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Genius Uses Live Video to Pull in Music-Loving Fans and Brands

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For both of the episodes created so far, Genius asked people who wanted to be in the audience to RSVP, and received about a thousand responses each time. The organizers capped both events at about 200 guests, because any larger would look too packed on video.

Brand New Guy

Booking the talent was the first step in creating Genius Level, getting the audience was the second, and the third was getting brand support. Genius wanted to create an experience for fans at home and in the studio, and for that it needed brand participation. It found brands were happy to come on board. The first episode included participation from Tidal, Levi’s, and 1800 Tequila. A step-and-repeat displayed the branding for red carpet pics, as did all the event signage. Tidal sponsored a photo booth, and 1800 offered what the organizers called “the exclusive pour.” For the second episode, Cîroc took over pouring duties, while Breather, a coworking space company, joined in. Sponsors get access to Genius’s mezzanine, which becomes an exclusive VIP lounge during the events.

Brands were involved in all the messaging for the Genius Level episodes, including invitations and teaser content presented ahead of time. When the videos came out, brands were listed as presenters. Naturally, host Markman wore Levi’s in the first episode to promote the sponsor. Brands didn’t have a say on the editorial content, but The-Dream pulled them in anyway. During the first episode’s taping, he thanked the sponsors by name without any prompting from the organizers.

“My impression is that it was a great opportunity for them to be involved with a real, authentic music moment with someone who is a real veteran and has a ton of respect, and to have their brand associated with that is something that we were excited to do,” Frederick says.

This kind of authentic moment is what today’s brands are clamoring for. The online audience is savvy and fickle, and often uses ad blockers to tune out online distractions, Frederick says. But the Genius Level series presents content with substance about a topic viewers care about. It lets fans educate themselves on musical history. Being part of that is a real opportunity. It’s also the rare music event that appeals to both younger and older music fans. Older fans know the guests from their early days, while younger fans want to hear how these icons influenced a new generation of talent. It’s musical history made relevant for today, and it bridges a gap between fans.

The first episode was viewed more than 2 million times. It also garnered Genius a wealth of social media activity—about 8.5 million social impressions across various platforms. The second episode was released only shortly before this interview, so the numbers weren’t all in yet. Based on what he was seeing, Frederick thought views would be around 1 million.

“We’ve certainly had more successful videos, but in terms of trying to show the younger generation how exciting these icons can be, I think this has really exceeded our expectations as far as how much of an impact it can make,” Frederick says.

Following the live events, participating brands were happy with both the on-site footprint and the reach they got with at-home viewers. The challenge for a live event, Frederick says, is not only pleasing the few hundred in the room, but extending that to the millions of potential streaming viewers. His company pulled it off, and the brands noticed.

Genius distributes videos on its site using a Brightcove player, and also through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It doesn’t put full shows on Instagram and Twitter, but posts highlight clips designed to pull in the viewer. Twitter has a video limit of 2 minutes 20 seconds, so Genius looks for stories that work in that space. The Facebook audience skews a bit older, so Genius posts clips there that will appeal to older fans. Sponsor branding appears even on highlight clips.

While Genius has only done two episodes so far, there are plenty more to come. Frederick plans for it to become a bimonthly event, and has several possible guests under consideration. Eminem, a longtime friend of the site, is his dream guest, he says. This means brands that want to get involved in a live event involving millions of passionate music lovers will have plenty more opportunities to do just that.

[This article appears in the November/December 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Using Live Video to Pull in Fans and Brands? Genius."]

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