The Re-emergence of "Live," and Why It Matters

Recently, "Grease: Live" aired on Fox to the highest ratings for a live musical broadcast since the form re-emerged with the "Sound of Music" in 2013. Other live musical broadcasts have also garnered high ratings, including "The Wiz" in 2015 and "Peter Pan" in 2014.

Numerous competitive pressures and social trends have led to the re-emergence of the live event, including the practice of "live Tweeting" and network television's desire to recapture their ratings dominance by creating event-driven viewing. After all, watching a live musical on DVR-delay isn't nearly as visceral as watching it live, and some viewers are certainly looking for trainwrecks and missteps as much as anything (but to the television executive, trolls = audience). Social media's entanglement power makes live events more fun and interesting, as anyone who has attended a recent conference can attest.

The appeal of live events also means new revenue potential.

The shift to digital downloads and streaming for music has decreased music industry and artist revenues for studio recordings, even as the volume of music consumed has increased. Packaged album sales are largely a thing of the past (unless you're Adele or another marquee artist). Album sales let artists make money off 10-12 songs at a whack, rather than the 1-2 hits they might get revenues from in the single-track era. This has led to artists making more live appearances and giving more concerts to bolster their incomes. This is also feeding the re-emergence of live performance.

For singers (and perhaps for their fans), there is a potential downside to the greater number of live performances -- an increasing rate of vocal fatigue and injury. Throat surgery is becoming more common for singers, and voices are fading faster than they did when solid record sales could let a band rest for months while making good money. Now, they sing for their dinners more and more, and that's wearing them out, altering the careers of some major talents.

Reddit is another venue in which "live" has become a hotter commodity, with their Ask Me Anything (AMA) format. Webinars are more popular. Regional and local conferences and meet-ups are increasingly being utilized to extend the "live" experience. However, the challenges of exhaustion and over-extension also must be managed, as editors, authors, and other prominent ambassadors of brands are pulled into more and more settings and commitments.

The challenges for purveyors of fixed or recorded media are multi-faceted. The Internet has made fixed media highly discoverable and shifted business models from packaged good (issues, albums) to ala carte sales (songs, articles). Expectations of "free" run rampant. The "live" approach creates a new package, this one temporally and physically based, allowing for the re-emergence of the packaged price or value exchange. But it is not without risk or responsibilities.