For the big three music labels, recent history has been painted by the wide brush of online streaming.
Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group have spent time and money over the past two years claiming a stake in streaming sites like Spotify, making sure their artists and licenses are protected elsewhere on the web, handpicking viral stars to bring established audiences with them to the music business, and in general pivoting from a download economy to one of streaming and subscriptions.
Quietly, Universal Music, the world’s largest purveyor of recorded music, has been less myopic about growth in the modern music age. In fact, few recent acquisitions show the company has been taking a different approach to promoting its upcoming and established artists through a visual medium.
In April, Universal Music acquired Eagle Rock Entertainment, a London-based music company. While the company does boast its own label with artists such as The Counting Crows and Ron Wood, its real wheelhouse is the place where audio and visual mediums intervene. Eagle Rock is known for its high-quality concert documentaries like The Doors When You’re Strange, which won a Grammy in 2010. Eagle Rock has over 800 similar titles and adds another 2,000 hours of programming to the Universal ranks.
Eagle Rock’s value to Universal Music is clear. In 2012, UMG acquired EMI’s recorded music arm in a deal worth a reported $1.9 billion, giving the label access to the likes of The Beatles, Katy Perry and The Beach Boys. These are the types of artists with the stage presences to create documentaries and concert specials and audiences large enough to mass produce those videos.
More recently, Universal signed a deal with video-on-demand Facebook platform Screenburn Media on September 15. Another London-based start-up, Screenburn is a video feature on Facebook’s “artists pages” that allow content licensers like Universal to stream longform video content directly to a core audience. With Screenburn, artists like Perry and Sir Paul McCartney have streamed concerts successfully through the app. The Smashing Pumpkins timed their Facebook concert livestream to debut alongside a deluxe reissue of Adore.
Universal is also angling to open another video-based revenue stream through strategic, native product placement in music videos. UMG and ad agency Havas Media signed a deal with Mirriad, an ad technology company that developed a way to insert ads into and after videos, as opposed to pre-roll or banner advertisements that can be a turn-off for users.
In the fast-evolving music industry, there is no magic bullet for label success. But by opening a new, video-based front and forging new revenue streams, Universal Music is poised to get a leg up on the rest of the field.