For years, video consumption was rising — from television to streaming apps to social media platforms. But one of the most thrilling parts of entertainment was mostly missing from the video world until the pandemic hit: the power of truly “live” streaming content.
But with large gatherings off-limits during the pandemic, musicians and arts organisations started putting together live performances over streaming platforms. These events have turned out to be well worth the price of virtual admission. Yo-Yo Ma performed a spectacular series of concerts (there’s another one coming up in May); the Met and Carnegie Hall streamed their annual galas; and even the guys from #SeaShantyTok joined in the action.
It turns out to be a surprisingly intimate experience, with cameras tightly focused on the stars. Every viewer has a front row seat to witness a unique moment in time — along with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of others. (Pop star Dua Lipa’s virtual concert over the Thanksgiving weekend drew more than 5 million viewers.)
The economics of paid virtual events are promising, too. A streaming concert might command just a tenth of the typical ticket price for a seat in a theater — but having access to a worldwide audience can easily make up for that by bringing in more than 10 times the viewers. Artists can also charge more for VIP access or urge appreciative fans to leave tips.
On the production side, costs for most live performances have quickly declined to the price of a good microphone and a smartphone with a decent camera. All kinds of entertainers — known and unknown before the pandemic — have been able to start building followings over TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Patreon, and other platforms. The pandemic has also driven a massive increase in the overall audience for live content. Livestreaming trailblazer Twitch, owned by Amazon.com Inc, has seen 300% audience growth in some categories, and the overall industry had 45% growth in hours watched just between March and April 2020.
Meanwhile, performers and creators stuck at home have been looking for new ways to reach audiences, driving innovation in streaming models.
A veteran of Spotify and Beats Music made a huge bet on the permanence of premium livestreaming, announcing a platform called Doors, which will enable musicians “to curate and perform online concerts, communicate with fans and manage ticket sales and royalties in one place,” according to Bloomberg News.
And thanks to the rise of creator-focused social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, livestreaming has unlocked creativity and collaboration of a type and scale never realised before. This past winter, for example, a musical TikTok meme about Remy the rat — star of the Disney/Pixar movie “Ratatouille” — eventually led to a worldwide collaboration to write and produce a complete musical based on the film. The “Ratatousical” (full name: “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical”) ended up being blessed by the powers that be at Disney, and then being staged virtually in a livestreamed benefit performance, featuring Broadway stars.