Missing the Mark on Smart and Free Marketing by Live Event Producers

This past weekend, I went to Cirque du Soleil’s travelling arena show, The Michael Jackson Immortal Tour, and was disappointed by what I found.  This is by no means a review on the actual show – which I thought was not as good as their LOVE show, but better than their ELVIS show as compared to their other artist-based shows – rather it was about the environment surrounding the show. While waiting for the show to start, I had taken a picture (above) and sent it as an MMS to my brother with the message that it’s the closest I’m going to get to seeing a Michael Jackson concert again.  I sent it to my brother because we grew up being fans of the entertainer and no matter what weirdness became of him before his untimely death, he was still the consummate performer.  My brother’s immediate response was that he wanted to see it when the tour hit Miami.  My nephew became a fan and my brother is contemplating taking him, but is concerned about the cost – so he wanted to find out what I thought.  Before I could finish my response to him, an usher told me to put my mobile phone away or they would kick me out of the arena.  I was surprised and dismayed on so many levels – oddly, the biggest of which had to do with the opportunities the producers of this and many other touring shows are losing in generating more excitement and revenue.

When I asked a more senior person on the floor of the Staples Center if what I was told is true, he informed me that the usher was misguided and that the ban is just on photos during the show – not use of mobile devices while inside the venue.  I felt better about that, but I think there are still some issues:

- I understand that they don’t want flashes going off during theatrical performances or extremely technical routines as they are distracting for the performers and others.  But I would look at it on a case-by-case basis and, in the case of the IMMORTAL tour, I do not know that it would have as much of an effect on the performers due to the size of the venues. But, allowing people to take photos and share them – either in real-time or later - could have a huge effect on the ability to generate buzz about the show.  The only reason they would show it is because they were excited. That excitement could lead to buying tickets for shows when they hit their town – or in the case of Los Angeles and the announcement of more shows in August going on sale today – when it returns or when another show from the producer returns.

- If you’re not going to allow photos to be taken from cameras or mobile devices during the show, at least provide opportunities for fans to take advantage of photo ops.  When entering the Staples Center, there were people actually taking pictures beside the show’s poster in the hallway.  Imagine if there were standees or even people in costume providing real opportunities to get fun shots and then share those with their friends.  Beyond the spreading of the excitement, it just builds upon the experience.

To me, the lost opportunity was striking because it is unlike Cirque to not extend the atmosphere beyond the stage – even in their touring tent shows.  There are ample opportunities for people to take pictures in the environment surrounding the actual performance in their other shows – and there is much more of a concern about flashes in those more intimate settings. With technological and executional advances, there is no excuse to miss the mark on a show like this.  It doesn’t matter that there are images of sports figures all over the arena’s hallways.  There are real and economical ways to enable the audience to become more integrated into the show and the benefits of such an environment go far beyond marketing.

If they want to control the environment and sharing at photo locations, they could bring in photo kiosks like the ones Keshot provides – where users can have pictures taken and immediately send watermarked and branded images to friends via email.  Having seen how people gravitate to presentations as simple as large, flat vinyl pieces with images on them as a background for their photos, setting up photo opportunities would not be any harder than the masking that is already required in arenas.

Regardless, people don’t need any more technology than they already carry with them to share experiences.  Obviously, there is a concern about attendees taking much more than static photos with video cameras on smartphones that can now produce HD quality.  Video is an understood issue when it comes to piracy and competition for fully packaged video products and the fact that you don’t want to give content away for free. But, it can also be argued that if fans just had concert videos, they wouldn’t shell out the ever-rising costs of live events.  With the over-produced live shows that have become more of the norm – where nary a note strays from the original recording – you could say that just putting your headphones on in a darkened room while singing at the top of your lungs is a cheaper alternative to going to shows.  But we’ve seen that the higher obstacle to attendance is the cost and scarcity of tickets than the belief that the example above comes anywhere close to attending live events.

Might a solution for the video concern be technology? The development of a radio frequency at events that would not be audible to the naked ear, but could distort the audio recording enough to make it unpleasant would be phenomenal.  Not only would it help at live events, but at movie theatres with the much larger concerns about video piracy.  There has already been a murmur about venues installing infrared devices that can communicate with mobile phone cameras to have them stop taking photos.  But, I really believe that would be counter-productive and even damaging to the fans’ relationship with the artists.  Maybe it can be a timed situation where the artist determines a length of time at the beginning of the show that people can record the concert (like they do for photographers in the pit at concerts) so that there is a modicum of control.

Either way you slice it, a solution needs to be found to enable fans to have a longer tail of connection with the shows they attend.  The proof about how much social sharing has helped acts succeed since mobile devices have been able to record images and video. Producers, managers and promoters are effectively letting a huge opportunity fall on the floor if they don’t find a way to harness and optimize fans inate need to share experiences.  The cumulative benefits of fully allowing social sharing extend far beyond the specific show or artist – especially if you’ve got as many products as Cirque du Soleil has.

The Immortal Tour show seemed to pin itself on the spirit of Michael Jackson in provoking audiences to wonder.  I was just left wondering how they missed such a golden marketing opportunity.

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