Dua Lipa’s Very Expensive Concert Is the Future of Livestreaming

Dua Lipa’s Thanksgiving-weekend Studio 2054 livestream was a smashing success: It drew five million viewers — a number that Lipa’s team says is a new record for livestreams — and brought a starry guest list that included Kylie Minogue and Elton John. Fans can definitely expect more livestreams from Lipa, her management team tells Rolling Stone.

But on a broader scale, Lipa’s show was also a highly successful guinea-pig case for the music business, which has been scrambling for nine months to design profitable alternatives to in-person concerts, as Covid-19 keeps live events at bay.

The concert was no small affair: Final calculations aren’t yet confirmed, but Lipa’s show, which was broadcast in territories across the world, cost upward of $1.5 million and took nearly five months to put together, says Ben Mawson, co-founder and co-CEO of Lipa’s management company TaP Music. While he wouldn’t give specifics on the concert’s gross, he says it was a profitable venture and that Lipa will do another livestream in the future regardless if in-person shows come back first. Mawson says ticket sales for Lipa’s upcoming Future Nostalgia tour also went up 70% after the virtual show aired.

“Even when touring comes back, I think this’ll be part of the new model,” Mawson says. “It’s a new creative form for live, and when it’s done right like I think Dua did, it works well. We’ll definitely do it again — when, we don’t know. Certainly for the rest of our artists, we’ll do more.”

While the team had previously reported 264,000 tickets sold, Mawson said the figure is actually at about 284,000. Tech platform Live-Now, which hosted the livestream, is selling tickets for fans to catch the recorded show until Sunday — so those numbers will likely go up further.

To make the concert more accessible, Lipa’s team set up partnerships with DSPs in areas where individual ticket purchases weren’t as practical. In India, which has a higher poverty rate than the U.S., Lipa’s team set up a deal with Gaana, the country’s most popular music streaming service, for the stream to air on its platform for free. In China, where government regulations for streaming and ticketing are tighter and more complicated, Lipa’s show streamed for free through Tencent. Both services paid substantially, Mawson says, without giving specific numbers. India had 95,000 viewers while China brought in nearly two million.

But Lipa’s stream underachieved in some territories, Mawson says, and he expects higher viewership and ticket sales numbers as the team gets a better handle on delivering to other global territories.

“This is a huge production for a one-off show, and we wanted to make it accessible to everybody around the world, and our marketing, ticketing, and partnerships reflect that goal,” says Wendy Ong, TaP Music’s president.

Lipa wasn’t immediately on board for the stream. She initially wanted to wait until she could come back to venues to perform in front of fans — but TaP’s strategy to develop the stream as more of a TV special than a simple livestream show changed her mind. “There’s been a lot of live shows we’ve seen online during lockdown that weren’t very exciting,” Ong says. “This was an attempt to be multidimensional, set build, have special guests, and have it shot in a way where it’s more like TV or a movie, and she was up for that.”

The show’s high viewership and ticket sales validate a new understanding in the live music industry: If artists and music companies want a lucrative virtual show, the concert has to be unique, and it could take a lot of cash. The $1.5 million for Lipa’s show even pales in comparison to what Kiss is shelling out, for example: The band’s upcoming decadent New Years Eve livestream in Dubai could run into the eight figures.

Booking agents have contended that livestreams can still be hit or miss, and that without good marketing and a willingness to spend, they may not work. The early months of Covid lockdown saw plenty of casual, low-overhead livestreams; now, with the market saturated, bigger artists who are jumping onto the trend late have to bring their budgets with them.

TaP — which also represents artists including Lana Del Rey, Ellie Goulding and Hailee Steinfeld — had already been dipping into livestreaming prior to Lipa’s show. The company booked Dermot Kennedy’s show at the Natural History Museum in London, while Goulding’s show was at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

“The way we’re approaching it is to satisfy the most skeptical fans that this is going to be an incredible experience,” Ong says. “If we didn’t go maxed out on production value, guests, locations or whatever that added value may be… [it wouldn’t] convince fans to buy in and tune in. Otherwise, they’re just watching a normal music video at home.”

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