Web giant uses event to boost business

An altruistic message hangs like an enormous green banner over the Live Earth concerts set to unfold this weekend across six continents, but for the Web giants who are beaming the 24-hour event worldwide, there’s also a very specific business purpose driving their involvement: Monetizing original content on the Internet.

MSN, which is Control Room’s exclusive worldwide partner in Live Earth, will be streaming and stockpiling footage of some of the world’s biggest names in music — all in the course of one day.

Securing the Live Earth rights was a significant coup for MSN, which has lagged portals such as Yahoo in building a library of exclusive music and concert content. MSN will be able to draw traffic to its music site by offering footage of acts such as Madonna, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Lenny Kravitz, Pussycat Dolls and hundreds of others throughout the next four months; what begins in the name of public service — artists have waived their rights to the perfs — could well slide into the realm of driving Internet traffic.

MSN has exclusivity in 24 countries and the company expects Live Earth footage will attract 500 million hits on the MSN website.

The company responsible for delivering all this footage to MSN, Control Room, is also very much in the business of filming original music perfs and selling them to a range of new and traditional media platforms. Company is headed by Kevin Wall, the entrepreneur who was behind the Live 8 concerts two years ago (when his banner was known as Network Live) that set the template for this weekend’s event. Control Room boasts of its Net success with recent concerts by John Legend, Rod Stewart and Maroon 5.

Live Earth, also billed as the Concerts for a Climate in Crisis, is as ambitious an undertaking as the Live 8 concerts (designed as a 20th anniversary update to the Live Aid benefit concerts in 1985). The event, organized in part by former vice president Al Gore, will see more than 150 acts perform and quite possibly address the issue of global warming onstage. Concerts are the beginning of a three-year campaign to push individuals, governments and corporations into taking action to solve the climate predicament. Goal is to draw attention to such green-themed activist groups as the Alliance for Climate Protection, the Climate Group and Stop Climate Chaos.

“Our goal is to create a compelling experience,” said Lisa Gurry, the MSN senior director overseeing the company’s Web operations for Live Earth. “We will provide an opportunity to learn, discuss and debate environmental issues and that is serving a good purpose.”

Translation: A fan of the Beastie Boys who wants to watch the band’s performance in, say, August, will be able to do so at MSN.com and, theoretically, the video will be attached to content that informs the viewer of how to adopt a “green” lifestyle. In years past, a broadcast was viewed or a concert attended and everyone moved on — there was no ancilliary benefit for anyone.

The Live 8 concerts proved a watershed moment for Internet programming as well as for the business of staging benefit concerts. MTV’s tape-delayed telecasts of the Live 8 concerts were savaged by critics for being unnecessarily edited and strangely scheduled, while fans who flocked to AOL’s Webcast of the concerts raved about how impressively AOL and Wall’s Network Live harnessed the Internet to deliver a satisfying wall-to-wall experience for fans.

That turning point is top of mind for Wall and the organizers of Live Earth, which unfolds as a series of eight concerts on six continents. It’s skedded to begin Saturday in Australia and ends 24 hours later at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Rio de Janeiro leg, however, was canceled Wednesday by a Brazilian judge after officials said there were not enough police to cover the event, which was expected to draw up to 700,000 people. Organizers were working to overturn the order and remained hopeful that the show would go on as scheduled. The concert was to be held at Copacabana beach and feature U.S. pop stars Lenny Kravitz and Macy Gray and Brazilian star Marcelo D2. The Rio state prosecutors office said previously that police were stretched thin in preparation for the upcoming Pan American Games, which start July 13.

The entire Live Earth event will have extensive TV coverage, but it will be more diffuse.

NBC, which has the broadcast exclusive in the U.S., is putting full coverage on its High Definition cable channel and on the Sundance Channel. Only three hours of taped coverage will air on the Peacock’s flagship broadcast net.

NBC’s Universal HD and the Sundance Channel will air a 22-hour live broadcast that starts at 4 a.m. ET. On Sunday, Bravo will begin an 18-hour broadcast at 2 a.m. ET.

Wall, CEO of Control Room, said the focus of the concerts is firmly on the message and not any one major musical event, i.e. a supergroup reunion like those that have marked past charity events.

“I love those big reunions, but we are not trying to be a reunion show or a legacy show,” Wall said. “We have the Police reunion. We have Genesis. The Smashing Pumpkins. What we are trying to do is take artists that are contemporary. We want them to take the message on their tour and pass the message on.”

Aaron Grosky, Control Room’s veep of music programming and artist relations, said that the criticism leveled at MTV two years ago “absolutely plays into the way we are going forward. We are working with (TV) nets to be certain that performances won’t be jeopardized by (other) agendas.”

Concert organizers are not asking performers to preach, but certainly to alter lifestyles and wasteful touring habits.

Grosky was quick to note how quickly Taking Back Sunday, Linkin Park and Maroon 5 — three contempo bands participating in Live Earth — implemented changes in their professional and personal lives after having a chance to go over the issues with experts. Control Room is providing each act with an “artists handbook” and providing a meeting with climate experts.

While Grosky has high praise for the work of Gore and the musicians participating in the show, he realizes this is not a standard “issue” in which the fight is against a specific target, as it was in the case of the African famine issue addressed by Live Aid and Live 8.

“There isn’t an us vs. them, and that’s the most difficult component of the issue,” Grosky told Daily Variety. “This isn’t like watching war on TV. There are a lot of dots to connect and some people need to do more than others. It’s us vs. nothing. It’s about taking responsibility and community is a big part of the solution.”

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