What started as a spontaneous live video activation before the Summer Olympics has grown into the Coca-Cola Co.'s latest tactic to connect with fans of its brand through music.
"We came across this by accident. Cody Simpson was in Rio for a pre-Olympic event because he was one of our Olympic ambassadors, and he decided to spontaneously put on a little sunset show on Copacabana Beach," says Joe Belliotti, head of global entertainment at Coca-Cola. "He tweeted it out, and he mentioned it to one of our colleagues at Coke. So right then we decided, 'Let's live stream this.' The crowd got too big and the police arrived and had to escort him out. But we knew we were on to something."
That something is Coke Music TV, featuring music artists who deliver a live feed in a Coke-curated environment -- some more subtly than others. Since April 2016, the company has broadcast 49 live streams across platforms including Periscope, Facebook Live and YouNow that have garnered more than 3 million total live viewers. Tune-in time has averaged between two and six minutes, and 23 of the broadcasts trended on Periscope.
To date, Coke's biggest live music activation was from the red carpet at the 2016 American Music Awards, for which Coke was a sponsor, with a YouNow that drew 1.3 million live impressions, 58 million in total.
But the company is eschewing big events for the majority of its broadcasts and instead training its live lens on studios, tour busses, artists' homes and hotel lobbies, the latter via a partnership with Aloft Hotels. "People can [already] find that content on their feed," Belliotti says of event footage. "We have to create a different experience that they can't get anywhere else."
Live video is a growing social phenom. According to Facebook Live data, 26 percent of people are interested in watching live streams broadcast by brands and companies. While businesses are grappling with how to monetize the market, the ability to connect live with fans is resonating both with artists and industry marketers. They're drawn to the low bar to entry -- most of the Coke Music TV feeds are captured on mobile phones -- high interactivity level, and ability to pump up discovery through the Coke marketing machine.
Tegan and Sara's November backstage Periscope on Coke Music TV was the Warner Bros. act's first Periscope live video. That segment hit 100,000 viewers, and a subsequent holiday-themed live stream drew 94,000.
"Coke has been friend to the band and we are continuing to build that relationship," says Lori Feldman, EVP of strategic marketing, at Warner Bros. Records. "Additionally, Coke is a big supporter of diversity in all its forms and are supporters of LGBTQ issues. Of course, when Tegan and Sara partner with brands on any level, that type of support is always considered." Tegan and Sara grew up drinking Coke, she adds. "It's a brand relationship that is totally authentic to them and yes, they mention all of this and even tell some funny stories about their love of the brand, during both of their broadcasts."
"Sometimes we are skeptical about the new social media chat platforms that pop up, so it was refreshing to enjoy it and have so many positive comments and questions," Tegan tells Billboard. "Both Sara and I have always been very connected to our audience, and very open to finding new ways to reach our fans and connect in a meaningful way."
Aside from Tegan and Sara, WB has done live broadcasts on Coke's Periscope with Spencer Ludwig and Andra Day. "It's really easy to do, and a quick, no nonsense way to connect with fans live and in the moment," Feldman says.
The potential for developing artists is manifold. A Hey Violet live stream via Coke Music TV got 215,000 viewers, Belliotti says, noting the company has had drawn "tens of thousands" to tune in and connect live with developing artists, among them Sunset Rising and Remington Jones, as they're writing and recording demos.
"Every artist we've worked with so far really loves the experience because it makes them feel more connected to their fans," Belliotti says. "Recording a demo can be an isolated process, and this short-circuits the anticipation of getting it out to fans because it is happening in the moment."
Pop duo High Dive Heart was among the first to create a Coke Music TV live stream. Coke tweeted about the act after hearing their song "Vintage," the duo responded by rerecording the song set to "Coke sounds," and now they have eight Coke Music TV videos in the can. The act debuted a performance of their song "Movies" via Coke Music TV while they were on tour with Colbie Caillat (Jason Reeves, one half of the duo, is a multiplatinum songwriter who writes with Caillat). Other sessions have seen them host artists including Caillat and Rita Wilson, and an activation from a Moe's Southwest Grill location.
"They asked us to do two cover songs by departed artists. We chose John Lennon's 'Imagine' and Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.' We were on tour with Colbie and popped into Moe's Grill and played them. It was our first and Coke's first live stream to break 100,000 views in 24 hours," Nelly Joy, High Dive Heart singer/songwriter, tells Billboard. The act will release an acoustic version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" this year, she adds.
Joy says the collaboration with Coke is perfect harmony. "The cross-pollination of their push on the marketing end and our creativity on the music side is a really great matchup. The impact is greater, and we can share the broadcast through our own social sites, so all fans see it and find it, and through Coke we can reach a whole different demographic."
While Belliotti says that while Coke will be looking into live streams from events it sponsors -- the NCAA finals in April would be the next opportunity -- the focus will remain on creating more intimate fan experiences.
"There might be times when we start scheduling events," Belliotti says. "But the fact is there's something about the spontaneous moments and we want to make sure we keep that at the core of it, that we bring people into the moment, and those can't be scheduled."