Since 1999, the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival has been bringing life to an otherwise tame California desert one pair of weekends at a time – and with great success. But it’s only recently that the event's stages and performances have been broadcast live to the world right as they happen, raw audio and all - not just by festival-goers via iPhone cams and Instagram videos over 3G internet, but by professional teams linked up to major social media sites.
It’s a steadily growing trend around the globe. From cinema live screenings of Shakespeare on stage to Broadway musicals right the way through to festivals like Coachella, live art and culture is becoming more and more accessible for everybody, whether or not they’ve got big festival boots and a tent on hand. But is that a good thing? Does concert live streaming help or hinder artists both big and small? Does it improve sales and, if so, is it the new status quo?
Coachella in full swing from above.
From Music to Cooking Shows, Live is the New Normal
On July 13th 1985, the Live Aid concert aired on television to millions of people worldwide. More people sat down to watch Live Aid than saw mans’ first steps on the moon some sixteen years earlier. And with Queen at the helm of Wembley Stadium, it was certainly quite the show. One of the most memorable of all time, perhaps. Since then, we’ve got the internet. We’ve gotten smartphones and tablets and laptops galore – life has never been better for music fans than it is today what with our Bluetooth ultra-smooth mega headphones and endless portable track libraries.
Naturally, then, it makes sense for festivals and concerts to make the leap not just to television, but to the web.
Because the thing is, no matter how big the festival, no matter how large or grand the stadium, there’s always going to be a finite number of tickets and spots available. Coachella’s concert live streams from the 12th to the 15th of April were near constant, with artists and bands as big as Tame Impala (who recently released their new single, Borderline', the 1975 and Childish Gambino making appearances. And it wasn’t just music: Rihanna and Childish Gambino’s new film Guava Island aired and premiered on the Coachella YouTube stream, to boot. Taking the festival to the web doesn’t do any harm to the enjoyment of the crowd and attendees right then and there. What it does do is increase Coachella’s potential audience a hundred times over.
This years’ festival marked Coachella’s ninth successive event partnered exclusively with YouTube. Surely then, they’ve had success?
Major Artists Get More Views, Hosts and Minor Artists Get Exposure
Headliner Ariana Grande performs live - to an audience, and to the web.
BBC music has been live streaming Glastonbury festival and its headline stars online for a few years now, capturing hundreds of performances and sending them out into the stratosphere - this summer, Kylie Minogue will be centre stage. Burning Man has their own private webcast, read, ‘For those who can’t be on the playa in person, we're pleased to offer this live stream straight from Black Rock City.’ Coachella isn’t alone in the game, and it seems certain that this trend is set to continue. What’s less certain is how and in what format.
When a festival or concert sets up an internet live broadcast, major artist performances have the potential to bring in hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of concurrent viewers. When a festival or concert hosts a smaller, less well-known artist, there’s less of that potential. What there is, however, is exposure. An internet live stream works as profitable, ad-revenue generating advertising for everyone involved, host, star or cult artist. The real question we should be asking is why not live stream your concert or festival? Why isn’t everybody doing it?
Well, they might be soon. Pay-per-view is nothing new, unfortunately, and if the financial folks behind the scenes deem it a more profitable system that a Facebook, Twitch.tv or YouTube stream, it could be on our doorstep very, very soon. Want to join in on Coachella or Glastonbury or Burning Man from the comfort of your own home? You’ll need a ticket just the same – an e-ticket. No doubt, it would be cheaper than the real thing, but you'd still have to pay. Don’t panic just yet, though, since this is far from certain. But it could happen, as it has with other live streamed events.
The Potential for Live Media Really is Endless with VR on the Horizon
Blizz-con, a fan meet, press event and all round hullabaloo run by gaming giant Blizzard (World of Warcraft, Overwatch, StarCraft) run in early November every year for fans of the franchise. How to attend? Buy an in-person ticket or, if you’re not so lucky, buy an online pass for access to streams, talks and highlights.
The potential for live media really is endless. In the last decade alone it’s come light years, and with VR on the horizon, there’s likely only more to come; for concerts and festivals, for everything. 3D movies in bed? Just put on a pair of goggles and headphones. Front row of the next big sports match? Just log onto YouTube. Live casino games to offer online hosts already exist with tables including blackjack and different variants of live roulette. Immersive experiences really do seem to be the next big thing. You don’t just play a hand of blackjack online these days. You play with the dealer squared up eye-to-eye. You don’t just have Glastonbury on the radio. You have it on your smartphone on the way to work, on your TV, live and in your ears. Live boxing is pay-per-view. Wrestling is pay-per-view. Who’s to say music live streams won’t go down the same path?
Well, nobody. We can only wait and see. But it seems the ladies and gents behind Coachella and Glastonbury and whatever else have a good thing going for now. They’re following more down the path of Twitch and YouTube, making money from sponsors and advertisements, than anything else.
Coachella from above at night.
There’s no doubt about it; live streaming is good for the health, profit and longevity of festival culture. The more people there are in the world getting excited, making plans for next year, the year after that, and overall just enjoying the performances (the point of the whole business), the better. Beyoncé’s Coachella live stream drew in 458k concurrent viewers. Overall, the festival totalled 43.1 million live stream views from over two hundred countries.
In comparison, less than two hundred thousand Coachella tickets are sold each year. You do the math.