Vevo Has Become the Online Live Concert Connection
In late September, the Foo Fighters, the Black Keys, Neil Young, and more gathered in New York City's Central Park to play to an audience of 60,000 and millions more across the world. In addition to rocking the park, the free Global Citizen Festival concert gained $500 million in pledges to fight poverty and spread information on poverty-related issues.
On the other coast, the man responsible for live streaming the concert was watching it from his San Francisco home. Michael Cerda, Vevo's senior vice president of product and technology, alternated viewing the show online and on DirecTV, praying that everything went smoothly.
"That's really one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. I think that's going to be somebody's Live Aid someday, right?" says Cerda. "I mean, that's the way I felt about it with the caliber acts that were there and the gazillions of people and the fact that it was broadcast in so many places. And we were just glad to be a part of it. I mean, the Foo Fighters, that's one of the best rock acts today."
Cerda would normally have been at a major event like the Global Citizen Festival, but he recently moved to San Francisco to open a new office and expand Vevo's West Coast reach. While he was far away, he was in close contact with his team all day as they set up and managed the online stream.
"I try to hit farmers markets every Saturday morning with my family on bikes, and as I was on my way that morning my phone was blowing up," remembers Cerda. "I had to pull off the trail and let the family go along."
Cerda's team is experienced in streaming live feeds, but that doesn't mean things always run smoothly.
"We collaborate, my team and I, with Google Hangouts, so we jumped on a hangout to test everything and see what was going on. And essentially it all got going, but there was a few minutes where we were like ‘uh-oh,’ One of those ‘oh crap’ moments," says Cerda. "It had to do with streaming to Xbox. For some reason something stopped working in the test environment, so we were like 'Okay, it worked the two days leading up to now. Why wouldn't it work now a few hours before?' And all it took was one of our partners on their end to reset a link or something. It was no big deal, but you don't know that at that moment in time, so your heart stops for just a slight moment as you try to figure it out."
While all the acts that night did a great job, for Cerda the evening belonged to the Foo Fighters.
"Somehow they're able to pierce the largest crowds," says Cerda. "I think a couple years ago they did a big, big tour, so they knew how to work a big crowd like that. I think the amps were turned to 11 and they were powering through it, as they do. But it was one of those acts where you get goose bumps watching it. I believe when you find that then you've achieved the magic that you were shooting for in the beginning."
Like millions of others around the world, Cerda was able to experience that magic thanks to Vevo's live streaming.
Many of Vevo’s live webcasts are put together with partners like American Express and YouTube, including this American Express Unstaged concert featuring The Killers
Vevo Goes Live
Vevo launched in December, 2009, and instantly became one of the internet's hottest sites, thanks to its extensive collection of music videos from major artists. Owned in part by Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, Vevo has become the go-to site for videos on demand. But if you haven't visited in a while, check the site out again, because it's also now the home of live music online. Thanks to several partnerships, Vevo streams seven to eight live music events each month, many of which stay on the site for on-demand viewing.
"It was mostly sort of VOD offerings, and streaming did come later, although it was already here when I got here," recalls Cerda. "I know of at least a couple of events that took place before I even got here."
Cerda has been with Vevo about a year-and-a-half, and was hired to grow the site's live experiences. Vevo's first experiment with live streaming was with the 2010 World Cup kick-off concert, which it streamed globally. A huge success, it led to many more partnerships and concerts for the site.
"I have a team of about 25 folks in New York and about 7 in San Francisco, and so it's basically made up of front-end, back-end, engineering," says Cerda. "There's a system engineering group that does a lot of the encoding kinds of things and system operations and that sort of thing. I have design and product management, all of the basic stuff. But I'm really a product guy, and every time we do a streaming event of some sort I look at the experience closely from that perspective, and that ends up driving the decisions through and through."
For Cerda, live music is a passion that goes back to his childhood.
"I go back as a kid to the days of Live Aid. That was huge. And the Us Festival. Stuff like that changed things and perspectives of that generation," says Cerda. "I'm still one of these guys that every weekend I'm flipping through—I've got DirecTV for better or for worse—and I flip through and I look for the live stuff, because that's personally what I'm most interested in."
Vevo's Live Music Partners
Vevo's role in these live events is limited. It doesn’t create the shows or sign the acts, and it doesn't supply the video cameras and audio equipment. What it does is supply the internet. It takes the live stream that a partner has captured and sends it out to desktop and mobile viewers around the globe.
It's partnerships, both content partners and sponsors, that make Vevo's streaming project possible.
"What happens is we find good partners to execute these things well through and through," says Cerda. "We have a whole bunch of original programming, but we partner on those as well. For example, "American Express Unstaged." One of the things we did—and I was here probably a couple months at this point—we did this Coldplay concert, it was live in Madrid, and we did it with American Express as part of the "Unstaged" program, and it was phenomenal, a phenomenal concert. It's actually one of those things—I watch our videos a lot obviously, because I test and I interact with all of our products—so that's my go-to concert."
Another live original program uses "The Late Show with David Letterman" studio after Letterman has gone home.
"We partner with CBS, and we actually go into the Ed Sullivan Theater. Essentially when Letterman is done with his show on a given night, he's got his musical act that usually comes in and plays a song, right? On select guest artists what we'll do is we'll go in and take over the facility after-hours, so to speak, and that artist does a full-on concert. We capture it all, and we stream it live and bring it to the VOD catalog as well. It seems like every other week we're doing one of those."
The Live on Letterman series, featuring artists such as Adele and Carrie Underwood (shown here), is the product of a partnership between Vevo and CBS Interactive Music Group.
Content partners hand off the live streams, so Vevo can focus on delivery.
"We're usually working with a partner to get a stream, so it's an HLS stream for iOS as an example. We'll get Smooth Streaming for Xbox," says Cerda. "We'll get the streams teed-up. We will have a sandbox environment where we've actually got the player and everything so that we can test it beforehand, and we end up testing with whatever content comes through."
One lesson that Cerda's team learned along the way is that they need a pre-flight check-list to prepare for all the things that could go wrong in a live event. They rely on Asana, a project management program for teams, to keep them on track.
"We get a page ready on our site, so we have all these templates within Vevo.com. We have the same kinds of templates in iOS so that we can deliver to iPhone and iPad, Xbox as well. So there's just essentially a checklist we go through and make sure that everybody's got what they need," says Cerda. "We test it at least a couple of days beforehand. And when it's go-time, it's go-time."
Once the concert starts, Cerda's work still isn't over. He needs to actively monitor the stream to be sure viewers are getting a good experience. If not, there are real-time corrections he can take, often before viewers are aware there's a problem.
"We monitor what's happening as we go," notes Cerda. "Whenever we do a live event I have my iPad open with a real-time analytics app we use so I can see the heat of who's watching where and are there buffering issues. If so, where? And if there are buffering issues, are we switching? Because we have multiple CDNs at play, so we can switch. We're detecting if you're about to experience some buffering, and the player can switch CDNs and get in front of that before you even see evidence of a bad experience. We're doing a lot to keep the quality up."
Vevo's live events are finding a home in people's living rooms, delivering a large-screen concert experience over the Xbox or via AirPlay with an iPhone and Apple TV. That's where Cerda's team is headed in the future, bringing more live music directly to the world's living rooms.
"'What the market is telling us is that they want more live and they want more living room. That's what the data says," adds Cerda. "I think that's what we're learning. As a product guy that's what I take away the most in terms of how we go forward."
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