Lest anyone think that the entertainment livestream revolution is a product of the pandemic that will taper off as soon as quarantining does, Moment House CEO and co-founder Arjun Mehta has the language to describe what’s happening in the space.
“The way we look at it is that the pandemic is not the enabler,” Mehta says of the paid livestream boom. “It’s absolutely an accelerant, but it’s not the enabler.”
Music has been the bread and butter for Moment House in its short, two-year existence. That’s in evidence tonight, as the platform presents a special performance by Tame Impala, “Innerspeaker Live From Wave House,” in which Kevin Parker and his band will return to the titular Indian Ocean-adjacent studio where the group’s debut album was recorded 10 years ago to perform that breakout collection in its entirety. (Tickets for the show, which begins at 9 p.m. ET/6 PT, start at $10 and can be found here.)
But Moment House is looking to expand more into other genres of music that haven’t been as well represented in livestreams, and beyond that, to move into non-musical areas like comedy and masterclasses. This growth figures into seven key hires the company is announcing today.
Sam Berger is being named head of music, coming over from Spotify’s artist & label marketing team. Michele Bernstein, the company’s new marketing strategist, arrives from WME. Casey McCabe, newly appointed head of live music & strategy, has come over from AEG Presents.
Other executive announcements represent key entertainment niches ripe for livestream growth. Bart Coleman, previously a comedy lead at Spotify, is the new head of comedy, North America. Georgie Donnelly, who was a comedy agent at UTA, is Moment House’s head of comedy, UK. Randy Nichols, a former manager at Red Light, has been named director, rock and metal strategy and partnerships. And Dionte Goodlett, who spent the last seven years on Apple Music’s label relations team, has been appointed director of hip-hop and R&B strategy and partnerships.
It’s no accident that these seven are all coming over from prestigious appointments at a time when Moment House is making the transition from spunky startup to wanting to be seen as having a place in the firmament for post-pandemic years to come.
“I think we all know that this entertainment business is very trust- and relationship-based,” Mehta tells Variety, “and I wanted to make sure that the people we have on our team interfacing with artists and creators and the management are ones that are known and are familiar and trusted and have a great reputation, that people already have enjoyed working with for several years.”
Moment House has already made a name for itself with events beyond the music sphere. It was the host platform for Clive Davis’ virtual “pre-Grammy gala” — both the first half of it, which took place for a VIP invite-only audience in January, and the second half, just announced for May. The company has also hosted non-musical events like an hour-long interview Halsey did for fans to promote her book of poetry.
But, unsurprisingly, it’s signature music events that go above and beyond the stick-a-band-on-a-soundstage approach that have really established its rep. Justin Bieber’s New Year’s performance from a hotel in Beverly Hills helped show that superstars are as interested in livestreams as anybody now. Other recent “gigs” of note have ranged from Brockhampton doing a show’s worth of highly produced production numbers to coincide with that group’s new album release to the EDM artist Kygo doing a DJ set adjacent to a mountaintop ski chalet (pictured above).
“Kygo doing it from the Alps was a phenomenal experience,” says Mehta. “What’s so exciting to me about that is that Kygo typically goes on a world tour where he goes to fans’ cities, but for the first time ever, he was able to bring his home — because he’s from Norway — to his fans. And he did this from the top of a mountain. It’s a great example of a complementary, additive unit” apart from a normal concert expererience. “It’s like, what can we do here that’s not even possible in the real world?”
Says Mehta, “I mean, the genie’s out of the bottle that consumers are willing to pay for these kinds of premium digital experiences. Everybody knows that now. You can’t un-see the fact that this is a behavior that is now very normalized. I mean, Justin Bieber has done it; Billie Eilish has done it. These are the height of mainstream, and it’s not stigmatized to go to your audience and ask them for money for a piece of digital live content. It’s fully normalized, and the amount of revenue that’s brought in across digital ticket sales and across merch sales — which are very tightly integrated — is something that you just can’t ignore.”
No one need worry that fans will lose their thirst for it once arena shows are back, he says: “We started the company in 2019 prior to COVID. With COVID, that became naturally the narrative, which is: Oh, is this the replacement? Is this a substitute? It’s not. It was always meant to be this complementary and additive unit. Concerts versus livestream makes for a good, exciting conversation. But the reality is that they both co-exist hand in hand, and they offer a totally different value. What we’re trying to do is build a brand new unit called a ‘moment,’ and a moment consists of livestream media, it consists of an e-commerce experience, and it consists of a social experience.”
“Upsells” that can only be had in the moment add to the experience and may help keep ticket costs reasonable despite the sometimes high production values evident in some of Moment House’s programming.
“The sweet spot appears to be between $15-25 for a base ticket price,” he says (even though tonight’s Tame Impala show comes in under that). “That being said, merchandise has a huge role to play in this format. Artists are bundling tickets with merchandise, they’re bundling tickets with vinyl. They’re upselling through our platform to one-on-one VIP digital experiences, so we have a meet-and-greet product as well that you can upsell to. We have a feature where you can also have further VIP gated content after the core moment” — i.e., an after-party. “We are always educating the market to realize: Don’t look at this as just a ticketed livestream. It’s a 360 e-commerce experience anchored by a piece of live content.
“You know, we have artists that are doing $100,000 in ticket sales and another $100,000 in merch. We had another artist that did even more in merch than ticket sales. And this is part of the creativity: It needs to feel like one cohesive unit. The merch is not the same merch available on the website. This is the merch that thematically aligns with the content of the stream, that is only available there, and you just feel like, ‘Okay, I have this memorabilia from this experience. I can only get it here.’ And so it’s a very holistic experience of commerce and media and social coming together to form this new unit in the moment.”
That social aspect is the one Moment House is most looking to experiment with in coming months. Fans love chatting during a stream in the familiar rectangle to the right of the performance screen, but with thousands of viewers online and eager to converse, there may be new frontiers to slow it down and allow fans to get a room, as it were.
“There’s many ways to connect beyond just text — there’s voice, there’s video,” Mehta says. “Things don’t necessarily have to always be one global universal chat for everyone to be dumped into. There’s ways you can segment fans based on further interests, or based on geographies. You know that you all paid $15 to enjoy Kaytranada (pictured below), so you already have an immediate point of commonality, but how cool would it be to also jump into a space where everyone in that digital space is also in Seattle, just like you? And to then be able to really connect with them even beyond just text, and have a sense of presence and just a deeper human connection?”
“In this experience, the social behaviors are very different from a real-life concert,” Mehta elaborates. “In a real-life concert, people don’t really necessarily connect with one another. They go with their group and leave with their group in most cases. Digitally, all those social barriers are broken. People are so excited to connect, connect, connect. Across every single moment, consistently, we’re seeing fans share Instagram handles. In the Bryson Tiller one, I was seeing fans sharing their phone numbers. They just feel like, ‘Wow, like we all paid $15 to be here. We’re on the same wavelength. We have something very powerful and passionate in common, and how can we all become friends, and how do we salvage this community and keep it going and make new friends and leave with internet friends?’
“So people are leaving and going into group chats, which is so beautiful to see, because they they’re brought together by artistry that they all love, and they’re not constrained by any geographic constraint. And for them to come here, enjoy artistry in this premium way, get this feeling of belonging for 45 minutes to an hour of ‘I’m here with my people, with my tribe,’ and leave with that feeling is really exciting. And the next version of the product will honestly resemble more of a social platform than even a livestream platform, which is what we’re really excited about.”
That’s just one of the build-outs Mehta is anticipating, another being bigger leaps into bringing in public figures who don’t even necessarily have to be entertainers.
“We’re not a virtual concert platform,” he emphasizes… though they’re not not that, either. “We’re a premium live media platform — that’s the category, and so it absolutely extends beyond music. Music is definitely where we have our roots. But we have always seen this from day one as a very holistic platform that can accommodate all kinds of creativity, all kinds of talent.There’s comedy. There’s podcasts. There’s even education use cases. A famous producer or a fashion designer who has an audience can now go direct with a live masterclass-style experience. Anyone with an audience should be able to go to their audience with a premium live experience.”
The platform was developed out of Mehta’s schooling at the Jimmy Iovine & Dr. Dre Academy for Innovation at USC. Iovine has been a personal mentor, as has Troy Carter, and both are among the many well-heeled investors in Moment House. (Others include Scooter Braun, Jared Leto, Kevin Mayer, Google Ventures CEO David Krane, Forerunner, Box CEO Aaron Levie, Patreon CEO Jack Conte and Palm Tree Crew Investments.)
He knew it would take off when they had a turning-point moment with one particular in the first quarter of 2020, just barely pre-quarantine.
“Our first ever music moment was this Norwegian singer named Aurora, and it was such a crazy experience the first time around, because nobody really knew what to expect,” Mehta says. “This is all so new. And she posted maybe three or four times on Instagram, and sold tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets, and fans didn’t even know what they were really buying into. She’s just like describing it very like, ‘Hey, I’m doing this performative art’; she was like curating other artists as part of it too. It was a very hard to explain thing. She called them ‘Exist for Love Sessions.’ And just to see that, wow, off of zero paid ads, off of just the strength of a few Instagram posts and stories, this artist — who’s not incredibly big, but has a dedicated following — was able to sell tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of digital tickets, which cost nothing, basically. That confirmed our intuition so strongly and made us feel like: ‘Okay. There’s truly something here.'”