There’s an unmistakable rush to cash in on nostalgia in the media business — from a nearly eight-year-old rock star concert series to a new thrill over movie theaters to reviving sales of long-dead vinyl records. But after my nostalgia dip in recent weeks, I can’t help but think that a little innovation would go a long way toward enhancing the long-term prospects for expanding these blasts from the past.
The lineup of live performances for old-but-permanent rock stars has exploded with the end of most of the COVID-related restrictions, with packed arenas and hard-to-beat queues for online tickets . My personal bucket list included 80-year-old Paul McCartney and – don’t judge me – 79-year-old Barry Manilow. This was not even the tip of the iceberg. The summer concert scene includes The Rolling Stones (led by Mick Jagger at 79), Elton John (75), Van Morrison (77) and, on dueling tours, The Beach Boys with 81-year-old Mike Love and (for legal reasons ) “Beach Boys founders” Brian Wilson (80) and Al Jardine (79). Of course, James Taylor is still going strong as a spring chicken at 74. All legends, but he’s almost as old on the concert stage as he is on the floor of the US Senate.
Bruce Springsteen is still a long way from 80 – just 72 – but controversy over high ticket prices for his 2023 tour could spell some limits for the aging rocker. Ticketmaster (with the artist’s permission, of course) introduced “dynamic pricing” with “platinum tickets” going up to $5,000 for some seats. Those prices aren’t nearly unheard of on the secondary market, but they caused some consternation through the initial ticket-buying fandom. For the music business, there aren’t many Bruce clones to generate that level of cost ignorance, and it doesn’t seem like a great strategy to build a more stable concert fan base going forward.
Like many others, I returned to the familiar confines of a cinema to watch Top Gun: Maverick. The film has benefited from near-universal buzz from critics and moviegoers and a pent-up demand for a film with an “old-fashioned” movie star, a lack of CGI special effects and a human story at its heart. But if my experience was at all typical, theaters still live on more The insanely priced concessions and largely outlandish array of attractions to come hardly present an easy return to pre-Covid times and a lasting appeal to mass audiences.
I was late to the vinyl comeback party, but now I’m madly immersed again in a world that’s not limited to, but clearly fueled by, nostalgia. My family alternately loves and laughs at my newfound obsession with finding record stores – remember those? – wherever we go. Having sinfully abandoned my massive record collection years ago, I now curate a small but precious collection of albums unavailable on streaming or that benefit from the still-precious sound of an analog-based turntable. That’s not a bad thing—vinyl sales are set to grow 61% in 2021 to surpass $1 billion annually, close to double CD revenue.
The outpouring of extraordinary spending on content libraries in recent years shows confidence in the power of long-standing artists and iconic content catalogs. The publishing and recording rights to Bob Dylan’s music were sold for a total of $500 million. Springsteen went for a similar amount. David Bowie’s rights pulled in $250 million, and just half the rights to Neil Young’s library went for $150 million. Sony alone has spent over $1.5 billion buying publishing and recording rights. And of course, beyond music, Discovery just merged with the former Warner Media, in part by taking on over $50 billion in debt from its previous owner AT&T
Owning rights and exercising them are two very different animals. I would suggest at least three areas that are worthy of particular focus for those looking to maximize their return on “nostalgia” investments—from sacred brands to content to talent.
Invest in user experience
The vinyl revival isn’t about owning a big round record inside a cardboard envelope. And it’s rarely about accessing the music itself. The overwhelming amount of music content—especially with any significant historical or nostalgic value—is available on streaming platforms. But listening to vinyl allows the user to physically handle the music, place it on a playing device, hear the needle drop as a signal that the music is about to start, and then listen to the music (if the speakers are good enough) with a warmth and immediacy that is distinctly different from listening on a smartphone or speaker.
Live concert producers and movie theater owners should be considering (in fact many of them) how they can innovate their customer experience. Think you can serve food other than playing the volume mostly with fast food? For Manilow in New Jersey, they didn’t even open kosher food service. Maybe they know their demos better than I do, but that’s not saying much even for a moderately customized experience. How about creating more unique memories than t-shirts and CDs that even the older audience isn’t interested in? These are passionate fans! As for cinemas, despite changes on the fringes, it’s decidedly no better than it was before COVID. No lesson learned there.
Invest in the older audience
Decades ago, at CNBC we preached the value of an older, affluent audience, pushing our advertisers to pay attention to—and pay higher prices for—viewers who actually bought their premium products. high instead of paying more for 18-49 or 25-54 year olds. This is no longer an unusual position for a television network. This does not mean that promoters and venue owners should put up sponsorship banners for pharmaceutical companies at Beach Boys concerts. Instead, look at the lifestyle choices of people who have a lot of money to spend and how you can achieve them in new ways and consistently. What are the value drivers for those audiences outside of simply higher ticket prices to see older acts on their “farewell” tour?
Invest in next generation technology
There isn’t a much more toxic word right now than crypto in many media circles, but that shouldn’t prevent a measured development of exploiting valuable, nostalgic content on platforms such as Metaverse (aka Web 3.0). During COVID, younger video game users were approximately 66% female and 56% over 45 – these are the “eligible” audiences. As strange as it may seem to many today to purchase virtual wear or NFTs, outside of a new demo, there are many opportunities to leverage digital asset technology to create not only one-time, but lasting value from clips of from uniquely edited content to personalized digital content. “signatures.” The more popular and loved the base IP is, the more value can be unlocked. As long as content owners are working as brand stewards rather than flash artists, there’s plenty of reason for business creativity here.