Special Report: Brand Live Stream
Will Clark, Contributing Editor, BrandStorytelling.tv
Highlighting Impactful Live Streaming
Celebrity/Influencer: Various artists, including Miley Cyrus, Foo Fighters, The Lumineers
Brand: Bud Light Seltzer
Reach: 200k+ (Friday only)
Time: Oct 16-18
This past weekend, Bud Light Seltzer, YouTube and NIVA, the National Independent Venue Association, partnered to create one of the most ambitious virtual music festivals of the year. The event was also one of the most impactful branded livestreams, raising millions of dollars from individual contributions for the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund, along with raising awareness for the Save Our Stages Act.
The $10 billion Save Our Stages Act has been sponsored by 147 Senators, and if it passes, it would be critical for the nation’s independent venues. Many of these venues were featured during the weekend’s performances — 26 different stages in total. The scale of the operation itself was staggering, with 35 artists and dozens of hours of performances.
In June, NIVA conducted a survey and found that 90% of independent venues across the U.S. will close if they do not receive federal aid. Currently, NIVA has aided these venues by facilitating direct donations to these venues, as well as creating their own central fund. Part of Bud Light Seltzer’s contribution to the festival was a $1 million donation to NIVA.
“We have proudly partnered with iconic artists and venues around the country and now we want to do our part to ensure that small music venues can remain in business for when we can all come together in-person again,” Azania Andrews Vice President, Consumer Connections at Anheuser-Busch told Variety.
NIVA has aggressively been building their presence on YouTube in preparation for the livestream. In early September, they still only had 300 subscribers, but they now have more than 16k as of Saturday morning, and that’s continuing to climb. NIVA’s success has grown exponentially as a direct result of their livestream efforts and partnership with YouTube
According to a September press release, "YouTube and NIVA will work on unique programming that will help bring live performances back into music venues safely,” perhaps indicating that this relationship will continue with more programming to come.
Recent Live Streams from Top Brands
Event: SunTrust Songwriter Session
Celebrity/Influencer: Ray Benson
Date: October 6
Ray Benson formed the band Asleep at the Wheel fifty years ago, and since then has led the group to be one of the most well-known modern Western Swing bands in the country. Based in Austin, the group still performs regularly, or at least, they did. With the lack of viable venues at the moment, Benson, SunTrust, and the Country Music Hall of Fame took advantage of live streaming in order to bring the music to listeners.
SunTrust and the Country Music Hall of Fame begin their “Songwriter Sessions” with a half-hour interview/performance on YouTube, which then rolls into a shorter Q&A session on Instagram Live. The structure of these regular sessions is unique because it bridges two different platforms. While in theory, this could reach more people, in practice, it appears it’s tough to retain audiences across these platforms. Especially when these platforms essentially offer the same functionality. The Q&A section could have been done on YouTube, or the performance could have been done on Instagram, but by separating the sections of their stream, they’ve split audiences and isolated those who might be interested, but don’t have the full picture.
Brands: AARP, Amazon Studios, Mailchimp, Showtime
Platform: New Yorker Website
Date: October 5-11
Description: As opposed to most of the livestream events we cover, almost all of the events at the New Yorker Festival were exclusively available to ticket holders. A VIP pass which granted access to almost every event cost $50, while individual events were priced at $20 each. While we were not able to secure passes for the event, we included this festival in the newsletter for two reasons. One, because it is a top-tier festival built on branded livestreams that utilized a unique pricing model. The only free events were sponsored by AARP and Showtime, and even those required a registration and acquiring a ticket. Additionally, the videos were only available for playback to ticketholders for a limited time. The fact that the New Yorker Festival decided to go with this model shows that the landscape for virtual experiences allows for a variety of approaches.
The second reason is because this event was one of the events listed on Condé Nast’s Virtual Events Upfront. The event production arm of the publisher decided to pivot to virtual programming late this summer, and the brands that were a part of this festival likely worked out deals within the past few weeks. Brands like Amazon, Showtime, AARP and Mailchimp are exploring the ways in which to spend their experiential marketing dollars, and event organizers who can present clean and coherent virtual programming are coming out ahead.
Date: September 28
Description: French influencer Jeel partnered with Adobe to explore the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite during one of her daily streams. Using Adobe Photoshop, she drew a Halloween-themed picture over the course of about 2 hours, all while talking live with thousands of viewers. Jeel’s streams are a mix of gaming and just chatting with her followers, but one notable aspect of her channel is the heavy ad presence. If you want to join an ongoing live stream, you have to watch a short ad first. While not all Twitch streamers utilize advertising as much as Jeel does, creators’ openness to branded content seems to be more mainstream on Twitch than on other streaming or social platforms.
ON THE RADAR
Opportunities for Brands
Date: March 16-20, 2021
South by Southwest was one of the first major events impacted by COVID-19 this year, with many brands backing out in the days leading up to the festival. Recently, SXSW announced it would present at least part of its 2021 festival online.
The 2021 event, while not on the scale of the in-person version, will doubtless still pull in thousands of attendees. In 2019, SXSW attendance surpassed 280,000 according to an estimate from Greyhill Advisors.
In the announcement of the 2021 event, SXSW co-founder and CEO Roland Swenson provided a general but optimistic statement regarding the festival.
“The challenge of building a new future is one that we’re excited to tackle,” he said. “This has been such a year of change and we, like the entire world, are reshaping our perspective on how we connect. We’re pleased to be working on SXSW Online as part of our program for 2021, and regardless of platform, we will continue to bring together the brightest minds from creative industries worldwide.”
This shake-up could be an opportunity for brands. SXSW has always held innovation in high regard, and with this new format, the innovation will be in the experience itself. Brands who are simply there and trying to make an impact will have the benefit of a more captive and more focused audience than any other year of SXSW. Usually, the festival is so spread out and chaotic that cutting through the noise is a daunting task.
There’s been no news of any in-person or hybrid elements of the 2021 festival, but it hasn’t been ruled out either, according to SXSW. But Alex Beer, chief client officer at GMR, told AdWeek that brands will be able to plan more for the virtual experience this year.
“The difference for 2021 versus 2020 is SXSW was really the first industry event that canceled, so brands and attendees had to react,” Beer said. “Now that we’re six-plus months ahead, we can plan for a virtual presence. It’s really opened up a lot more opportunities for our clients to have the time to plan as opposed to just react.”
One of the key aspects of SXSW 2021 for brands to consider will be their status as an unofficial or an official sponsor. In the past, the sprawling geographical layout of the festival provided room for brands to reach the attendees without any official status. In 2021, that may not be the case. But perhaps, by providing free livestream experiences in contrast to ticketed livestreams, brands could reach more viewers without being an official partner.
The two leading contenders for a video platform are YouTube and Vimeo, both of which have a history with the festival and troves of experience in live streaming. This will also be a critical development for brands to monitor. Without a built-in audience on the platform of choice, their SXSW activations will likely be much less effective.
Interestingly, while SXSW is a festival focused on technological innovation, it has very rarely experimented with virtual events. One notable exception was its 2014 speech from Edward Snowden, who used Google+ to connect to an auditorium of attendees. The video was choppy, the audio was scratchy, but people were enthralled. It was a buzzy event, and it goes to show how a powerful message can overcome technological barriers.
This year’s festival will be a benchmark not only of how brands respond to the events of our time, but how they will adapt to the future. SXSW 2021 encapsulates this idea through one of their themes: “Connection in Disconnection.” On their site, SXSW defines this theme: “We’re living lives we never could have imagined as we head into our own brave new world. The consequences of social isolation have been brewing for years. Now online platforms are some of the only outlets available to foster a sense of community. How do we return to a world where individual concerns give way to embracing the value of humanity?”
About Will Clark
Will Clark is a writer and musician based in Austin, Texas. He’s written for The Daily Texan and Verge Campus and also writes screenplays and short stories. With the help of his friends in Austin, he helps manage PorchFire Records.