Phish Friday: An Open Letter to Phish and Red Light Management

Phish @ Jones Beach | June 2, 2009

We Need a High-Quality Paid Webcast for Phish Concerts

After witnessing the evolving and ever-expanding online activity surrounding Phish’s recent reunion tour, I’m now thoroughly convinced that the Phish fan base is primed and ready for a high-quality and paid live video stream for the band’s next tour. If done properly and in innovative Phish fashion, it could create an untapped revenue stream for the band while allowing more Phish fans to engage with the band’s music – in particular those fans that can’t make it out to every show on tour.

Given the band’s recent history of wanting to scale down their in-house operations, I could see why you might think that a large-scale paid webcast would not be worth the large investment and effort it most certainly would require. But it’d be wrong to think so. There are some very compelling reasons why this should happen now and why Phish is the band to do it.

Phish, Red Light Management, please hear us out. We’ve really thought this one through…

Phish Fans Are Primed, Hungry and Creating Their Own Options
The key here is that this new viewing option would serve the fans who are not at the show, but who are just as engaged in the online coverage and setlist updates happening around the show.

I really think something special happened with all the online coverage and activity that emerged this Spring/Summer when he band reunited and did a full summer tour. From the initial reunion shows at Hampton in March through to the days/weeks following the band’s final show at SPAC, we saw numerous new sites spring up that helped feed into the online scene following the band on each night of the tour. In this day of Facebook, Twitter and social media mash-ups, Phish fans have really stepped up their game from the likes of PhantasyTour and Phish.net. We’ve taken advantage of all the technology and social media tools available to us and created some new online spaces for fans to congregate and dig into the band’s activity. Here are just a few of the new online options that recently sprouted up in honor of Phish’s reunion:

Phish Social Media Mash-ups:
Jamtopia’s PhishTwit
PhishTube
Hoodstream
PhuTube
JamBase’s Summer Tour site

Phish blogs:
Mr Miner’s Phish Thoughts
YEMblog
Dog Gone Blog

And of course, Phish’s own 3.0 coverage:
Phish on Twitter
Phish on Flickr

Plus with YouTube, Vimeo and a number of other online video sites, Phish fans have tons of options for online videos from the band’s summer tour. In fact, the Ustream mash-ups above — Phishtube and Hoodstream — are prime examples of why the band really needs to consider offering webcasts…if they don’t fans will continue to figure out ways to do it themselves (albeit with much lower quality of video and audio).

Either way, I think it’s clear that Phish fans are very hungry for more online media to consume. And, while the band’s own online coverage has been stellar thus far, nothing can really compare to high-quality live video from the show itself.

The Precedent Has Already Been Set…By Phish!
Some folks out there may have missed or just forgotten the Summer of 2004 (I wouldn’t blame you if you did or if you wanted to). While I remember some great shows from Alpine Valley, I also vividly remember heading out to some random Cineplex in the Northern Burbs of Chicago to attend a Phish Simulcast from the band’s Brooklyn show at Keyspan Park. If Phish can get a bunch of random heads to congregate into shitty suburban multiplexes at $15-20/head (price?), you’d think it’d be pretty easy to amass a much larger audience online.

Also, although the band has already set their own precedent with these cinematic simulcasts, over the past five years since then, we’ve seen a much wider expansion of concert and festival webcasts from sites like iClips.net, AT&T’s Blueroom, and most recently from larger online video sites like Hulu and YouTube.

An Untapped Market and An Evolving Fan Base
We all know the band has an enormous and insatiable fan following, with fans willing to travel the ends of the earth to see this band live. But what about the hordes of fans who DON’T get to every show? I had friends who hit every show on the West Coast this summer, but for various (and obvious) reasons, they didn’t hit any of the shows on the East Coast. Not just that, but what about fans who have kids or demanding jobs and can’t really pull off going to a show on a random Tuesday these days? Let’s face it, Phish’s fans have gotten older. And more and more, there will be fans that can no longer consistently go on the road for entire tours or even do multi-night runs of shows. Not only that, but what about the fans who simply aren’t able to afford or obtain tickets to a sold out show?

Instead of losing these folks out to PhishTube or having them spend the show watching setlist updates on Twitter, why not give them another option? All of these extra fans make up an untapped market of fans for each concert on the bands tour. Some of these fans may not be so rabid as to completely reorganize their lives around the band’s tour schedule, but they’re still engaged and they’d certainly be willing to drop some cash on a high-quality video stream.

Webcasts Could Be Bigger, Better and More Scalable
Simulcasts are so web 1.0…brah. The cinematic simulcasts were cool and all, but an online stream could potentially be so much better (more on this below). More importantly, the simulcasts were limited. They were only available in certain theaters, to a limited number of fans, and only so many fans were willing to make the trek to the local Cineplex.

And here’s where the webcast option really opens things up….it provides scale. The only limits are bandwidth and what fans are willing to pay. Plus, it’s potentially a much more direct source of revenue for the band than anything involving a few movie theatres throughout the country.

Watch Phish Live From Your Living Room
If fans are willing to congregate at their local cineplexes to pay for a concert webcast in a movie theater, putting that stream into their homes should really be the next logical step. Once you give these fans an high-quality option to watch a show from the comfort of their own homes, the possibilities expand dramatically. Just imagine the potential for “webcast viewing parties!” Hell, the band could play into it by running a contest to encourage and sponsor viewing parties throughout the country.

Features, Logistics and Other Considerations:
Of course, if you’re going to do this, you’ve got to do it right. In order to do this in fine Phish fashion it would need to include something a bit more innovative. A few thoughts:

How About Multiple Viewing Options?
I have no idea if this has ever been offered in a webcast, but it certainly should be. Instead of just providing a single view, why not give fans alternate viewing options? Give fans the ability to select different vantage points or camera angles, so they can better customize their viewing experience. Can you imagine it?

A couple quick scenarios:
–”Dude, wow, Mike is laying down a seriously funky groove, switch over so we can watch him”
–”Wait, which pedal is Trey using to get that weird “whale call” sound? Oh, it’s that Whammy pedal thing. Cool.”
–”I wonder what the band gets to see while they’re rockin’ out?? Switch to the cam behind them….sweet!”

And on and on.

Include Social Media to Bring the Online and In-Venue Worlds One Step Closer
Of course, in this day and age of social media this and twitter that, you’ve got to integrate some social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, so fans can easily link to their status updates and spread the streaming links/commentary out to the rest of the web. At this point, that’s probably a bit of a no-brainer. But how it could play out during the show makes it a bit more interesting. This is because it creates two distinct audiences watching the show, with everyone having the ability to update their social net statuses in real-time, while watching the concert. While much of this is activity is already taking place, adding the webcast in the mix exponentially expands the audience that’s commenting while they’re actually watching the show.

Offer An “All in Pass”
You want to really feed the obsessive fan? Why not offer an “all-in” pass for the entire tour of webcasts or other related packages? It’s not like there’s limited space in the Pavilion for the at-home viewers. Let us subscribe to a high-quality stream at a decent price and many of us will go all in. Oh, and we’ll probably buy other shit too (digital downloads, merch, etc…).

Okay, Those Are the Pros, But What Are the Cons?
Given all of the compelling reasons I’ve laid out above, I think the final question is what are some reasons not to do it? Here are some possible considerations:

Wouldn’t It Hurt Ticket Sales?
I could definitely see some promoters and managers throwing this one out there: “Won’t it cannibalize ticket sales?” For some other band, this could potentially happen. But for Phish, this is nonsense. For Phish fans, nothing compares to being at the live show. Although a high-quality webcast might be the next best thing, it would never replace the show as the one true way to enjoy this band in its element. As such, I firmly believe the fan base is ready and willing to pay for this, and that offering it will not affect concert ticket sales in the slightest.

It’s Already in the Works
Of course, one possibility is that you guys already have a webcast in the works and nobody outside of Phish and Red Light knows about it. We’ve heard a rumor of a webcast for Festival 8, but we’ve not seen anything official just yet. Until we do, I’m going to keep pushing on this.

It’s Too Big an Operation for the Smaller Phish Organization of 2009
As many of us know, one of the reasons that led to the band’s downfall in ’04 was the sheer weight and largess of the overall Phish organization. Thus, it’s very possible the band just simply does not want to create another large line of business requiring more overhead, effort, and attention. But it doesn’t have to be handled that way.

Logistics and Possible Partners
The costs and logistics for a concert webcast are no small consideration. Although I know Phish could pull off a solid in-house operation, it might make sense to consider a partner for the technology and logistical issues. Luckily there are some good options:

iClips.net is already successfully running concert and festival streams. Although the site is still building up its audience and its technical capabilities, it had a big summer, covering a number of major U.S. music festivals, including All Points West, Lollapalooza, Mile High, Rothbury and Virgin Fest, among others.

YouTube
With its very recent forays into live webcasts, YouTube might serve as a larger, more substantial option for partnership.

Hulu
Hulu is another major partner that could take on a band like Phish for webcasts. Although their most recent webcast was actually a syndication of the iClips stream, they could definitely provide a much larger broadcast platform for the band and its fans.

Sponsor It
Given the potential size of this online audience, the opportunities to include online sponsors are also good. Potential sponsors might include companies like Netflix or Amazon (with their new Boxee app), that are trying to connect streaming web video to the living room TV set. They could promote and educate consumers on connecting their HD TV to their computer’s live stream, while sponsoring the contest above. Of course, although Phish wouldn’t necessarily need a sponsor. It just might be a good partnership to help spread out the costs and generate a bit more of a promotional push.

Ultimately, whether or not there’s a partner involved wouldn’t make that much of a difference to fans. We just want more Phish. And that really should be the bottom line for the band and management.

To re-cap:

  • It’s a win win, creating a new stream of revenue and expanding the possible market for the band’s music.
  • It feeds the obsession, giving fans yet another way to connect to the band’s live show.
  • If created in innovative fashion, it could push the envelope and redefine the live concert experience.
  • If there is any band that can pull this off, it is Phish.

So…Mr. Capshaw, Mr. Coulton, Trey, Mike, Page, Fish, and everyone else in the current Phish organization, what do you think? Can we make this happen?

Warmest Regards,

Sir Marcus Whitperson, Esq.
Lead Webcast Evangelationist

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.
  • Harry hood

    How about those of us who have been capturing phish for years on video? It would be great is Phish decided to tap the many resources of us that have been following them aroud and capturing them for years and not some fad that holds a phone in the air.

    I’m all for it one way or the other and I think iClips does any awesome job and would support them without a question.

  • Joe

    Save the video for special shows, but let us have an audio stream at every show. This can easily be done.

  • Joe

    Save the video for special shows, but let us have an audio stream at every show. This can easily be done.

  • Posterus Nutbagus

    i think the issue of scalability needs to be addressed more. thats where the true economics set in and where the revenue stream can come from.

  • Posterus Nutbagus

    i think the issue of scalability needs to be addressed more. thats where the true economics set in and where the revenue stream can come from.

  • whitperson

    Thanks to everyone above for all the comments so far.

    It was really great to see BurningDervish chime in with some insight into the costs/logistics of webcasting a show (in general). As he said, the venue’s video feed is easy to capture and not all that costly to stream out to the web. And, as I mentioned above, it really becomes an issue of bandwidth and what fans are willing to pay.

    Ultimately — and maybe unfortunately – whether or not this actually happens comes down to the band and how they feel about putting themselves out there for the entire world to see. I’m absolutely positive they’ve been pitched on this plenty of times before. So they may not want to go there just yet (or ever).

    Of course, part of my reason for writing this was to try to convince them with a bit more thought and analysis, but who knows if that’s really what would be stopping them.

    Either way, it was fun to geek out on this topic for a while.

    Cheers, mw

  • whitperson

    Thanks to everyone above for all the comments so far.

    It was really great to see BurningDervish chime in with some insight into the costs/logistics of webcasting a show (in general). As he said, the venue’s video feed is easy to capture and not all that costly to stream out to the web. And, as I mentioned above, it really becomes an issue of bandwidth and what fans are willing to pay.

    Ultimately — and maybe unfortunately – whether or not this actually happens comes down to the band and how they feel about putting themselves out there for the entire world to see. I’m absolutely positive they’ve been pitched on this plenty of times before. So they may not want to go there just yet (or ever).

    Of course, part of my reason for writing this was to try to convince them with a bit more thought and analysis, but who knows if that’s really what would be stopping them.

    Either way, it was fun to geek out on this topic for a while.

    Cheers, mw

  • Andrew Justice

    Excellent message and well-written–I say we make a petition!

  • Andrew Justice

    Excellent message and well-written–I say we make a petition!

  • Jeremy Gordon

    Another point that should be considered is cannibalizing future DVD sales.
    In the future as the band members age, Phish will slow down again and stop touring, at that point the main income for the band will come from DVD sales (or whatever the future format is)
    Of course the fan captured webstreams will never be as good as the official released, hi-def 5.1 sound, Blue-ray, Disney 3D, DVD with smell-o-vision (umm strike that last part), but there is a point of diminishing returns if your fanbase has oodles and oodles of video.
    At what point do you stop making a profit on those releases? This seems to be a problem the Grateful Dead have run into, in recent years.

  • Jeremy Gordon

    Another point that should be considered is cannibalizing future DVD sales.
    In the future as the band members age, Phish will slow down again and stop touring, at that point the main income for the band will come from DVD sales (or whatever the future format is)
    Of course the fan captured webstreams will never be as good as the official released, hi-def 5.1 sound, Blue-ray, Disney 3D, DVD with smell-o-vision (umm strike that last part), but there is a point of diminishing returns if your fanbase has oodles and oodles of video.
    At what point do you stop making a profit on those releases? This seems to be a problem the Grateful Dead have run into, in recent years.

  • http://www.derrekcooper.com Derrek Cooper

    really solid pitch. I agree there are tons of phish phans that just would get this instantly. I am a big fan, far from fanatical and downloaded the the entire summer tour AND watched a fair number of ustreams, simply because I could. I found the ustream stuff fascinating and the quality was pretty bad from a crappy iphone.

    Imagine what could happen if it was streamed in HD. The interactive piece is genius, totally possible.

    Really peeked my interest that fest8 would be streamed. Probably unlikely with no promotion a week out??

  • http://www.derrekcooper.com Derrek Cooper

    really solid pitch. I agree there are tons of phish phans that just would get this instantly. I am a big fan, far from fanatical and downloaded the the entire summer tour AND watched a fair number of ustreams, simply because I could. I found the ustream stuff fascinating and the quality was pretty bad from a crappy iphone.

    Imagine what could happen if it was streamed in HD. The interactive piece is genius, totally possible.

    Really peeked my interest that fest8 would be streamed. Probably unlikely with no promotion a week out??

  • stan

    Right on point, whitperson. The rabid demand for bootleg streams from this summer’s shows supports your argument that there’s a market. Phish can either tap in and make money off it, or allow the train to leave the station without them.

  • http://jtnt.net Nicholas Tolson

    I like Hoodstream’s concept of leveraging those already doing this in some way. This is how they can put a uniquely Phish stamp on this and be super innovative about it. Put together a “video street team” of sorts, give them their own sections or wristbands or something, and somehow let these passionate fans/videographers put this out for them. For the fans, by the fans.

  • stan

    Right on point, whitperson. The rabid demand for bootleg streams from this summer’s shows supports your argument that there’s a market. Phish can either tap in and make money off it, or allow the train to leave the station without them.

  • http://jtnt.net Nicholas Tolson

    I like Hoodstream’s concept of leveraging those already doing this in some way. This is how they can put a uniquely Phish stamp on this and be super innovative about it. Put together a “video street team” of sorts, give them their own sections or wristbands or something, and somehow let these passionate fans/videographers put this out for them. For the fans, by the fans.

  • http://phutube.com Jay Martin

    I like the idea of an official webcast. They could partner with verizon and other telco’s at venues where cell phones weren’t able to broadcast this past summer.

    There was something special and fun about watching the rogue / amateur streams coming from the seats and lawns this summer. Praying and hoping there would be enough bandwidth, but never knowing for sure if there would be a feed available.

    Great article!

  • http://phutube.com Jay Martin

    I like the idea of an official webcast. They could partner with verizon and other telco’s at venues where cell phones weren’t able to broadcast this past summer.

    There was something special and fun about watching the rogue / amateur streams coming from the seats and lawns this summer. Praying and hoping there would be enough bandwidth, but never knowing for sure if there would be a feed available.

    Great article!

  • Simon Ossitt

    As I live in the UK I would be sooooo happy to pay to see any streamed shows.