Live Music Tech: Interview with Nate Parienti of iClips.net
iClips.net has been webcasting and streaming live events for several years now, but it seems like the site has begun to really pick up steam in the last few years, particularly with its heavy focus on the music festival scene in the U.S. As the live music streaming space continues to grow and evolve, we thought it might be a good time catch-up with the folks at iClips.net.
I recently touched base with Nate Parienti, the man who founded the site and continues to lead the team over at iClips. Enjoy.
Live Music Blog’s Interview with Nate Parienti of iClips.net:
Business model & strategy
MW: Can you tell us a bit about the overall iClips business model?
NP: Our business model since day one has always been based on advertising and sponsorship revenue but what we’re increasingly realizing is that additional elements also need to be added to the model, especially in this economic climate. So we are increasingly looking more towards Pay Per View broadcasts, subscription models, and syndication. We’ve just completed several syndication deals in the last few days with a couple of very large media companies, which we will be announcing soon.
MW: It seems like you guys have been experimenting more with a paid/premium model lately. I’ve seen some recent examples like Umphreys McGee (for $5/show) and the Summer Camp festival and Mountain Jam festivals (for $19.69/day or $29.99 for the whole weekend). Has this strategy been successful?
NP: Well we actually did our first Pay Per View event back in February of 2007 with Yonder Mountain String Band so its not an entirely new strategy, and it is becoming more and more successful as we educate our consumers as to why we are charging them to see content that they became used to seeing for free. What people have to understand is that it costs us a lot of money to shoot all of this content, especially big festivals where we are covering three and four stages and we shoot all of those stages typically with five cameras — that’s a lot of crew to send out on the road all summer long. We have trucks and vans and a lot of associated travel expenses not to mention all of the equipment that it takes as well as bandwidth and satellite fees. People may not think about this but in order to get a signal out of the woods in the middle of nowhere we have to send that signal up via satellite. It all costs an enormous amount of money. That being said we are still trying to strike the proper balance with our pricing structures, if you’re paying $10 to see 1 band on 1 night, it seems appropriate that $19 is a fair price to see a full day’s worth of music with 10-12 bands, and then we discount that pretty significantly to $30 if you purchase the whole weekend upfront. $30 is about the price of an official t-shirt at most festivals or concerts. Additionally, once you purchase the stream it gives you access to the VOD of the content for an extended period of time. We’re also looking at various ways to tweak this model, but you will notice in the coming weeks as we make some announcements that for the bulk of the summer the LIVE content will be free and then we will be offering the VOD on a PPV basis probably with a downloadable upgrade. We are also considering various options in terms of a subscription model. July and August will definitely be VERY busy months for iClips, we’ve got a GREAT lineup of Festivals!
MW: Do you have any other upcoming premium webcasts?
NP: The next premium broadcast will be Eric Church in Nashville for three nights June 11-13th for a very special run of shows in an intimate setting. You can read about that here.
MW: What about Ads? Are you looking at expanding beyond display/text ads to offer pre-roll advertising?
NP: Absolutely, that is coming soon. We’re also experimenting with different ways to make our advertising less obtrusive and more relevant to what the user is currently watching.
MW: Do you plan to use ads in video players to support your free option?
NP: We would love to be able to offer everything free, so the more advertising potential that we can create the better. On the other hand, we want to keep the look and feel of the user experience clean, so there is definite balance between having content that is advertising and sponsorship driven without causing too much clutter on the web site and video player.
MW: Who do you consider to be your competitors in this space? What are you doing to differentiate iClips from other online concert webcasting services?
NP: AT&T Blueroom used to be our biggest competitor but AT&T has restructured what they are doing in the music space and the Blueroom is no longer active. Actually, there’s no else that’s doing what we’re doing at least on the festival front. In fact, I’d say there are very few companies who are actually capturing as much raw music content as we are. Literally we’re filming thousands and thousands of hours of music.
MW: You guys are now on twitter, youtube, facebook and myspace. Have these social nets helped you expand the iClips business? If so, how?
NP: Sure, those are all helpful tools, our Youtube channel feeds a lot of traffic back to us as we typically put promotional clips into our channel and then those fans come over to iClips to watch the full shows. Twitter and Facebook are both great tools in real time messaging and letting fans know what is happening at that very second.
MW: Real-time seems to be all the rage these days. Given that you offer real-time (or slightly-delayed) webcasts from festivals and concerts, do you foresee any ways of integrating the online audiences with those that are actually at the show?
NP: That is something that I am actively working on in a number of different and unique capacities. There is a whole other part of iClips that no one has seen yet but should launch in private beta within the year and it will be pretty awesome!
Logistics and on-site process
MW: Tell us a about what all goes into filming a large festival like Mountain Jam or Summer Camp. Is it a logistical nightmare? Any funny or crazy stories you can share?
NP: We have serious war stories! We have had to dig trenches (military crawl style) under our production truck that was slowly sinking in the ground and we went through 4 different tow trucks to get it out. One of our guys had to literally chew his way through ethernet wire to get the broadcasting going at Echo Project in 2007. There was a time we had to “fly” cables over a busy downtown street in Tulsa at D-Fest before shooting the Flaming Lips. We’ve braved lots of weather! Notably a terrible storm last year at Summercamp which cut the broadcast and broke down the equipment, so we jumped in a golf cart and drove around trying to find internet signal while the rest of the festival was being evacuated! We also were shut down basically by a hurricane at Langerado last year that completely took out our satellite, we literally had to fly someone in from Los Angeles on a red eye with replacement parts! So it really is every bit as much of a nightmare as you might think and then multiplied by about 1,000! Fortunately we are blessed with the hardest working road crew in the business. Jay Blakesberg, Danny Clark, Brenton Henry, Conway McDonald-O’Lear, Drew Wilson, Sharif Musaji, Victor Sujaritpinij, Mark Wiley, Wes Petty, Miles Schmidt, Andy Trost, Zach Houser, and Joe Kleuh. We also have excellent support back home with Carol, who is somewhat famous with our fans as she is pretty much 24/7 in the live support and chat boards as well as Perrin who does most of the heavy programming work. These are the guys and girls who really make everything happen. They are at all the events, they truck the equipment around the country, they load it in, set it up, tear it down, shoot, edit, haul cables, and every other odd job that needs to be done. These folks work through blazing sun, driving rain, clouds of dust, thick mud, and every other element that you can think of. They’re a tremendous asset to us and they never fail to get the job done. Logistically its crazy, we’re setting up on multiple stages, running tapes and hard drives back and forth, editing on the fly, broadcasting live and doing it all under extremely adverse conditions. Any time you are dealing with a live broadcast its difficult but when you throw in all the craziness of a festival it gets pretty insane.
MW: How did iClips start?
NP: I really wanted to be able to broadcast great live content that you wouldn’t typically see on TV, to a broad audience. We also want to bring the experience of a music festival or concert to folks that can’t make it to the actual event. And we try and show it as raw and real as the experience really is as opposed to the over-produced television broadcasts of music that have been more prevalent in the past.
Types of bands/genres
MW: Do you feel that you’ve been more successful with the more improv-heavy touring bands (Lotus, Gov’t Mule, Umphreys McGee, Disco Biscuits, etc…)? If so, was this a result of a specific strategy or more because of personal/business connections?
NP: We’re trying to show as diverse of a line up of music as possible. But the improv-heavy touring artists are typically the hardest working acts in music, they’re usually generating most of their revenue from touring so they are just simply playing more shows as well as shows that are usually different every night so fans will tune in on successive nights in a row because they know that they will see a different show every night.
MW: Is there anything you can tell us about the future of iClips? Any new offerings or plans for expansion?
NP: Absolutely, there is a lot of new content and further diversification on the horizon; sports, speaker series, films, wrestling, MMA, etc. You can see some of the earliest signs of that now with Celebrity Boxing, the Real Deal in the Rock High School Basketball Tournament, Amy Vs. Joy wrestling event, and the recent Evolver: Towards 2013 Event. We also have plans for a re-launch of the website with a broader scope of functionality that includes a social networking platform, new interactive online applications that act like television stations for your favorite events, genres and artists. It’s a lot of fun and there will be a lot of new offerings coming soon. We’re really excited about the continued expansion and growth of iClips overall and I think that our fans will be pretty excited about all of the new changes as well!
MW: Thanks again for your time.
Big thanks to Nate for answering our questions. It’ll be interesting to see how iClips grows and what kind of new strategies they employ along the way.
Though I understand why Nate might not be able to share the details, I’d still be curious to hear how successful the paid offerings have been. For example, is it profitable for band like Umphrey’s McGee considering all the costs of filming and hosting? How many people does this tier of band have to get at the $5 price point to break even? It seems like the pay-per-view model might work with some bigger bands (maybe a Phish or DMB) or slightly larger festivals, particularly if they could garner some decent sponsors and/or ad revenue.
Also, I imagine it’s difficult to compete with the likes of AT&T’s Blueroom, which is not only free but is definitely still offering occasional webcasts contrary to Nate’s assertion above (we just saw one for Bonnaroo a few weeks ago). To Nate’s credit, the Bueroom seems to have taken a step back in terms of its big push for lots of new content, but I am sure they will continue to cover the large festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Lollapalooza. And with the free price tag, that makes it a tough competitor.
The “real-time” approach we touched on above is really where I think iClips can innovate and build an even more compelling and successful site. After witnessing the recent onslaught of online coverage and interaction around the Phish’s June tour, it’s not difficult to see the potential for combining live streaming video and real-time social media commentary/coverage of live events. If iClips could stream festivals and shows, and the fans at home could interact via social media with the fans sending updates FROM THE SHOW, that certainly would up the ante in my book.
Whatever the future holds, we certainly hope iClips will continue to successfully stream great live music events straight to our computer screens.
WHITperson -- aka Marc Whitman or simply "Whit" -- is a long-time LMB contributor known for his in-depth posting style and his knack for crafting interesting podcasts. Whit currently resides in Brooklyn, where he's building up his web development chops and hoping to put his technical skills towards something interesting in the music world. Follow his updates over at whitperson.com and on twitter @whitperson.
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