Cable Operators

Premium Nets Take the Stage

4/25/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Premium cable networks like HBO and Epix
will give viewers in their living rooms a front-row pass to
concerts from hot acts like Lady Gaga and Usher in 2011,
but network executives say such big-ticket pay TV concert
telecasts are more single-note entities than a harmonizing
trend.

The advent of concert clips on YouTube and other Web
outlets have helped short-circuit what was a vibrant
period for televised concerts on pay cable and pay-perview
in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Still, executives are
hoping that unique, one-time-only concert specials can
still drum up significant viewership.

“We’re always about original voices and being a champion
for artists,” HBO Entertainment president Sue Naegle
said. “For us, it’s an event — [Lady Gaga] is incredibly
unique, and it’s something that’s great for our subscribers.
Lady Gaga feels very much like our brand.”

HBO’s Lady Gaga Presents The Monster Ball Tour: At
Madison Square Garden
concert event and Epix’s fall concert
featuring R&B hit-maker Usher are the only two music
concerts scheduled for pay cable
for the rest of 2011. Showtime,
which in the mid-2000s aired
concerts featuring Eminem, Usher
and Britney Spears, has all but
walked away from that business.

Even fewer big-ticket pay-perview
concert events are slated,
even though live music — along
with boxing and pro wrestling
— dominated the PPV category
in the 1990s. Mark Boccardi, senior
vice president of programming
and business development
for In Demand said the company
very rarely gets pitched for PPV
concerts because of the potentially
poor revenue prospects due to
the emergence of user-generated
websites like YouTube, where music
fans can post and watch clips of their favorite artists in
concert for free.

“The consumer appetite
for paying for it
on TV just doesn’t exist
any more,” Boccardi
said. “If I go to
Google or YouTube
and type in ‘U2 concert,’
I would bet, over
the course of six or
seven different clips,
I could watch an entire
concert’s worth of
content. The quality
may not be as good as
watching it on your
HDTV, but for a lot of
people that might be
good enough.”

Recently, basiccable
networks have
somewhat filled the
premium concer t
void. Music-themed
networks like Fuse,
Pal ladia HD and
on-demand service
Concert TV are consistently
offering live
performances to music
fans.

Fuse has used its
synergies with owner
Madison Square Garden
— which owns the
midtown Manhattan
arena, as well as New
York’s Beacon Theater
and Radio City Music
Hall — to air live concerts
featuring such
performers as Jay-Z,
Elton John and Leon
Russell, Drake and
Maroon 5.

This past February,
the network aired a
live Linkin Park concert
and is expected
to distribute “a minimum”
of two more music events before the end of the year.
Fuse executive vice president and general manager Dave
Clark said the network’s live Fuse Presents concerts have
hit a ratings high note for the network, although he would
not disclose specific audience numbers.

“Whether it’s a trend is a good question, but certainly
they’ve been successful for us,” he said. “You’re seeing that
live performances are much more important to the artists
than they were 10 to 15 years ago.”

Clark added that the network’s live concert telecasts not
only boost viewership but also increase traffic on social
media sites as people talk about what they’re watching,
although he would not reveal specific figures.

“In television, live is the sweet spot — it’s DVR-proof,
and you have the ability to take advantage of social media,”
he said. “It works magically for live concerts — you’re
never going to have a more passionate audience and you
can just watch Twitter and Facebook blow up around your
show, which just drives more tune-in.”

On the premium side, newcomer Epix has taken the concert
stage. It has televised four live-to-tape concerts over its
18-month existence featuring such artists as Madonna, The
Black Eyed Peas, Kings of Leon and Bon Jovi. The network
recently announced it will air an Usher concert this fall.

Not only do concerts play well on the premium channel,
executive vice president and chief of staff Nora Ryan
said, but they also perform strongly on cable on-demand
platforms and the network’s EpixHD.com website. Concerts
are consistently among the top 10 most-watched ondemand
off erings for Epix, she said.

“Music concerts perform very differently across the various
platforms,” she said. “They have an evergreen appeal,
but they hold consistent usage over time.”

HBO, which in 2009 aired the multi-performer shows
We Are One — The Inaugural Concert and The 25th Anniversary
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert
, said it continues
to listen to pitches for other music events, but will only
consider future shows on an event-by-event basis.

“I think it depends on the concert — concerts are popular,
but not everyone gets to go to them,” she said. “I
wouldn’t say it’s something we’re doing more or less of …
we take it on an individual basis.”

March