On Wednesday, October 19th, 2016 at 7:30 am, I walked into the Air Canada Centre with a tremendous smile on my face and a front row ticket. That day, I went to see something that I had never seen before: a concert. But no, this wasn’t any ordinary concert, it was We Day, an initiative created by the Me to We organization designed to enact social change amongst young people around the world.
Image Source: Canadian Living
I considered myself very lucky to be able to attend my first ever concert. It was fantastic! Some of the artists and speakers featured at We Day were Zendaya, Jason Derulo, Macklemore, Lilly Singh, Hedley, Gord Downie, Winnie Harlow, Penny Oleksiak, Chris Hadfield and dozens of other incredibly amazing people.
I loved the motivational speeches, dancing, and singing. However, I was struck with confusion when, on multiple occasions, We Day performers re-did “live” scenes for television. One retake was so blatant that Jason Derulo, one of the most popular artists in the world, went up on stage 2 hours after he performed to repeat his song for television. I didn’t mind all the retakes. In fact, I loved the event so much that I was eager to hear their speeches/performances again! Nonetheless, there was something that frustrated me. Every time someone had to do a retake, there would be a voice overhead that would tell thirty thousand kids in the Air Canada Centre to “keep being loud” so television audiences wouldn’t be suspicious.
However, when Zendaya had to do five retakes of saying the same couple of introductory sentences, it became a little uncomfortable. I thought to myself, “Why should we have to endure a repeated scene while the audiences watching at work, school, or their home get to watch the concert proceed without a hitch?” Shouldn’t the people who went out of their way to attend the concert be treated as the priority? This question led me to further investigate the shift from studio audiences to television audiences. After many hours of research, I came to one simple conclusion: the music industry is so dependent on television audiences that it cannot afford to displease them — even if it might lower the enjoyment of the studio audience, and here’s why.
Increased television audiences = higher ratings
Now that people can access more live streams from the internet/television than ever before, there has been a change in the way we enjoy music. In the past, the only way you could witness a live concert was to physically be there yourself. However, ever since music has become televised on live streams, there has been an increasing number of people who choose to watch live events from the television or computer without actually being there. Many of them simply have to ask the question, “Why go to all the effort to attend a televised concert when you can just watch it from your house?” Due to the increasing number of audiences who are shifting from studio to TV, many concerts have been modified to fit the needs of the television audiences.
Money, money, MONEY
As television ratings increase, so does the money for both the musician(s) and the broadcasting corporation. It is as simple as that. I did a little bit of research on MTV, the broadcaster of We Day Toronto, to see changes in profit in the last decade (2006-2016). In 2006, they had a total annual revenue of 11.35 billion dollars US. In 2016, they had a total annual revenue of 12.49 billion dollars US – a total that peaked in 2011 (14.91 billion dollars US) and has decreased steadily since then. Due to the shift from television to online streaming in recent years, television corporations are receiving negative ratings more consistently as the years progress, as can be seen by the graph below featuring the four major American television companies.
Image Source: Business Insider
As a result, many of these companies try to combat the rise of online streaming with the best quality broadcast of the event, which I believe is what MTV was trying to do at We Day. While it is true that many broadcasting corporations’ ratings have been in decline in recent years, there are still some examples of successful corporations whose ratings have increased. For example, the Walt Disney Company had a total revenue of 40.89 billion in 2012, with a 9% revenue increase from 2011. However, regardless of revenue or total profit in the past, television broadcasting corporations all share one thing in common: they all want to provide optimal viewing of whatever televised event they are broadcasting. As a result, no matter which company is broadcasting the event, there will always be pressure on both the performer(s) and television company to make it look as good for television as possible, simply due to the fact that television is where a large portion of the total profit comes from.
Not only that, artists also prefer the incentives of more money and exposure. The fact that they are being put on television for all of the world to see (if they choose), they are putting themselves on a stage too grand to replicate with a studio audience. The tremendous amount of exposure makes it much easier for artists to make a name for themselves and, in the process, more money. Because a large portion of their money is coming from television audiences, the artist must return the favour by doing whatever possible to ensure they are satisfied. As a result, the concert must cater to the needs of television before the needs of the people right in front of them.
After reflecting upon my experience at We Day, I realized that my attending hadn’t felt worthwhile, given that I could have had an even better quality experience from the comfort of my home, because I wouldn’t have to witness countless retakes. For those of you who are looking for an answer to this issue of diminishing the importance of real-life audiences, I don’t have one. For me, concerts should be a time of true enjoyment; a beautiful blend of crazy, happy, and loud. When I was little, I would always go to Toronto Maple Leafs games. Every time I would try and high-five the players when they walked out. To me, the beauty of sport, music, and any form of entertainment is the joy of seeing your idol(s) and connecting with them, even if for a moment as brief as a high-five.
Image Source: EOnline
Every time one player, just one, gave me a high-five, they would become my favourite player. It wasn’t necessarily because they were the best — it was because they cared enough to notice me. I think this principle can be applied to any facet of the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry and television have a precarious relationship: performers try to maximize television profits but still maintain sell-out crowds. While television is changing the structure of entertainment, it cannot be forgotten that, regardless of how much money you make, it is infinitely more valuable to recognize your fans — to show that you care.