Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Adding dollar value to virtual shows: so close but so far

Published:Wednesday | November 18, 2020 | 12:17 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Dufton ‘Duffy’ Shepherd.
Dufton ‘Duffy’ Shepherd.
Cordel ‘Skatta’ Burrell
Cordel ‘Skatta’ Burrell
Christopher ‘Johnny’ 
Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley

The live-streaming of performances is not a new concept, but until now, the practice has not been a significant alternative to the live show economy in Jamaica and the wider, global entertainment industry.

Several key players in the music and theatre arts communities, including the likes of FAME 95FM with its Fame Frequency party series, Reggae Sumfest, comedians Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley and Dufton ‘Duffy’ Shepherd, among many others, recording artistes and vloggers have ventured into the virtual realm to create an experience for their audience – which has not been an easy feat, says Daley.

When the popular media personality and frontman of Johnny Live Productions decided to launch the comedy bar live series, the aim was to use the physical space where persons would pay at the gate or purchase tickets and support the bar, he explained in a recent JaRIA Reggae Open University online forum on the opportunities and pitfalls of ‘Monetizing Livestreams in COVID times’. Daley said it ended up being a reinvestment as more and more persons chose to self-isolate and then, with the entertainment industry on lockdown.

Speaking to The Gleaner about his reinvestment, he said, “I had to reinvest in the space as a studio, not only for my shows, but to offer the space for persons who wanted to explore the idea of doing virtual shows. It was either we lay down and die, while the brand fades away, or do something to keep up our presence and hope things get better sooner than later.”

He says he can produce the show at a reasonable quality, but the challenge lies partially in the marketing of the show, and then in the monetisation of the live-streams.

“To open the income stream opportunities we have to record shows or go live and make linkages with other companies, but we do not have enough marketing; while we can muster up a budget, there is not enough funding to promote to a wide cross section, locally and overseas because we have to really look into the diaspora that is used to spending online,” he said.

“Fewer than 100 persons from the diaspora may support at any one time, and you have to reach a wide audience before garnering those numbers. Locally now, there is the issue of only a limited number has access to credit cards, so you start treating the audience personally, giving them access to banking information in trying to find a way to sell tickets and sharing links to them, to watch the show.”


For larger shows, “treating the audience personally” is not a feasible or practical option. Other elements which play a role in the success of live-streaming virtual shows, shared by other panellists in the JaRIA-hosted online forum, such as Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire, artiste manager and event producer Carleene Samuels, and marketing and public relations specialist Tara Playfair-Scott were accessibility to the Internet before even touching on access to secure payment mediums, building the audience and in doing so, understanding the behaviour of the audience by gender, country and time of consumption of online content.

One of Hennessy Artistry’s curators, Ewan Campbell, said that not all events are received well enough virtually to be economically viable for a brand. “Most virtual shows we have been seeing from our end have been on a donation basis, and the money that comes in is oftentimes for charity, which is more of a brand marketing exercise.” He says that the models online do not allow for practical revenue.

“If I were to be brutally honest, while the production of profitable virtual shows is possible, it will not happen sooner, but later, when we have developed the right model and relationships with the entertainers who people are paying to see. The access to them and cost of booking them also play a major role,” he added.

As part of the Reggae Sumfest team, Cordel ‘Skatta’ Burrell gave insight into the event’s free virtual staging which replaced the original ticketed version, noting that, “It was mostly to fill a gap; to provide entertainment and employment for industry professionals, not about bringing in earnings.”

The music producer and marketing strategist told The Gleaner, “There is not much of an experience to be had sitting in front of a screen,” adding that the marketing that goes into attracting a broad audience “increases the investment and expenses and limits the possibility of earning, but if that’s the alternative we are left with, it is something worth exploring.”

Burrell added, “As far as monetising virtual shows, in particular, live concerts, in the current cultural landscape in Jamaica, there has to be a different scope to get the local diaspora interested in spending US$15, $10 or even $5 because it is all about the experience.”

The estimated views of ‘A Taste of Reggae Sumfest’ between July 24 to 26 was 3.5 million across social media platforms and YouTube. “The idea of virtual shows can do well if it is packaged properly and placed on platforms such as Netflix or on a pay per view basis,” Burrell explained.

Adding a monetary value to live shows in a virtual space, when it was not necessarily the norm as it relates to selling tickets, is another hurdle that local promoters will have to jump over.

“I am sure we will find creative ways of making it work to take it to the next level, depending on how 2021 pans out, but right now, any production of a virtual concert is an investment that does not [have a] return for the producers,” he said.