E-Concerts: Rethinking the Legal and Economic Implications During Pandemic – Deinma Dibi

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Introduction

The unprecedented heights of economic disruption caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had artistes and their producers reeling from its after-effects. This has raised genuine concerns regarding the future of the entertainment industry and the economic prospects in a world trying to recover from this virus. With entertainers stuck in their homes, trying to adjust to the new economic realities caused by the  COVID-19 pandemic, musical concerts running into hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue have been cancelled.

With this new reality, a number of artistes have taken to social media to display their craft. Canadian rapper, Tory Lanez has been at the fore front of this development with a record live audience of over 350,000 viewers on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Social media outlets like Tik Tok, Zoom, Instagram Live (IG Live), WhatsApp, TwitchTv etc., have become a ‘virtual theatre’ of sorts for some artistes. For the viewing audience, the social media space represents a convenient outlet to socialize and have fun. This development has culminated in “e-concerts.” While it is conceded that this is nothing new, the concept is gradually gaining traction in Nigeria and the world at large. From live performances on IG Live by popular Nigerian artistes, to the producers’ battle on the same platform on Sunday, April 5, 2020, Nigerian artistes are beginning to leverage on e-concerts, and are accepting the new reality. The question then arises as to what the commercial underpinnings of e-concerts are, and how artistes can create alternatives and secondary income streams until the present economic disruption normalizes? This is the focal point of this article. 

What is E-concert? 

E-concert (online live performances, virtual concerts, or live stream concerts) is simply a virtual or online performance by a performing artiste in real-time. Since the cancellation of most musical tours and nearly a worldwide lockdown caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 in early January 2020, most artistes have taken to their social media handles to perform and keep fans entertained. Iconic Nigerian artiste, Innocent Idibia (Tuface) had an e-concert on April 12, 2020. Timi Dakolo’s live performance on YouTube took place on March 29, 2020. Chike’s “virtual concert” took place on IG Live on March 24, 2020. Swae Lee’s “virtual venue” concert took place on IG Live on March 21, 2020 and had over 256,000 views. John Legend, DJ Bign, DJ Xclusive and a host of other Disk Jockeys (DJs) and musical artistes globally have taken advantage of the lockdown period to serenade fans all over the world with live performances via social media platforms. With the use of streaming apps like Periscope, Livestream, Facebook Live, YouTube, IG Live, TwitchTv, Broadcast Me, the statistics of viewers on these live streaming platforms have been on the rise.

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Although, these online concerts have not been sufficiently commercialised for the artistes, the platforms have benefitted more financially than the artistes, from the number of users streaming live on a particular platform. While these online live performances via social media platforms have in a way, increased the artiste’s online visibility, no artiste has really leveraged on an online live performance for financial gains. On the average, an artiste with a minimum of one million followers will garner a viewing capacity of not less than ten thousand views; this statistics shows the growing interest of fans yearning to watch their favourite artiste live on the internet. This may largely be due to the fact that most people are at home and engaging via the internet. But, can an artiste cash in on this concept? Will it be commercially wise for an artiste to start a paying live-stream concert? How can such a concept like e-concerts become commercially viable for the artiste?

Mat Dryhurst, an artiste and a researcher said “the only advice you can give someone in music to make money is to do a live show.” Dryhurst believes that “the coronavirus pandemic is only amplifying the flawed nature of the entertainment industry at large and the wider reform is essential.”[1] But with social distancing guidelines and other measures being taken by governments the world over, e-concerts seem the best alternative for artistes. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages, and it seems the later screams louder. Given the physical/personal touch with the audience, the connection an artiste enjoys with the audience trumps any online performance. The revenue stream in an on-stage performance is more clear-cut especially when the event is sold-out when compared to a live-streamed performance which is being viewed by the audience from the comfort of their homes. Nevertheless, live-streamed performances have their advantages. First, everyone with a smartphone/device and internet connectivity can enjoy a live-streamed show from the comfort of their homes; the fear of theft or a terrorist attack on the venue is almost non-existent; the artiste enjoys little to no cost in setting up his performance having set up from a studio or a small stage. The artiste will become more involved in monitoring income generated from the performance. The issue of ticket-racketeering by ticket touts is non-existent amongst other advantages.

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Recently, the views from live streamed performances have been on the rise, given that people’s attention have been turned to social media and most artistes have been engaging with their fans through these platforms. One sure-fire way an artiste can leverage on this and make e-concerts commercially worthwhile is through a collaborative agreement with a social media platform provider. While some of the available social media platforms are not enabled to live stream for more than an hour and are not setup as payment platforms, an artiste can collaborate with an app/web designer to create apps and/or websites, enabled as a payment platform, with a capacity to live stream longer hours of shows. All that a fan has to do is to subscribe to the platform, book a spot, get a login detail, relax and enjoy the pleasures of a concert from his/her comfort zone. As part of this collaborative agreement with the platform provider, an artiste can also collaborate with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to provide for subsidised internet subscriptions to end users as well as faster internet connectivity. This will enable clearer visual delivery. A major setback of live streaming technology in Nigeria is the internet speed and connectivity. Collaborating with an ISP, will address these lapses. While the ISP will benefit from having more subscribers and visibility to its network, end users will also enjoy better and cheaper connectivity.

It can be argued that the remuneration gotten from an outdoor concert may far outweigh the revenue gotten from an online live performance, e-concerts are easily achievable for an artiste who wants to connect with fans from all over the world in real-time, or for small scale performances that will save a lot of cost for the artiste. One of such savings are on travel and hotel expenses, hall rentals, back-up dancers and instrumentalists hire, etc. Just recently, Brooklyn based magazine, Left Banks hosted a virtual music festival via YouTube, with a running time of 12 hours a day until March 22, 2020. Rather than charging fans for digital entry, Left Banks encouraged fans to tip their favourite artiste using Venmo (Venmo is a digital wallet that permits users to socialise and also send and receive money). While this may not equate to the amount of revenue an artiste will get from a live show, with proper structure in place and the right commercial framework, the entertainment industry may have just opened up a new source of revenue stream for the artiste. With the advent of technology and streaming platforms, e-concerts, can be a viable alternative to onstage performances.

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Conclusion

E-concert is a low budget scheme with a high potential of becoming profitable, especially for bigtime artistes with huge social media presence. It creates an avenue for artistes to connect with fans beyond their performance venues in real-time while maximizing exposure and revenue opportunities. For the growing artistes or stand-up comedians, it is an opportunity to develop a large following and build a formidable online presence which would ultimately translate to secondary income streams.

Like every business concern, e-concert is not left without its own risk; ranging from reduced expectation and cautious optimism about commercial viability, unforeseen events beyond the control of the parties that can hinder performance, and lower turnover of investment. But in this day and age where technology is looked upon as the “new oil”, coupled with the advent of 5G network and WiFi6 which will ensure better internet connectivity, e-concerts can turn into handy goldmines. Even after the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is lifted and life returns to normal, e-concerts still remains a commercially viable alternative for Nigerian entertainers.

Deinma is an Associate of Perchstone and Graeys (Solicitors, Advocates, and Arbitrators). He holds an LL.M. in International Commercial Law from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He is an Associate member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK (ACIarb) and a member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators (ChMc).

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/coronavirus-outbreak accessed April 5, 2020.

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