Live Music on TV Is Experiencing Something of a Golden Age | Adweek Live Music on TV Is Experiencing Something of a Golden Age | Adweek
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Live Music on TV Is Experiencing Something of a Golden Age

Awards shows by the numbers

Despite our fragmented, on-demand media landscape, live televised music events—from the to the Billboard Music Awards to the Super Bowl halftime show—are experiencing something of a golden age. These and other high-profile music broadcasts are enjoying a serious comeback, with socially connected viewers tuning in and sponsors like Pepsi, Chevrolet and Samsung signing on for what have become some of the buzziest moments in all of entertainment.

“These types of shows are really experiencing a renaissance of sorts,” notes Brad Adgate, svp of research at Horizon Media. “If you went back five or six years ago, you felt some of these music awards shows were going the same way as beauty pageants, becoming less and less popular, particularly with young viewers.”

Not anymore. NBC, American Express and YouTube have all launched live music events, muscling their way onto an already crowded platform—and all are driven by the promise of brand exposure, social chatter and massive audience numbers.

Take this year’s Grammy Awards, which on Jan. 26 drew an average 28.5 million viewers, making it one of the venerable broadcast’s best showings in decades. Those eyeballs paid off big for CBS, which charged advertisers as much as $1 million for a 30-second spot. All told, ad revenue for the Grammys—which boasts the second-largest TV audience of any awards show, second only to the Academy Awards—more than doubled between 2010 and 2013, to $67.2 million, per Kantar Media. In fact, the Grammys are closing in on top dog the Oscars, whose ad haul for ABC was an estimated $88.3 million last year.

The Grammys aren’t alone. Last year, a roster of televised awards shows—including the Academy of Country Music Awards, the American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards and the Country Music Association Awards—all enjoyed their biggest audiences in years. (The Academy of Country Music Awards, the American Music Awards and the Billboard Music Awards are produced by dick clark productions, which, along with Adweek, is owned by owned by affiliates of Guggenheim Partners.)

The success of this programming is all the more notable given the continued erosion of overall viewership for scripted television. “Live events are popular with advertisers because you’re less likely to time-shift, and [more likely to] see the ads in real time,” points out Adgate. “Marketers are not going to be as shy about putting some of their budget on these types of shows for those reasons.”

What’s more, the popularity of these shows and their standout moments (like Miley’s twerk) on social networks has proved a boon to brands looking to extend their messages beyond the first screen. The Grammys netted 13.8 million Twitter mentions around the broadcast, per Nielsen SocialGuide, with a peak of 143,000 tweets per minute during the Kendrick Lamar-Imagine Dragons performance. (By comparison, the season premiere of AMC’s mega hit The Walking Dead this past February drew 15.8 million viewers and generated 1.24 million tweets, with a peak rate of 41,011 per minute.)

 

To further drive home the point, four music awards shows—the AMAs, the CMAs, the Grammys and the BET Hip Hop Awards—were among the top 20 programs for Twitter mentions overall in the period between Sept. 23, 2013 and March 10, 2014, per SocialGuide. Music awards shows are “a special type of program, a uniquely social experience for the audience,” says Nielsen vp Deirdre Bannon. “When you look at the size of those Twitter audiences, they’re really big numbers, and they’re meaningful to advertisers. … You can also reach large groups of people who are engaging around the program in social media.” (In general, music is a strongly social topic—the No. 1 most-discussed topic on Twitter in the U.S., to be precise. Meanwhile, music videos are the most-shared videos online, according to Unruly Media.)

Naturally, social has become a big part of the draw for sponsors. For the MTV Video Music Awards last August, parent Viacom teamed up with Twitter to coordinate deals for advertisers such as Pepsi, packaging additional content and sponsorship through Viacom’s Twitter channels and tying in paid promotion through Twitter ads. Thanks in part to the effort, the 2013 telecast claimed record revenue—even though the show ultimately drew fewer viewers (10.1 million) than the record 12.4 million in 2011. (The 2013 installment did break the network’s records for digital views and livestreams.)

 

(When it comes to packing in audiences, TV may actually be better for Twitter than the other way around. SocialGuide’s minute-by-minute study of Twitter chatter for a cross-section of programming—including sports, comedy, drama, competitive reality series and a handful of live awards shows—found that 29 percent of the time Twitter drove consumers to the telecast while 41 percent of the time TV spurred Twitter activity. As Bannon puts it, “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”)

Twitter buzz around live events might actually be of greatest benefit to those advertisers that are not marquee sponsors of the events or those dropping millions on traditional TV spots.

Spurred by Oreo’s Twitter success during the blackout in the 2013 Super Bowl, marketers of all stripes have been flocking to social networks during major telecast events, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Arby’s stole the show at this year’s Grammy Awards with a timely Twitter zinger about the resemblance of Pharrell Williams’ Vivienne Westwood-designed 10-gallon hat to the fast-food chain’s logo. Pharrell and the hat became the story that just wouldn’t end. Both Arby’s and the artist milked the linkup for all it was worth, with Arby’s ultimately shelling out $44,000 to buy the hat to benefit Pharrell’s charity. “Brands that find clever ways to use these moments are looking for an opportunity to break through and connect to both passion and plot,” says Lee Maicon, svp of strategy at digital agency 360i. “It’s about being in the right place at the right time with the right idea.”

While Arby’s also ran local TV spots in more than a dozen markets including Birmingham, Ala., during this year’s Grammys, it didn’t invest in a national ad buy. The company has estimated that it would have required $30 million in paid media to get the attention it earned off just one tweet. In fact, that tweet was so successful at capturing the on-the-fly marketing zeitgeist, it spawned an eyebrow-raising kaleidoscope of meta marketing in the form of retweets from other brands, among them Pepsi.

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