A fair few people in the music industry think that virtual reality (VR) could be the next big leap forward for music videos and live performances alike. However, there are plenty of sceptics.

Some of them were on the ‘Capturing Live Performance’ panel at AIM’s Music Connected conference in London yesterday, expressing their caution about the quality and reach of current VR content.

“We see about 80 premieres a week on our site and maybe one of them is VR or 360,” said James Moodie, senior manager of talent and music at Vevo. “Without being too harsh, they are mostly awful. I think there are very few good ones and I think that is down to the lack of tech right now – as well as the budgets. When you look at headsets and what they cost, until they are an accessible mainstream format, I don’t think we will be running into them headfirst.”

Moodie stressed that Vevo keeps an open mind on new technologies like this, however. “That said, we are future proofing in terms of what we are shooting,” he said. “We are shooting everything in 4k but not necessarily broadcasting in 4k.”

Stef Pascual, head of digital at Red Essential, was more optimistic about VR as a concept – but felt the creative was often the weaker link. “I am really excited about VR and it is another dimension,” she said. “But there needs to be a case for it. I am bored of just seeing a band playing live [in VR]. Yeah, great. Can you give me anything extra?

She also suggested it does not have to be a huge marketing drain, noting how MelodyVR is already experimenting with paywalls around certain VR content. “I think there is potential in that,” she said.

The session was looking at how live video is evolving and how it can be used to boost audience engagement – particularly the notion of live content as a way to build loyalty but also act as a Trojan horse to get consumers to buy or stream a variety of content and products.

Farhana Aboo, marketing manager at AEI Group, noted that her company was an early mover here two decades ago. “AEI were one of the first to start using live streaming,” she said. “The first one Drum & Bass Arena did was in 1997 – streaming DJ sets. We have always done live streams.”

She talked about how the notion of the live stream is evolving and creating whole new monetisation opportunities that were impossible a few years ago.

“One of the game changers in recent times has been NoCopyrightSounds,” she explained of the company that sits within AEI. “A lot of music is used by gamers on their YouTube videos and Twitch. The music is also available on Spotify. One thing we are doing is constantly live streaming the Spotify playlists on Twitch so that it is a 24/7 live stream that are people are tuning into all the time. We are streaming it and also making money 24/7.”

Pascual talked about how the right partners can really take live video and elevate it to a new dimension. The example she drew on was Skepta’s performance at Alexandra Palace in London last December.

“Apple jumped in and said they wanted to support it with a live stream,” she said. “It was massive for us. We got twice the amount of streams and twice the amount of sales. It also paid off for them because it helped them position themselves as champions of grime.”

Moodie suggested that Vevo tends to step back from fully live video (i.e. broadcast live) as it wants greater control over the actual video content and the artists themselves want better control over the sound. So, to that extent, they prefer VOD to pure live streaming.

He also felt that truly live events can underwhelm in terms of audience numbers.

We have found with live streaming that unless the event is an enormous cultural moment, like the Super Bowl or a sports event or an award ceremony, we find the numbers are not good,” he said. “But the costs of putting the production levels we want to achieve is enormous compared to VOD. With VOD, a lot of the time the acts [can have a say] in the audio mix. While it definitely has its place for Vevo, at the moment [we are cautious].”

He continued, “We have tested the water with Apple on the iTunes Festival in Austin [at SXSW in 2014]. But the audience numbers of live streaming versus VOD for us – live streaming is down here [indicates a low point] and VOD is up here [indicates a high point]. We have also tested the water with Facebook Live in the US and seeing how it works. But in terms of live music streaming, unless the event is enormous and the obvious benefit is it’s a global show stopper, it’s not really something we delve into too much.”

By way of example – and as a warning to others who think that if something is live it will automatically be popular – he spoke of his own wake-up call about just how limited live streaming audiences can be. “I watched a live stream of a sold out show at the Roundhouse [in London] recently and there were 15 viewers,” he said. “With us, we don’t just put content out there – we promote it and we’d be looking at tens of thousands of views.”

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