If you're reading this, you're probably a music fan. Say you want to watch a new music livestream this evening, from an artist you haven't heard of before or are only vaguely familiar with. Where do you go?
Livestreaming has been around for 25 years, but the answer to this simple question remains quite complicated. No one's really had an incentive to build for it, until now.
You might go check one of dozens of virtual concert listings available on the internet, from publications like NPR, Billboard, Pitchfork and Vulture or independent initiatives like Koir and Stay At Home Fest. But these listings are organized primarily by calendar date (and by genre, if you're lucky), with little other logic for curation. It's easy to get lost in these pages if you don't already have a clear idea of what you're looking for.
Or, you might go to your favorite artists' social accounts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to find out whether they have a livestream coming up. But this is a rather insular approach. None of Instagram, Facebook and YouTube have landing pages specifically for livestreams yet. As an artist, this means you end up reaching only your already-existing audience. This is especially the case if you don't have enough celebrity appeal to draw mainstream press coverage around your stream. And as a fan, again, you end up sticking only with what's already familiar to you.
In case it's not already clear: Livestreaming has a discovery problem. There's a lot of noise and activity, and little infrastructure to help audiences sift through it.
In fact, what's happening with livestreaming looks like what podcasts have struggled with for years. As Erik Jones wrote for Bello Collective in 2017 (emphasis added):
Podcast directories are like old school video rental stores. You go in with so much hope but end up wandering the aisles until you just grab something based entirely on its cover art.
If you've recently wandered through Twitch's homepage or search function, or tried navigating through the deluge of livestreams now popping up at the top of your Instagram app, you likely understand this feeling.
But enough about problems. Today, I want to focus on the companies that may be best-positioned to provide solutions: Ticketing and event-discovery apps.
Typically, ticketing and event-discovery apps are in the business of aggregating and curating live, in-person events. Their curation logic includes a fan's purchase history, geographic location and music tastes — the last of which often involves scanning the fan's profiles on Spotify and Apple Music.
With much of the global concert industry wiped out in a matter of weeks, many of these event apps have pivoted to curating livestreams.
Bandsintown now lets fans sign up for notifications about artists' upcoming livestreams in the same way that they do for brick-and-mortar shows. U.K.-based ticketing app Dice has a dedicated vertical for online events, called Dice TV. Eventbrite, which cut 45% of its staff due to the pandemic, now centers online events on its homepage, as does Songkick. The top of the Ticketmaster app now links out to Live Nation's own livestreaming calendar, Live From Home.
[Above: From left to right, Bandsintown, Songkick, Eventbrite, Ticketmaster and Dice are all highlighting livestreams and online events in their apps.]
To be clear, the surge in virtual music events is nowhere close to making up for the number of cancelled shows. Bandsintown managing partner Fabrice Sergent tells me that the number of total events listed on Bandsintown dipped by nearly 50%, from 450,000 pre-pandemic to around 250,000 today (including both livestreams and in-person shows). The number of new events added to Bandsintown daily has plummeted by 90%, from 10,000 to around 1,000. Only around half of those 1,000 daily adds are livestreams.
That said, last week (April 27–May 1) marked the first time since early March that Bandsintown saw net growth in the total number of events on its platform, after several weeks of decline.
Dice has also seen an increase in activity, as the limitations of its previous business model disappeared. Prior to March, Dice had been active mostly in U.K., Spain and Italy, plus four cities in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta). Like Ticketmaster and many other ticketing companies, Dice pulled its inventory primarily through exclusive relationships with festivals like Primavera Sound and venues like New York's Chelsea Music Hall.
In pivoting to livestreaming, one major benefit for Dice is that the company is no longer bound by geographic boundaries or exclusive, location-based relationships. "Overnight, DICE went from being only in a handful of cities to being everywhere," Dice founder/CEO Phil Hutcheon tells me. "Now we're building for everyone." The app is now adding roughly 200 new livestreaming events per day.
Fan engagement with ticketing apps is also much higher for livestreams than for in-person events.
Before the pandemic, a typical Dice user attended three to four in-person events per month. "We used to run our business with a focus on weekly active users," says Hutcheon. "Now, we have to focus on daily active users, because people are checking in every day to see what's happening that night."
Similarly, Bandsintown's normal click-through rates on event-reminder notifications are between 10% and 20%. For livestreams, they've been closer to 80%.
This makes sense: Reminders are critical for livestreaming, as the landscape not only is noisy, but also moves more quickly. Nearly three out of four new livestreaming events added to Bandsintown on a given day take place within a week of being listed.
"You tend to remember the tickets you buy to physical shows," says Sergent. "But with livestreams it's super important to be notified, because there are so many streams out there and fans can easily forget."
The curation logic around livestreaming events is much different.
Fans on apps like Songkick, Dice and Bandsintown are still able to integrate their music-streaming accounts to get personalized recommendations for livestreams. But the biggest difference is that geographic boundaries are irrelevant in a world where a single virtual show can instantly reach a global audience.
For example, in both Bandsintown and Dice, users can still indicate their current location upon login. But the events that surface will not be filtered by said location; instead, they'll come from all over the world (see screenshots below). Dice does display the city of origin for almost every livestream on its app (e.g. "stream via Paris" or "stream via London") — but their listing as a whole is optimized for the end user's time zone, not for any city in particular.
[Above: The interfaces for Dice, left, and Bandsintown still allow users to choose their current location, but no longer filter events by geography.]
Aside from geography, platform boundaries are also often irrelevant. Many artists are simulcasting their livestreams, i.e. using tools like StreamYard and OBS to stream to many platforms at the same time. This is a marked difference from the traditional ticketing model, where most inventory comes from exclusive venue deals. For better or for worse, the livestreaming landscape is much more decentralized.
As more of these ticketing apps reorient around time zones rather than cities, artists and event organizers would do well to plan for multiple "viewing times" of a single livestreamed show or experience, to reach as global of an audience as possible.
"If you're a U.S. artist who wants to hit the Indian market right now, you need to stream at a specific time to reach them," says Hutcheon. "If your concert is high-quality and compelling, it should be replayed multiple times anyways. You could loop it three times a week and still get a huge audience each time."
Travis Scott's recent Fortnite show Astronomical is a concrete example of this approach. The game held five separate viewings of the show between April 23 and 25, attracting 27 million unique Fortnite players in total — many of whom attended multiple viewings. Boiler Room often "re-loops" select DJ sets from its archives as well.
One potential gap these apps face in streamlining discovery is the lack of integrations with the most popular livestreaming platforms.
60% of livestreams on Bandsintown link to Facebook or Instagram as their preferred destination. YouTube and Twitch each account for an additional 8% to 9% of listings. But no ticketing or event-discovery app currently has an automated integration with any of these platforms, in the way that an app like Bandsintown has with Ticketmaster and Eventbrite. Instead, artists and event organizers have to publish livestreaming links themselves on a manual basis.
That said, fully-automated integrations with Instagram and Facebook could also create a quality-control nightmare. "When an artist takes the time to go to their dashboard and set up an event, you know it's real," says Sergent. "Otherwise, if we ingest everything, there might be a random livestream of an artist doing something like hanging with their cat. If we want to be like a Spotify for livestreaming and aggregate all the best, legitimate shows for fans, we cannot automate everything."
Likewise, for now, Dice is still vetting every artist and event added to its platform. Many of its events still come through exclusive partnerships with the likes of Rough Trade and the Room Service Festival.
As for future developments, Bandsintown is working on the capability for artists to add more than one livestreaming link to their events, in the context of simulcasting. Dice is also building for tools that allow fans to send info about upcoming livestreams to their friends, to facilitate more social viewing experiences. This could particularly impactful for higher-profile events like the Verzuz battles on Instagram, as well as for games like Fortnite and Minecraft that are now serving as music venues and social networks in their own right — likely for the long term.
"I think this will turn into a hybrid model in the future," says Hutcheon. "I don't think people will be flying on planes at normal levels for a long time. There will be a lot of artists in New York who will only be able to play in New York, and will have to livestream their shows to reach fans elsewhere in the world. That will be really interesting to watch over the next 12 months."