Five years ago, AOL’s webcast of the Live 8 concerts marked a watershed moment for the live streaming of concert footage online. More than 5 million people tuned in via the Internet to watch footage of the event, compared to the 2.2 million that watched it on TV. Since then, the webcasting environment has obviously evolved. Billboard takes a look at three key developments since then that define the market today.
Live 8 was certainly a huge moment for online webcasting, but it was one event. Today, streaming a concert live online is almost commonplace. YouTube’s live stream of U2’s concert at the Rose Bowl in October garnered some 10 million viewers, leading to additional live streaming of concerts by Alicia Keys and, most recently, performances by the Dave Matthews Band, Norah Jones and other acts at this year's Bonnaroo festival. MTV has aired live performances by such acts as the Gorillaz, Honor Society and Just Kait. Vevo, which featured a live stream in May of a concert by the National, aired a live webcast of the FIFA World Cup Kick-Off Celebration Concert June 10 in South Africa. Meanwhile live video sites like Ustream give artists complete control to film, host, and stream concerts directly to fans. Hundreds use Ustream alone, which claims more than 50 million unique viewers a month.
One of the reasons we’re seeing so much more streaming of live concerts online is that the cost to do so has fallen. To be sure, streaming an event to 1 million simultaneous viewers is far more expensive that streaming archived video to 1 million different users at a time, but it is now far more affordable than in Live 8’s day. The average cost of streaming live video is around 50 cents per user per hour. Ustream, however, says it is able to do so at 2 cents per user per hour, citing both technological advancements and economies of scale gained through purchasing large blocks of bandwidth. Helping pay those costs are advertisers who are growing increasingly interested in sponsoring live events online. Vevo CEO Rio Caraeff wasn’t planning on airing live video for a good year after the service launched, but began doing so early due to the demand for appointment-based content among advertisers.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project , 65% of U.S. adults have home broadband Internet access, compared to 24% in 2004. Higher speed Internet access means better online video, which only increases the market for live streaming video. What’s more, there are more and more opportunities to access live video from devices other than the home computer. Smartphones like the iPhone offer not only high-speed Internet browsing, but also special downloadable apps that offer more direct access to streaming video. Ustream’s Mobilizer technology lets artists add access to their Ustream videos into any iPhone apps they may create. The iPad is another device beginning to emerge as a live video platform, with Bon Jovi recently streaming a concert optimized for the device (also via Ustream). And as more Internet-connected TVs flood the home theater market, additional services will blur the lines between watching concerts on traditional TV networks vs watching them live on the Internet.
As live webcasting events evolves, the next logical step is an evolution to pay-per-view scenarios, where users pay a fee to access the live stream online. So far, that’s not been a very successful model. Ustream tested it out first with a comedy performance by Dane Cook, to a rather tepid response. The company says its re-examining the model and is expected to introduce new pay-per-view offers later in the year. Also worth looking at is increased interactivity. Already many live streaming platforms allow users to chat with one another as they view the show. Additional capabilities could include interacting with attendees present at the actual event through text as well as photo and user-generated video sharing. Finally, there are the additional commerce opportunities, such as music download sales, option to buy a download of the full video after the fact, merch an so on. Given how far we’ve come in the last five years, it’s not a stretch to image these new features and others become a standard in the next five.