Just Like Being There: The Economics Of Livestreaming Concerts

Will you be watching?
Tonight, at 10 P.M., you can see the Dirty Projectors live. They're playing here in town, in support of their just-released new album, Swing Lo Magellan, at Music Hall of Williamsburg. If you didn't get a ticket, or just don't feel like leaving your apartment, you can cruise over to the YouTube home of local internet conglomerate the Bowery Presents (owners of The Bowery Ballroom, the forthcoming Rough Trade Booklyn, and The Music Hall of Williamsburg) and watch the whole thing as it happens, online, broadcast in pretty stunning HD. You'll catch every bit of banter, every wrong note, every silly cover they might throw in near the end, and you'll be seeing it as it happens. It will be just like being there. Right?

If you're skeptical about why anyone would ever want to watch something live on the internet, Max Haot, the charming Gallic CEO of online live video hub LiveStream, has likely heard your argument before.

"When we started LiveStream in 2007," he said recently over the phone, "we would go and pitch to [venture capitalists] and so on, and people really didn't get it. They were like, 'But why would people watch it live? Now with the internet, they can just watch it after.'"

That was then. Today, online video hubs have invested heavily in the concept of live events. YouTube, undeniably the biggest name in online video, is moving forward on multiple fronts in live programming, both as part of the much-publicized original channels initiative, and separately, under its own programming umbrella called YouTube Live, which will this year be broadcasting virtually every major music festival—Bonnaroo, Jazz Fest, and Lollapalooza, to name a few—live, around the clock, right to your computer in truly stunning HD. YouTube's other major competitor, LiveStream, has started its own program, installing remote cameras in music venues around the country, including New York clubs Joe's Pub, SOB's, and the Knitting Factory.

Is live video going to be a major part of the future of online music? Is there an audience for these events? And, perhaps most important, is there any money in it (and to whom is it going)?

Earlier this year, Bowery Presents hosted British rock act Kasabian at their largest New York venue, Terminal 5. It was something of a risky booking: Despite being superstars in Europe and the U.K., Kasabian has been less than successful in the U.S. since their 2004 song "Club Foot" had a brief moment as a movie-trailer favorite. Their latest album, 2011's Velociraptor, failed to chart in America.

But then, America wasn't necessarily the audience for the (admittedly very good and sold out) show—rather, the concert functioned more as a global promotional event for Bowery Presents' YouTube channel, one of about 100 channels of original content from outside producers being rolled out by the online video hub over the past six months. It was just as important for YouTube to show off their ability to stream live events in HD, without lags, glitches, or hopeless pixilation.

In that sense, it was a resounding success. The video was breathtaking, with shots hopscotched between 7 or so camera angles, including one swooping over the crowd on a wire. After about an hour of watching on my laptop, I hooked the feed to my TV, a 42-inch HD, and there was no discernable drop in quality. The video stopped to buffer only twice during Kasabian's nearly two-hour set and resumed too quickly for me to even take a screenshot.

In a large sense, though, the question of the show's success is an open question. "I think because it's so new for all of us that we're going off the metrics for now," says YouTube's West Coast Head Artist Label Relations, Ali Rivera. Instead, many in the business are trying to focus on more intangible benefits: "Buzz in the industry, press, just getting a gauge of what people are enjoying."

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