Why Live Concert Streaming Has Yet To Take Off

In some form or another, jam band Umphrey's McGee posts every show it performs on the Internet -- you can find its 2006 version of "Dick in a Box" on YouTube, listen to nearly 1,000 shows for $9.99 per month via UMLive.net and hear dozens of live tracks on SoundCloud. But despite this massive archive, the band rarely video-streams shows live as they happen -- webcasting makes up 15 percent of its concert content.

"The production cost can be prohibitive, where you spend more money than you would make," says Kevin Browning, a member of the band's management team who oversees the live content. "There's often union fees. Bandwidth is actually a sizable hurdle. You also have promoters who aren't into it -- they think it'll affect ticket sales."

For 15 years, artists and tech companies have been playing up concert video-streaming as an untapped business model, the next big thing for online music. But it happens only sporadically, usually with big events such as 2005's Live 8, 2012's Paul McCartney concert on Apple TV and annual festivals such as Bonnaroo and Coachella.

"With the other 99 percent of events that are out there, it's been somewhat cost-prohibitive," says Ben Weeden, chief operating officer for House of Blues Entertainment, which is partnering with Skype for Ones to Watch, an online-video series with behind-the-scenes band footage.

Numerous companies are still in the space -- including Bulldog, StageIt, Yahoo! (which purchased startup EvntLive in December), AEG and Vevo -- but most focus on snippets of live content or individual events that make more sense than tours.

"There was a moment when everybody seemed to be pitching a live stream of concerts, whether audio or video," says an unnamed digital executive. "It just didn't make sense. It wasn't what the consumer was trying to do."

Adds Jason Dimberg, head of Yahoo! Screen, which frequently streams live, on-demand tracks and full events such as last December's iHeartRadio Jingle Ball, co-starring Miley Cyrus: "Could you offer everything on tour? I'm not sure how successful that would be."

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One huge barrier is securing rights to performances, whether the artist is signed to a record label or playing a cover version of a song owned by an outside publisher.

"There's clearly an open lane. No one has cracked the code to being the destination for consumers for live music in the digital space. Everyone's toying with it at this point," says Alex Luke, a former iTunes and EMI Music executive and a principal with venture capitalist The Valley Fund. "I can't, at least in the near future, foresee a situation where 99 percent of the artists are going to be comfortable putting their live recordings out there."

Still, companies in the live-streaming space believe the business is on the brink of taking off. Fifteen-month-old Bulldog Digital Media hopes to expand the business beyond festivals such as Outside Lands, Bonnaroo and portions of South by Southwest, to full-on tours.

"It's a really compelling branding opportunity to reach a consumer at a live concert. It's got a social component as well -- 'What do you think Bon Jovi's encore should be?' -- that could be presented by Pepsi, for example," says John Petrocelli, the company's co-founder, who used to be head of AEG Digital Media. "That's an untapped market."

Vevo, too, puts on roughly 30 live shows a year, from Nine Inch Nails and Fall Out Boy to upcoming events with Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato. "It provides a great marketing tentpole," says Doug McVehil, the company's senior VP of content and programming. "The views go on and on when we make [live] content available."

Many artists, who control their own live content, remain unconvinced. The Pixies have tinkered with full-show broadcasts for years, at one point working with a company to sell live CDs to fans immediately after their shows. Last fall, they streamed a Paris concert via Deezer. The band's manager, Richard Jones, fields concert-streaming offers from tech companies once a week but rarely accepts.

"I see it as more of a promotional thing than an income source," he says. "It just never seems to be a point of doing it just to do it."

Jones also suggests that if fans could watch every show in its entirety from their living-room couches, they may stop buying concert tickets. Browning, with Umphrey's Mcgee management, strongly disagrees with that point -- viral buzz is always good. He acknowledges, though, that full-show streaming is not for every performer.

"Most artists put on the same show every single night," he says. "When the fan goes to see the show and goes, 'Jeez, that's the same setlist they played when I watched on my couch,' that sends a message I don't think the artist wants to send. But that doesn't concern us."