which is really blowing up,” he says.
“Through a lot of dumb luck and some genuinely-hard work, we have found ourselves right in the middle of this ecosystem. Music video is the most highly-impactful, highly-engaging with the longest dwell-time of all shortform video online. It’s also incredibly hard to do, and we happen to do it well.”
LoveLive sees two key opportunities within the wider marketing category of “earned media”. First, content marketing, where platforms like Apple and Spotify – and Netflix outside music – are commissioning original video to attract people to their services and keep them there. The House of Cards strategy.
Second, there’s branded content, where brands are funding short and long-form video, forging partnerships with labels and musicians in the process. Sometimes these projects will end up on the same platforms as the content marketing, of course.
“Brands are becoming more sophisticated, and artists and labels recognise that branded content is no longer something that is ancillary or secondary. It can become a meaningful, or even in the future a primary source of income,” says Cohen.
“Branded content was always the Wild West: a bit of a finger-in-the-air thing. Which was fine when it was remnant budgets: spare cash. But now those brands are committing much more heavily.”
All this is happening at a time of unprecedented competition in the online-video space. YouTube may have been the dominant player for a long time, but in 2016, it’s facing genuine competition. And, as Cohen explains, it’s not just from the obvious rival.
“Yes, 18 months ago Facebook didn’t do video, and now they’re doing about 15bn daily views, which is frightening growth. But look at Verizon and their recent acquisition spree too,” he says.
“AOL, Yahoo, their joint venture with Hearst to buy Complex Media, and their significant investment in AwesomenessTV. And then if you look at their 110m retail connections, all of a sudden you have a third player of the scale of Google and Facebook.”
“They don’t have the same brand equity, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they put all those pieces together, but reach-wise they’re absolutely immense.” LoveLive has already produced content for Verizon’s Go90 service.
Music Ally knows LoveLive best for its work filming live music performances, but has that format – a band playing a session, sometimes in an unusual location – become a bit too familiar? Cohen identifies a couple of trends around the area.
“We are finding that shortform is getting longer: it’s 8-14 minutes at the moment, and our next round will be more like 15-26 minutes,” says Cohen.
“Live performance is also less interesting, and not just because without performance you don’t need master recording rights or publishing rights. It’s about access and authenticity, and the fact that the artists themselves are interesting.”
Cohen tells the tale of filming a gig by a major band and streaming it live, with production costs of $150k, while also spending $500 testing a short-form idea called ‘3 Minutes to Stage’, filming the band in their dressing room in the final three minutes before they walked on-stage at the venue.
“That outperformed the $150k live shoot by a factor of 27 to 1,” says Cohen, referring to viewing of the respective videos. “A well-planned $500 format can massively outperform a $150k long-form live-streamed gig. And knowing that means, if we’re talking to a brand, they could spend the same money to create 58 different formats, which we can launch wherever they need to be.”
How does LoveLive know where those videos need to be? That’s where its predictive data and insights technology comes in. The company has spent three years building a system that tracks “around 7,000” artists’ social and online-video activity, among other metrics. Cohen describes it as a way for LoveLive to gather data and convert it to “actionable commercial information” for brands.
“If a brand comes to us and says ‘we want to reach this audience in this geography for this purpose’ we can tell them what formats they should be creating and why,” he says.
“It can be as granular as whether it should be longform performance or shortform social; a session rather than a gig; or even an acoustic session but with some interview and behind-the-scenes footage. We tell them with whom they should be working, what they should be making, and where that content should live.”
For example, if a brand comes to LoveLive with a $1m budget for a video show, the company provides them with a “league table” of artists based on their volumes of video views, tweets, likes, streams and other digital metrics, but then also provides some non-algorithmic (i.e human) insight into which musicians might be most suitable for a partnership.
“Katy Perry might come out number one in the list, and Miley Cyrus might be number six, but our insight might be that Miley is in cycle, her people will let us trail her for two days and in the green room, and activate her Twitter following, so we might recommend that she’d be the best option,” says Cohen.
This purely fictional example aims to show that brands can decide which artists to make branded content with based on data and insight, rather than “who the CEO’s daughter is a big fan of” – or even just who has the biggest social stats.
This is how Skepta ends up working with Levi’s on its #SupportMusic series; or how Rudimental, Foals, Lady Leshurr and Lianne La Havas end up being interviewed in a series for Guinness, to give two recent examples of LoveLive’s projects.
While LoveLive pursues more growth, there’s another string to Cohen’s bow: he’s on the board of directors of Inception, a virtual-reality producer focused on arts and entertainment.
On 19 October, Inception will release its first app, which Cohen says will be available for smartphones with a Google Cardboard VR headset, but also ultimately for higher-end headsets like Samsung’s Gear VR, Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive. Some of its material will also be available as 360-degree videos, which opens up YouTube and Facebook as distribution channels.
Music will be part of the app, but Cohen is forthright about the kind of content he doesn’t think will work in VR. “There are businesses out there that would put a VR rig in the middle of the room and wait for something interesting to happen,” he says.
Why does Cohen think this is the wrong approach? He cites LoveLive’s experience live-streaming a Florence + The Machine gig in 2012, allowing fans to flick between different camera angles at will.
“What happened was this: for 90 seconds, people faffed around selecting their own camera angle, and for the remaining 27 minutes that they watched it for on average, they watched the director’s cut. Why? Because the director knows what the fuck he’s doing!” he says.
“He’ll be on the guitars for the solo, on Florence when she’s hitting the high notes. So the VR thing is fascinating as long as you use the technology to tell a story that couldn’t be told without it. Don’t just put a rig in the middle of the room and hope something interesting will happen.”
Cohen is enthusiastic about the potential of virtual reality, but says that as with LoveLive, it’s fans’ tastes that will determine which formats are successful.
“VR is fascinating. The 50s and 60s were about mainframe computers. The 80s and 90s were about PCs, and then we went to mobile. Now it’s this. The combination of AR and VR is going to be so exciting,” says Cohen.
“But we’re still in the brick walkie-talkie mobile-phone phase of the technology. We’re not even at the ‘smartphones’ phase yet. So we’re starting by gathering up the experiences that we think are going to resonate best with users.”