Livestreams : why they are here to stay (guest column)


This guest column comes from Claire Mas, chief operating officer at Driift:

The music industry has been notoriously slow in its uptake of technology over the years, and since entering this business (with a penchant for digital) around a decade ago, certain bugbears and inefficiencies continue to frustrate me.

Databases not speaking to each other, a lack of conversion tracking, a perennial obsession for certain sectors to stockpile and not share data… A full roll call of complaints is considerably longer and available on request (or at a panel near you).

Lockdown created a very unique set of circumstances that forced us all to innovate and much to my surprise created an opportunity to resolve some old frustrations through one powerful medium: livestreams – the subject I intend to explore in more detail here in my role as COO at Driift.

Since initially testing the waters in June 2020 with Laura Marling’s show from Union Chapel, Driift has developed a highly specialised role of producer and promoter of some of the biggest and most beautiful livestreams that have taken place.

Effectively, we partner with artist teams, bring their creative vision to life, do all the heavy lifting, and build and market a one-off event. We’ve now produced almost 30 livestreams for an astoundingly diverse range of artists, as well as a major festival, and sold more than 600,000 tickets to fans in over 190 countries.

It’s been an incredible experience and, from a personal perspective, only solidified my view that this is a powerful new medium, with boundless creative and commercial potential for artists and their teams.

However, with lockdowns subsiding, we’re now trying to get a sense of where livestreaming sits in a post-pandemic world. I’ll spare you a paragraph about “what Covid did” or the “new normal”, but I certainly do not share the pessimistic outlook of some commentators and their apparent conclusion that the rush to embrace online events was a temporary blip and pay-per-view shows appeal only to a small niche of fans.

Personally, I think this is a gross oversimplification. Similar arguments could easily be constructed around other fundamentals of the music economy – such as vinyl, T-shirts or merch, which have only ever been targetted at the hardcore faithful.

And, although livestreams are targeted predominantly at “super fans”, we also feel they attract a substantial mainstream demographic who love live music but have difficulties accessing them – whether that’s because of geography, price, time, babysitting costs or the frustration of tickets selling out in 15 seconds.

For me, the next stage of paid-for ticketed livestreams is taking the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic and how we can bring these two polarities – the super fan and the casual fan – with us.

In terms of those lessons, here’s a few things that I’ve learned over the past 18 months:

The word “livestream” is not fit for purpose

It’s become a catch-all phrase that mistakenly groups together everything from a lo-fi IG Live bedroom production to a multi-camera big budget ticketed show.

We need to standardise wording and terminology

Livestream ticket buyers need to understand what they are purchasing and how it works – ideally in words of two syllables! If we can’t do this, it’ll be immensely challenging to make this a mainstream format. Driift’s number one customer service question? Can I watch it on my TV?

Incredible marketing material is essential

The quickest way to get across details about a show is to provide would-be ticket buyers with a small taster. At Driift we create a full breadth of marketing material from scratch, creating a bespoke storyline for each show. Not only does it reassure fans they are buying into a worthwhile experience, it also re-engages social platforms and reminds fans why they love the artist.

You have to create a show worth paying for

That means high production values, interesting venues, unique performances and generally pushing creativity and ambition to the max. The most successful Driift shows always contain some unique and genuinely magical moments – whether that’s Niall Horan performing from the empty confines of the Royal Festival Hall, Andrea Bocelli duetting with his daughter from Teatro Regio di Parma opera house, or the actor Paul Mescal guesting with Dermot Kennedy with a massive whale carcass overhead in the Natural History Museum.

This is a tentpole moment of an artist campaign

We always work closely with the full artist team including managers, labels, PR, radio, past promoters, and agents. When it all falls into place, this is an opportunity for everyone to co-promote and help each other.

The beauty (and pain) is in the detail

A genuine global livestream will require four, individual broadcasts to different timezones – for the UK / Europe, West Coast US, East Coast US, and Asia / Australia. However, this creates complications. Finding the best way to create and communicate staggered screenings to allow audiences to watch at a convenient time is a constantly evolving art

Ensure you have robust technology

Driift has endured one technological calamity in our relatively short lifespan, but then so have all other businesses operating in this space. We have learnt from the experience and fixed our approach to ensure that never happens again.

Obviously you’ll always need a great artist, a brilliant director, and – ideally – a jaw-dropping venue, but all the above are, in my view, essential ingredients for a successful livestream.

And when the stars do align, what’s particularly exciting is the potential to tap into the global dynamics of streaming and social platforms to reach mass worldwide audiences.

Most digital music marketeers are well-versed with the inherent blindspots of tapping into fan bases via streaming services and the growing difficulties of correlating what’s becoming a tsunami of data with ROI spend. With event advertising there is a clearer funnel but still there is a cap and so you could sell out with limited spend.

Livestreams, by comparison, do not have to suffer from these challenges. We are selling what is essentially an unlimited product (ie a static ticket to a one-off global online performance) a far cleaner channel is being opened up between artist and their audience – enabling us locate and tap into customers who might otherwise be perceived as “cold” or “lost” and remind them of how much they truly love an act.

In practice, this is proving a highly efficient way of targeting ticket buyers through online advertising where you can continue to increase and boost your spend until your ROI becomes inefficient. Because you have that end to end transparency and an unlimited product you can be more bullish and inventive with your spend.

And this is just the beginning. Most music lovers have not yet experienced or enjoyed a livestream show. The more we innovate in this space, the more confidence and excitement we build around the format, the more the ROI will increase and the larger of audiences we can reach and re-engage with extreme digital efficiency. All boats get lifted by a rising livestream tide.

Before I risk getting lost in marketing-speak, it’s worth emphasising how profound this shift might be – and also the positive knock-on impacts for other elements of an artist’s campaign, and particularly their live tours.

In my experience, “fandom” is not stationary – and it mostly ebbs and flows around an artist’s release schedule and touring diary. Audiences float forward and backwards around these tides, and there is a natural drift (sorry!) between casual buyers and committed superfans, with everyone wanting to convert more of the former into the circle of the latter.

All this activity is then amplified and filtered through the complicated algorithms of social media, which constantly demands ever more content to feed engagement and attract attention.

Livestreams offer another important tent pole for a campaign providing weeks of super-engaged and video-rich marketing assets that feed naturally into social channels, building storylines and creating promo opportunities, all leading towards a predetermined “moment” where you’re practically guaranteed to have the ticket buyer’s undivided attention for around an hour.

With ever-increasing demands upon attention spans, this can only get them closer to the “super fan circle” – encouraging greater streaming consumption, merch sales and encouraging further ticket purchases to the artist’s next live show.

For all the promoters who worry about the zero sum game, I offer you the comment section of our latest Dita Von Teese show where fans were encouraging each other to buy tickets to her next Glamonotrix tour. The audience was literally doing the job of a promoter to every single viewer of the show.

Dita von Teese Driift

This powerful and symbiotic relationship between online events and the returning live business will, I believe, be highly significant going forward.

At Driift we have always stressed that online events will never replace traditional live shows. It’s a position we maintain, but we now have an opportunity to test the supplementary power of livestreaming to fuel ticket sales and promote tours – whether that’s through co-promoting opportunities, fan chat or handing over approved data to the artist to add to their mailing list.

In short, this is a perfect juncture for a reset and for some expanded thinking.

We may no longer be operating in the depths of a lockdown, but creative and beautifully-shot online experiences still provide a unique opportunity for artists to service, grow and maintain their fanbase.

The return to the “real world” is an opportunity to continue to achieve innovation in this space and make sure the format is still engaging to the fans. A livestream is an opportunity for an artist to create an hour of engaged audio-visual interaction with their full global audience in one night.

There is nothing else that offers this opportunity. And that is why they are here to stay.

Written by: Music Ally