YouTube will be the exclusive home of Bonnaroo 2020, a three-day virtual live broadcast September 24-26 that will comprise 80% new performances and 13 archival shows from the farm including the Beastie Boys’ historic final concert in 2009 and sets from Dave Matthews & Friends, Metallica, the White Stripes, Jason Isbell and James Brown.

Landing “Virtual ROO-ALITY” is another feather in the cap of the platform, which thus far has served as the virtual venue for Lollapalooza, the Roots Picnic, the Montreux Jazz Fest and a weekly BottleRock series since it kicked off the Covid-derailed festival season in April with the documentary “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert.”

Festivals are big business in the $26 billion global live events industry, and hosting their live-stream incarnations has become a core component of YouTube’s music strategy, says Ali Rivera, head of artist partnerships and live music. 

Pre-pandemic, YouTube already had relationships with a number of fests to help deliver elements of the experience to viewers at home. Now, the company wants to extend its reach to more events, which are benefiting from its audience of 2 billion active monthly users, deep analytics and legacy of optimizing live-streaming.

“We bring a really global element that may not be possible at other places,” Rivera says. “Our festival partners are leaning into the platform and our analytics, and being able to understand where their fans are coming from, which in turn can actually help them curate the show.”

Rivera and her team are working with artists, managers and event promoters to determine where their audiences historically have tuned in. “If they’re finding out that a huge amount of viewers are in an APAC region or in our Latam region, they may decide they want to book a Black Pink or a J Balvin,” she notes. “It really changes the performances and the tune-in and the magnitude of these festivals on a global basis.”

She points to YouTube’s longstanding partnership with Coachella and promoter Goldenvoice. “Ten years ago it was a very U.S.-focused festival, and it’s since become so global in nature. We played a massive role in that.”

Beyond geo analytics, Rivera says the music industry wants watch data, which YouTube has in volume. “Understanding how long people are watching, and where are they consuming the content is big,” she says. “We’re seeing a lot more of these festivals are being consumed on a TV. So getting to understand how many people are watching on TV vs. a desk top vs. mobile, and what is the experience like and are we creating the most high-quality experience in each setting is important.”

Watch time for YouTube and YouTube TV on television screens in March was up 80% over 2019, and watch time of live content on TV screens increased by more than 250% year-over-year during March 11-April 10. 

“What we’ve been doing during Covid is really arming the music industry with best practices on live—not only festivals but all live-streaming,” Rivera says. “We needed to make sure everybody was really clear on how to use live and how to use analytics, so we’ve spent a lot of time making sure we gave this information to our partners. ‘Here are some great examples of how you enable this; here are different features you can use.’ It’s been a really big effort of ours this summer. 

The effort resonated strongly with the team behind Bonnaroo’s first all-virtual incarnation, which will feature new performances from more than 35 artists including Nathaniel Rateliff, Chromeo, Moon Taxi, Big Gigantic, Bruce Hornsby featuring James Mercer, Rob Moose & Polo G, Billy Strings, Action Bronson, CloZee and a Live From Graduate Nashville set curated by Whiskey Jam. The full lineup will be released in the coming week.

“YouTube continues to be the gold standard for worldwide audience reach and technology integration,” says Jeff Cuellar, VP of strategic partnerships at AC Entertainment
ACEL
, the company that co-founded Bonnaroo. “They are always looking to push the fan experience forward and integrating new features that allow us to make the virtual Bonnaroo experience more engaging and immersive.” 

Based on 2020 festival fare so far, Rivera says viewers can expect “unique performances that may not have happened, or gotten big play, in the traditional live setting.” She points to the Porno For Pyros reunion at this year’s Lolla, and Chris Cornell’s daughter Toni Cornell’s performance of Pearl Jam’s “Black” during that fest. 

“That was not something that was planned as part of the main festival, and it might have gotten overshadowed by all the other performances going on but the virtual event really allowed that moment to shine,” she says.

Full Bonnaroo immersion has always been about more than the music, with original community experiences and moments amplifying the vibe. On the virtual roster, the Sanctuary of Self Love, curated by Hayley Williams, will connect attendees around topics including the digital space and mental health, diversity in wellness and the origins of gender. Speakers include artist and filmmaker Charli XCX, filmmaker David Lynch and meditation leader Bob Roth.

Rivera says new ascendant moments—including Post Malone’s Nirvana tribute concert that’s amassed nearly 14 million views to date, and Andrea Bocelli’s Live from Milan on Easter Sunday that reached more than 2.8 million peak concurrent viewers and has more than 41 million total views—combined with artists’ willingness to unleash festival and other footage from their vaults have given the live-streaming ecosystem a huge boost

Radiohead, The Who and Elton John are among those who’ve shared archival series on the platform.

“One of the incredible elements we’ve experienced during Covid is all these legacy artists posting their classic content on YouTube,” she says. “For fans to experience this content and/or know it’s going to come out on a weekly basis has created this nostalgia and appreciation for these artists and given the artists’ a new connection to fans.”

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