Concert Performances Sing on Cable
When VH1's April 13 Divas Live '99 concert set a
network record with a 3.66 Nielsen Media Research rating, many industry observers were
surprised that the live-music event would be such a success.
Yet the live or live-to-tape concert genre -- which, for
the most part, was shunned by networks and pay-per-view event providers several years ago
-- is slowly beginning to establish itself as a major draw for some basic, pay TV and PPV
With the exception of high-profile concert events from pay
networks like Home Box Office, music programming on cable consisted mostly of music videos
in the early and mid 1990s.
With artists commanding huge upfront performance fees and
the high production costs associated with presenting live concerts, most networks instead
chose to offer viewers the less expensive and more creative and visual music-video format.
On the PPV side, live concert performances failed to live
up to expectations, with several high-profile concerts unable to register buy-rates higher
But over the past three years, there's been a steady
movement toward more concert-type music programming.
With the increase in networks offering short- and long-form
music-video programming, some networks are finding that stage events provide more music
"Providing such performances allows us to give our
viewers something that they can't see somewhere else," BET on Jazz senior vice
president Paxton Baker said.
"If you look across the board, the live music
[performances] are making a comeback and competing against videos. People are getting worn
out with the video clips and looking for something that's a little more relaxing and
original," Baker added.
For the fledgling BET on Jazz service, live-performance
programming is a major part of the network's identity: About one-third of its programming
is of the live performance nature. Shows such as Jazz Central and Jazz
Impressions provide long-form, often uncut performances from major jazz artists.
VH1 has also turned its attention toward more
performance-driven music programs. The network will produce more than 40
performance-oriented shows in 1999 -- more than triple the amount it aired only three
years ago -- according to vice president of production Robert Katz.
"I think the lure of new videos has worn off -- a lot
of our audience has seen that before," Katz said. "This is something that is
live and new and fresh, which our audience has responded to."
While the music-video format remains a ratings and
financial success for a number of cable networks, Baker believes viewers are looking to go
beyond just a video image from today's artists. "I think people are more interested
and impressed with seeing what's behind the artists -- their singing, performing and
writing abilities," he said.
PPV CONCERTS EXPLODE
Even the beleaguered PPV-concert business is experiencing a
renaissance. While the genre has failed to carve a successful niche in the PPV business
over the years, it still provides operators with alternative event programming from the
dominant boxing and wrestling genres.
Last year, 18 concert events generated more than $8 million
in PPV revenue, according to Showtime Event Television. The genre has been boosted
recently by the strong performances of SET's 1998 Spice Girls event and 1999 Backstreet
Boys show, which drew an impressive 135,000 and 160,000 buys, respectively.
And at least six music events will have hit PPV through the
first six months of the year, including the three-day "Woodstock '99"extravaganza
While PPV-concert revenues continue to fall way short of
those generated by boxing and wrestling, PPV executives said the events do attract viewers
to PPV that may have not ordered in the past.
"Music can reach out to a very specific audience that
other events can't reach," Spring Communications president John Rubey said. "It
may not be a large audience, but they have a passion for the performer that makes them
want to order the event. And once that [addressable] box is in the house, there's an
opportunity to purchase more events."
Unlike the early years, when PPV was considered the primary
revenue source for a concert performance, industry observers said record labels are more
involved in developing PPV events. PPV is now considered a promotional tool to help sell
an artist's image and compact discs, as well as a relatively small but incremental revenue
"The expense of the Woodstock '99festival is
gargantuan, and the cost of mounting the event will far surpass the amount of money made
from PPV," Metropolitan Group executive vice president Jeff Rowland said.
"We're not relying on PPV to make or break the
festival, but it's a major part of the overall revenue picture, and we're putting a
multimillion-dollar promotional campaign behind PPV," Rowland added.
Warner Bros.' May PPV concert featuring pop group Matchbox
20 was also created primarily to drive record sales for the group, with PPV revenues seen
as a secondary revenue stream.
"We would be happy to get a strong buy-rate and see a
50,000-buy bump in record sales over a three-week period during and after the event,"
Warner Bros. executive vice president of domestic features and pay TV Eric Frankel said.
Warner Bros. also co-produces several other concert-type
programs for cable, including Russell Simmons'Oneworld Music Beat (Black
Entertainment Television) and Hard Rock Live (VH1).
For the music labels, televised stage performances also
provide more and differentiated exposure for the artists.
"I think the music industry is seeking out different
avenues for exposure beyond music videos, and they're beginning to realize the importance
of TV as a means to sell records," Frankel said. "The record labels are working
harder and harder to get their talent on the television and to try to get their artists on
BETTER EXPOSURE THAN A VIDEO
Even though the cost of producing and distributing a live
performance is substantially higher than that of developing a music video, Frankel said,
the return for a record label is greater because the promotion for such shows is much more
exaggerated and targeted than that for a video.
"A show may cost two times more than a video, but if
you can get a network to run that show several times and to put a significant amount of
promotion behind it, in the end, it provides more exposure for the artists," he
Taking it further, the live performance could even lead to
the development of a special recording, further boosting awareness and revenue for the
artists, the label and the network.
MTV: Music Television, for example, had several CD hits
from its Unplugged series, featuring such artists as Mariah Carey, Tony Bennett and
Eric Clapton. The last two won Grammy Awards.
VH1 is planning to release a CD based on its most recent Divas
concert, which featured Cher, Tina Turner, Brandy and Whitney Houston, Katz said. And
the network is co-producing a CD from an upcoming concert featuring disco-music queen
Donna Summer -- part of a live-to-tape concert performance it will air in June.
"That will happen more and more as we plan live
performances in the future," Katz said.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.