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Livestreaming post pandemic: What does the future look like?

With live music returning to normal, Eamonn Forde looks at what's in store for livestreaming services.

Eamonn Forde
  • By Eamonn Forde
  • 1 Dec 2022
  • min read

The current state of post-pandemic livestreaming is illustrated best by the fact that Dreamstage, a company that only launched in August 2020, has been acquired by Driift, a company that was founded in the exact same month.  

Audio-streaming service Deezer, which had previously invested in both Driift (taking a minority stake) and Dreamstage (taking a majority stake), will bring an additional £4 million of investment to the newly combined entity. It will be run by Driift CEO Ric Salmon and COO Claire Mas. 

With live music in most major markets returning to something approaching normal, the multitude of livestreaming services that scrambled to launch in summer 2020, as lockdown saw live music shut down, now face a stark three-way choice: consolidate; pivot; or fold.  

Two years ago, livestreaming was the only game in town, with dedicated services racing to market and existing platforms like Instagram and Facebook expanding to offer a halfway house solution.  

Livestreaming of concerts was, however, nothing new. It dates back to the late 1990s, an era when internet penetration was low and those rare consumers with a connection had to accept slow dial-up speeds. Pet Shop Boys and The Charlatans were among the acts experimenting here in 1999 but their streams were more about showcasing what was technologically possible rather than tapping into, or building, huge audiences.  

'What the pandemic did was focus activity around individual acts and provide an accidental proof of concept, taking livestreaming to a mass audience.'

YouTube has been livestreaming festivals for several years, notably Coachella since 2012. But what the pandemic did was focus activity around individual acts and provide an accidental proof of concept, taking livestreaming to a mass audience and creating an opportunity for these shows to be ticketed. At the upper end of livestreaming, acts like BTS were reaching fans in their millions and making tens of millions of dollars.  

The boom in specialist livestreaming operators was always going to be temporary and platforms knew they would have to develop an exit strategy as soon as live music began to return. Gramrphone, for example, recently announced a TikTok integration as it evolves towards what it calls a 'B2B middleware offering' rather than being an exclusively consumer-facing service.  

For Driift, however, the move is to double down on what it was already doing. Ric Salmon says they are effectively the last player standing in a market that was packed two years ago but has drastically thinned out in the interim.  

'You’ve had a bunch of really interesting players in the sector during lockdown, but then a lot of those companies have fallen by the wayside, evolved what they do or moved into other sectors,’ he explains. 'It’s left us in this fascinating position where I think it’s safe to say we’re the ‘market leaders’ in the sense that we’ve sold more tickets than anyone else.'

He was speaking before the Dreamstage deal was announced but it only serves to underline his core point here. 

He reveals that Driift has sold over 800,000 tickets in the two years it has been operational and generated 'tens of millions of dollars' in sales. He also states that Driift is already lining up shows into November 2023, with huge international names – a mix of new acts and long-established acts – expected to be confirmed for livestreams soon.  

While there will be one-off livestreams for special events, such as MTV livestreaming the recent Taylor Hawkins tribute show from Wembley Stadium on its YouTube channel, it is going to be an increasingly tough sell to persuade acts (and their management) to focus time and energy on livestreams when they are all desperately trying to make up for the loss of two years of touring because of the pandemic. 

Salmon forecasts that a triptych of livestream solutions will evolve.

The first will be what he calls 'bespoke events' that are 'immersive and designed for both an audience in the room and an audience at home simultaneously.' He points to the three shows The Smile performed in London at the end of January 2022, where they were filmed in the round, as the model for such hybrid shows. 'We’ve got a bunch of shows in the pipeline that are going to be in a not-dissimilar kind of format,' he says.  

'With the right approach, and with the right attention to detail, you can still capture an event that feels amazing to watch at home.'

The second will be based around 'capturing tour events' – so effectively filming an existing tour. He points to the example of Little Mix’s show in May 2022 where Driift sold 90,000 tickets across 143 countries. 

'It’s difficult for them to take their massive arena tour to multiple countries around the world just because of the expense of it,' he says of how this approach will be sold into other acts, but he does accept this model comes with creative restrictions. 'You’re essentially having to slot in around a tour production. But with the right approach, and with the right attention to detail, you can still capture an event that feels amazing to watch at home.'

The final option will, says Salmon, be 'more traditional livestreaming events that are designed for livestreaming predominantly.' They might be shot in unusual venues or used to mark milestone anniversaries.  

While Salmon feels all three approaches have their strengths and attractions, it will be the middle option that probably works best with acts’ existing touring plans.  

'The type 2 show, that is the tour show, is much ‘easier’ to slot into plans that managers and agents are working on,' he proposes. 'I genuinely don’t think I have spoken to a manager or an agent in the last year that hasn’t said anything other than, "Of course livestreaming is going be part of the plan at some point in the future."'

That has long-term planning implications for the livestreaming business. Salmon says when Driift launched, things were moving at hyper-speed and the gap from initial discussions with acts to the show taking place could be as little as 'three or four weeks.' Now, he says, that it is 'probably between three and six months' from initial conversations to tickets going on sale – and then the shows taking place several weeks after that.

A competitive and packed marketplace has become one where few will remain – and those that do will swallow the remainder – but this zapping of competition is conversely making it harder yet for the pure-play livestreamers. 

Driift was able to package up the three performances from The Smile’s shows in January into a single programme and sell it to Sky Arts in the UK and DirecTV in the US. Salmon says this will remain part of the business model, where the company effectively operates like a production house for bigger broadcasters.  

This is a foreshadowing of what is to come in the space as traditional broadcasters and the streaming giants like Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video and Paramount+ increase their music coverage and buy up (or create their own) concert films. They are, of course, not livestreams in the truest sense, but these operators have the budgets to attract the biggest names in music, meaning that livestreaming services will have to move down to mid-level or niche acts, not being able to deliver the sort of audiences the top-tier acts will demand.  

'It’s interesting that a lot of the conversations that we’re having [with managers] are, "Shall we do it as a ticketed stream or should we just take a big cheque from a streamer?"' says Salmon. 'Of course, that’s only for the top, top acts. Those big companies are only going to do Coldplay and Foo Fighters [et cetera].' 

He does say, however, that livestreaming will be the natural home for acts that would otherwise be ignored by streaming giants and traditional broadcasters.  

'For us to be able to do 30,000 or 40,000 tickets for a livestream makes a huge amount of sense to the band, to the fans and to us as a business – both economically and creatively.'

The challenge now for livestreaming is not one of inter-competition between livestreamers; it’s competition between livestreaming and the biggest names in television over who can deliver the biggest audience. 

In two years, it has gone from a race to have the most cutting-edge technology to erupting into a war about scale. 

'For us to be able to do 30,000 or 40,000 tickets for a livestream makes a huge amount of sense to the band, to the fans and to us as a business – both economically and creatively,' argues Salmon. 'That level of success is a great thing. But for a traditional broadcaster to broadcast a live concert, for let’s call it 50,000 viewers, that wouldn’t make economic sense. This new economy, this new business model, is a really exciting additional solution.'