Coronavirus Pushes Virtual Concerts to Next Level

July 28, 2020

Greg Sigel

VP – Partnerships

Live streaming of virtual concerts is starting to see some success after millions of Fortnite players tuned in to watch Travis Scott’s virtual music concert on April 25th this year. Coronavirus lockdown restrictions have proved a natural accelerator for all sorts of live-streamed events. The increasing sophistication of virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) enhanced platforms is helping to create the kind of audience experience that could drive online ticketing revenue for artists, music companies and events management firms alike.

Grand View Research has predicted that the online event ticketing market could grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.8% to be worth US$68bn by 2025, including sports and music events alongside movie viewings. Statista’s forecasts are more bullish suggesting global online purchases of tickets for sports events, music concerts and cinema showings will total US$24.8bn in 2020, set to expand at a CAGR of almost 35% to be worth US82bn by 2024.

Travis Scott and Fortnite break new ground

Scott’s Astronomical concert featured his giant digital avatar teleporting across the Fortnite landscape as the musician performed his songs. Previous in-game Fortnite events have included hosting a set by US DJ Marshmello last year and an exclusive tie-in with the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker movie franchise. But the estimated 28m live participants in Scott’s Astronomical event across different time zones is the biggest audience so far. At the same time, the performance broke new ground for a virtual concert with its graphical prowess and special effects.

Good marketing played its part in creating a preliminary buzz with Fortnite developer Epic Games letting players see Scott’s virtual stage being constructed ahead of the event. The company also allowed players to purchase virtual Travis Scott goods and presented a series of challenges where they could win free gear. Perhaps an essential aspect of the Astronomical event was its social aspect; however, with normal gameplay suspended and weapons disabled.

With more than 350m registered players worldwide, Fortnite is an attractive proposition for any entertainer looking to reach a captive and engaged audience. While in-game concerts have so far been free, reports suggest Epic Games may introduce pay-to-attend tickets in the future. Musicians have struggled to pull in large audiences or make money out of virtual concerts to date. However, it appears that Travis Scott hit upon the right combination of graphics and the promise of the exclusive new material performed for the first time.

Nor is Fortnite the only gaming platform which has branched out into virtual concerts this year. Bands including Massive Attack, Idles and Pussy Riot, Sports Teams and Health played the Block by Blockwest virtual festival event in Minecraft in May, drawing in approximately 5k Minecraft players and 134k live stream viewers on Twitch and YouTube.

Live Nation boosts AR/VR streaming capabilities

Virtual concerts have almost certainly benefitted from the confinement of millions of young people to their houses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Existing events have been cancelled, and physical venues are likely to remain closed and limited to reduced capacity as long as social distancing measures remain in place.

That has led music and events management companies to advance their AR/VR capabilities during the lockdown. Live Nation Entertainment (formed from the US$400m merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster in 2018) teamed with Citi and VR specialist NextVR to broadcast dozens of VR concerts last year, including sets by Slash and Little Steven. The company is also estimated to have live-streamed more than 600 concerts online, an experience that stood it in good stead to fill in for the absence of live music events in the first half of 2020.

Live Nation built on that capability with the launch of an AR/VR enhanced live streaming product which allows participants to participate interactively rather than simply watch and listen to the performance. Fans can change camera locations and angles, for example, and rotate their views to see social media friends in the virtual audience. In some cases, they even have exclusive access to backstage footage.

VR/AR was developed initially as a way to supplement the live concert experience or accommodate fans that could not physically fit into sold-out venues – but it could increasingly take centre stage itself. Live Nation recently cancelled all drive-in concerts due to ongoing local coronavirus lockdown fears and opportunities to put on other forms of live venue performances could be similarly restricted well into the future.

A recent poll by the US Consumer Technology Association found that consumers’ most popular suggestions for VR content alongside sports and exercise were for concerts. The heightened interest has prompted large tech companies to sit up and take notice of the opportunity too, with Apple reportedly paying US$100m to snap up NextVR in April, despite there being another year left on its five-year partnership deal with Live Nation. The addition of NextVR technology gives Apple the option to convert its Apple TV+ content into VR format but also presents a ready-made route into live VR broadcasting that aligns well with its Apple Music streaming service.

Elsewhere specialist company’s like MelodyVR (owned by EVR Holdings) have emerged to begin offering live streaming via paid-for virtual tickets. The company has designed specific camera and special effects solutions for the task and signed VR distribution licenses with major labels like Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Beggars Group. Having recently seen an estimated 132k fans from 34 countries attend its virtual Wireless Connect event, MelodyVR is now working with Live Nation UK to launch a new 360-degree VR gig experience called Live From the O2 Academy Brixton. Each individual concert will be accessible by anyone with a smartphone or Oculus VR device, with Ticketmaster taking the role of exclusive ticketing agent for online sales.

Horizontal integration of online ticketing is potentially big business for Live Nation’s Ticketmaster subsidiary, particularly if the company can make it easy for concert-goers and music fans to quickly purchase tickets using the devices they use to attend them. That includes extending payment methods to younger people more open to digital VR experiences. This demographic is less likely to own credit or debit cards, with direct carrier billing (DCB) integration offering a simple way to pay by adding fees to the buyer’s mobile phone bill for example. For musicians and events companies without the requisite billing expertise or infrastructure, third-party payment providers like us can help with the necessary integration and global reach via existing relationships with multiple mobile operators, while handling local data protection and compliance with the regulation governing the use of consumer data in different countries.

Amazon IVS presents new live music streaming options

Virtual concerts and the streaming of live musical performances may have received another boost in the release of the Amazon Web Service (AWS) Interactive Video Service (IVS) in July. The platform enables musicians and music companies to quickly and easily build live streams on demand which can be broadcast anywhere in the world at relatively low cost (though they would still have to work out a way to tackle licensing and ownership rights).

IVS uses the same underlying technology as Amazon’s Twitch eSports service, with a focus on much lower latency to make sure there are no interruptions to the broadcast. Businesses and consumers alike will be able to brand their own live streaming services using software development kits (SDKs) for iOS, Android and web apps. Developers stream the content to Amazon IVS using standard streaming software, and Amazon makes it available to viewers anywhere in the world using its extensive data centres and CDN resources.

Pricing looks accessible to any amateur musician looking to find an audience for their material. Streamers are charged for the total duration of video input to Amazon IVS, and the whole duration of video output delivered to viewers. Data is charged at 20 cents an hour for streaming speeds of 1.5Mbit/s and 480p resolutions, or US$2 an hour for high definition 1080p resolutions with 8.5Mbit/s of throughput. The service also allows developers to build interactive features into their live streams, including virtual chat spaces, moderated question and answer sessions, votes and polls. It can synchronise product information and embed a “buy now” button next to it when that product appears in a video, which opens up potential e-commerce and digital advertising opportunities for the people using it.

The branding and scale that Amazon brings to interactive video services mean IVS is certainly to get a great deal of attention. What’s more, Amazon Prime has long supported multiple different payment methods for digital content, including direct carrier billing (DCB), and is likely to follow the same strategy for IVS. The sums involved also look small enough that they can quickly and easily be added to consumers mobile phone bills rather than credit/debit cards. However, merchants may still need back-end payment integration platforms supplied by third parties to handle processing and compliance requirements.

Music and gaming have so far played second fiddle to video streaming in terms of both consumption and paid online subscriptions. However, a new generation of ticketed events, AR/VR auditoriums and pay-as-you-go live streaming platforms could change that dynamic by combining the two into a single platform.

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