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A Vision for the Future of Virtual Music Festivals

In 2017, 250,000 of the hippest young adults you'll ever meet gathered together for Coachella, the granddaddy of all music festivals. With headliners like Radiohead, Lady Gaga, and Kendrick Lamar, Coachella had no problem bringing in 125,000 people per day to its site for a weekend of great music, tents, road trips, and memories. Revenue landed around $114 million.

Attending Coachella is a dream of many people. Average ticket prices can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands. Many people spend nine months on payment plans just to afford tickets. That's because the experience of attending is unforgettable. 

That might make you think there's no reason a music festival like Coachella should ever consider implementing a hybrid or virtual model to allow users to experience the music of Coachella without ever leaving their homes. Opponents of virtual concerts would argue that no one wants to watch a live stream at home and that selling virtual tickets would hurt in-person sales.

But this adherence to the old way of thinking ignores the clear revenue available in live streaming. Live streaming is changing live music, and festival promoters who aren't open to adapt may end up finding themselves the next Blockbuster, a cautionary tale of an American institution that failed to evolve with technology and got decimated in the process.

Let's look at how live streaming is changing live music and how savvy concert promoters are making bank. Ariana Grande recently hosted a virtual concert within the video game Fortnite which drew 78 million viewers. Rapper Travis Scott also hosted a virtual Fortnite concert that drew almost 12 million viewers. Lil Nas X, who is known for his savvy use of virtual tools such as TikTok, drew 33 million viewers to a concert in the video game Roblox. 

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Kanye West broke Apple Music streaming records for his hybrid concerts promoting his new album Donda, drawing 3.3 million viewers in July and then 5.4 million viewers just a few weeks later. Most interestingly, Kanye West held these live streams in conjunction with in-person stadium concerts that also sold out.

This shows us two important things:

1) Millions of music fans have an appetite for live-stream concerts. 

2) Hybrid concerts don't hurt in-person sales.

Interest in music festivals is often larger than what the in-person festival can actually accommodate. Sure, 250,000 people at Coachella is a great number, but with a live stream option, a music festival can open itself up to millions of potential fans without the cost of increasing their physical footprint. Fans who have no desire or no ability to spend nine months paying off festival tickets and then fly out to the festival can instead spend a reduced cost to stream it live from their own homes.

We see the movie theater industry embracing this model currently. The New York Post reports that streaming movie releases will bring in $94 billion by 2025. Sure, there are kinks to work out with the movie theater chains and the royalties for performers, but that isn't stopping studios and streaming platforms from offering premiers like Marvel's Black Widow as hybrid options. Black Widow grossed over $125 million on Disney+, and $370 million at the box office.

The key here is accessibility. The Covid 19 pandemic has made consumers familiar with virtual and hybrid options. It hasn't destroyed their appetite for in-person events, like spending $370 million at the box office or selling out a stadium in Atlanta to listen to Donda. But it has made them receptive to the idea of streaming this content at home if they can't make it in person.

It's simple mathematics. If you can make $114 million with 250,000 in person, how much more do you stand to make with hundreds of thousands or even millions paying $20 to stream concerts at home?

Here's our vision for how this could work.

A music festival could launch a streaming platform that allows users to register and pay for tiered access. For example, a user could pay $20 for all-day access to live streams of performances, $15 for just the live stream of the headliner, or $5 per concert in a buffet-style model.

Within the platform, the user could navigate through the live streams they have access to. The platform could even host an e-commerce store to allow users to buy exclusive merchandise only available online. 

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Currently, many music festivals upload recordings of concerts to YouTube. YouTube then pays the festivals based on how many views the recordings receive. But if the festival owned its platform, they could house full recordings from an entire weekend of performances and charge users a fee to access them. This allows the festivals to reject the corporate YouTube model, which requires content from users while keeping most of the profits themselves.

The revenue is there. The interest is there. The only thing that's missing is for a major festival to make the next logical leap in live streaming events. Together, we can flip live music on its head and set the standard for the next decade. 

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