Tech

Livestreaming Failures Hurt Everyone. Here's How We Can Improve (Guest Column)

Mike Schabel
Courtesy Kiswe

Mike Schabel

Recently, Billboard posed a difficult question that the live music industry—artists, managers, event producers, and most of all, technology vendors—should take to heart. After a year of experiments, Billboard asked, “why can’t music get livestreams right?”

Let’s start with a difficult, but necessary truth: every livestreaming failure is a setback for artists, fans, and ultimately, everyone working in the space. The reason why individual failures are a collective setback is that the livestreaming contract between artists and fans is still evolving. Ask fans to describe their expectations for virtual concerts, for example, and you’re going to get a range of responses because we saw so many interesting experiments in 2020.

On the one hand, this evolution is a great sign for our industry because it means we have the opportunity to create novel experiences that bridge the live music gap between artists and their at-home fans who are unable to experience a live concert in person for a variety of reasons (e.g. limited tickets on a date in a specific city and/or affordability). At the same time, the evolving contract between artists and fans for interactive events is also an opportunity to pioneer new revenue models that can help us bring live music to new audiences. But on the other hand, an evolving space is also a vulnerable one. If livestreaming is going to be a new revenue stream for artists and experience for fans going forward—and not just a hack that got us through the pandemic—then delivering on our consumer promise of great live interactive experiences, that actually work, and are worth paying for, is mission critical.

Here are three things that everyone in the space should think about in order to make sure that we deliver on our promises to fans and artists.

Technology only succeeds when it's accountable

As an industry, we push the envelope in order to create new, worthwhile experiences. But delivering on an interactive concert experience is challenging because growing pains always come with the territory when you’re scaling new technology applications. Moreover, technology is at its most brittle at the edges where one vendor plugs into another. The key to overcoming the pioneering tax is accountability.

In our space, we’ve seen artists, event producers, and a dizzying array of technology vendors (e.g. ticketing/payment/tax, live-live and tape-to-live video streaming, AR/VR/XR video, marketing, merchandise, fan engagement vendors, and customer support) come together in a short period of time to create some really ambitious interactive music events. But whether those events leverage new solutions, or existing technologies repurposed for the occasion, the buck has to stop somewhere. Just as artists, event producers, vendors, and venues delineate responsibility in the physical world, we need to determine clear areas of responsibility in the online concert space. By defining and articulating accountability as early in the process as possible, with a clear single technology owner of the live stream experience, we can avoid embarrassing failures at show time.

Testing keeps promises

Whether it’s a livestream, interactive chat, or a new piece of moderation software, the only way to know if it’ll work at the show is to test like crazy before the show. Simply put, there’s no excuse for deploying an untested or under-tested solution.

Of course, artists intuitively understand the need to test because they live and die by rehearsals. In fact, this is what makes recent failures in the space so frustrating. Artists know their fans expect a flawless show, which is why artists don’t step on stage without having rehearsed every sound cue, dance step, and lighting change.

As technologists, we have a lot to learn from artists here. We need to apply the same rigor to the technologies that power livestreaming concerts that artists apply to their rehearsals. Because unlike with other applications of technology, there’s no room to troubleshoot during the show.

Remember, the stakes are very high

Ask any artist and they’ll tell you you’re only as good as your last show. The same holds true for technology providers that power livestreaming concerts. There are many great companies working in the space, but we can’t afford to let our ambition or egos get in the way of the experience artists promise their fans.

We need to be honest about what we can and cannot deliver. The concert might be virtual, but we’ve got to keep it real. If a show element can’t be delivered to the fan as promised or if it is risky because it is new and untested, then that’s not a promise any of us should make, especially when we feel overwhelming pressure to meet the inevitable last-minute demands for the show. In the end, it’s best to be more conservative in terms of the promises we make because under-promising and over-delivering is the key to meeting and exceeding fan expectations in the short-term and helping this space achieve its full revenue growth potential in the long-run.

Music can get livestreams right -- but only if we work together to deliver quality experiences that are guaranteed to work every time and make sure artists can meet the expectations of their fans.

Mike Schabel is the chief executive officer & president at Kiswe, the interactive video company. Previously, he was the general manager of Small Cells Business at Alcatel-Lucent and the general manager & co-founder of the Wireless Network Guardian at Alcatel-Lucent.