For the past 5 years, Grandcrew.com has been passionately recording and bringing you videos of amazing live music moments. Today, we’re pulling the plug on the service.
Skip to: Our story | What didn’t work | From one entrepreneur to another | What’s next | Defining moments | More concerts online | Contact me
It started in 2007-2008 in Paris with the simple idea of bringing the live music experience online & on connected devices. I wanted music fans to be able to click play, sit back and enjoy the show. Just like fans pay for a real concert, fans online would pay a fraction of the price to live the live moment online, via their TV or connected screen. There would be no digital gimmicks, no “virtual beers”, just the best possible raw concert experience with (for starters) the chance to connect to other similar fans watching the show…
Grandcrew.com was launched fast, but not too early, in 2009. We had worked hard on the user experience and felt the service was ready to go, with concert videos and music news. A few months later, we had finished the editing of our first big hit -concert #50-, and the video of Carl Craig vs. the classical ensemble “Les Siècles” reached over 3m fans from 100 countries, on our own website and through our exportable player, with help from the folks over at Warp Records in France. It was a free-to-stream show, to boost traffic and create brand awareness.
As far as business goes, I had passion “backed by expertise”. After finishing an MBA program and seven years working for a top-tier consulting firm, I put together a rough business plan with assumptions and numbers that made sense. When we launched Grandcrew, there was no real online market for concert videos, except for the totally free for the fans “too-good-to-be-true” fabchannel.com that eventually shut down in 2009. The physical market for concert DVD’s was dwindling, down 70% from its early 2000’s peak of $1billion. Concert videos as we knew them were dying. My goal was to innovate in media, creating a whole new entertainment category worth $500m-$1b, and scooping up the top spot on the way.
Of course, going into a new market is very difficult. We were free to invent a new usage and new rules but there were risks, like falling in love with our sexy idea of a concert video channel and not adapting, completely missing the business opportunity. Originally our model was ad-based, free-to-stream, but we didn’t think it was scalable, even though some examples showed that big brands were sponsoring live music video streams (think State Farm & Coachella, American Express & Youtube Unstaged). We quickly moved to pay-per-view.
Mostly, there were roadblocks on the content licensing front.
To build our concert video catalog, we could either create our own video catalog or license existing concert videos. In the medium term, we would have to have major-label, “hit music” videos on the service to operate at scale. So we decided to create exclusive content in the short-term and make deals with the majors in the medium term. Using content from pioneering indie labels & artists, we would prove that the traffic & sales numbers made sense, and use that data to negotiate content licensing deals with the majors. The strategy was well-chosen as we really had no negotiation power or leverage early on to get a good licensing deal with the majors (without huge upfront payments). The downside was that the majors control 70% of the world’s artists and the remaining 30% is incredibly fragmented, across hundreds of labels across all territories. It was a “work of ants” (as we say in french) to get deals done and build our catalog that would eventually count nearly 400 titles, recorded in collaboration with hundreds of artists, and dozens & dozens of labels and venues.
Building our catalog paid off initially. The venues, event producers and promoters, bands, indie labels, were very receptive and ready to experiment. With Grandcrew’s traffic, venues were opening up to a whole new audience online, which wasn’t cannibalizing ticket sales. Bands were allowing us to create a whole new concert experience online. We filmed hundreds of shows in over 30 venues in France who welcomed our teams and their gear. We even wired a few key partners with high speed SDSL internet connections to live-stream concerts. We streamed iconic shows and built a grassroots movement that changed live music online, inspiring many copycats! We were the first to do this with a true business model that was scalable.
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WHAT DIDN’T WORK – THE FACTORS THAT KILLED GRANDCREW:
- Timing & the difficulty of licensing content from the majors.
In 2009, I wasn’t able to secure large-scale licensing deals with the majors on their video catalogue. Back then, CD’s still represented a good 65% of music sales and labels were just getting around to license digital audio (to Spotify) and short music videos (to Vevo, Youtube) – digital distribution for long-form video was still a few years away, they didn’t care. By the time record labels became more open to discussion, we had run out of funding. Without funding & cash advances – no deals with the majors, without deals – no funding on the VC side.
- Competition from an unexpected source.
When Grandcrew launched, alternatives existed: youtube (bad quality, fan-made concert recordings, pirated content), control room (with 10 concerts available to watch!), fabchannel (about to die). I expected other services would follow, with various business models. Unexpectedly, one totally free site was launched, with no revenue requirement: Arte Live Web. It competed with us in every way: it competed for content -filming the same shows we were filming-, and competed for eyeballs in our launch market. The French “cultural exception” made this possible, as this was a public TV channel investing a yearly $1million of government subsidies into this online experiment, basically paying record labels to film their concerts. They spoiled the labels and warped the business. They hoped to attract a younger demographic to their TV channels. To be honest, the end result is stunning, without having the pressures of financing. Recently, a second similar service was launched by France Television, government owned TV channels. Great for the fans, tough on startups!
- Raising capital
We raised 2 rounds of seed funding from 3 sources: founder (I sold my apartment), angels, and a French VC. We managed to build the foundation of a great streaming service but needed capital to continue growing. For round 3 (“series A”), we met a dozen of the key VC’s in UK and France that count in tech, but Grandcrew didn’t click for them. Without knowing what went through their minds, here is my gut feeling: 1.We pitched a strong Facebook strategy after FB had migrated its timeline, FB apps were on the decline, 2.We pitched too early and couldn’t prove sufficient traction – our pitch rationale said “we can do it with indie labels and we need cash to achieve same KPI’s with the majors” but although sales & conversion ratios made sense, we needed huge numbers to back our claim, bigger than what we were showing, and 3.It was too late to pitch, we were already cash poor and desperate! (cash is king). To be honest we should have raised a larger round 2 (we unfortunately had investors back out of their investment promise, 2 weeks before closing round 2 – who knows if that would have changed things!)
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FROM ONE ENTREPRENEUR TO ANOTHER
I don’t have regrets but there are so many things I’d do differently. Here are some things I:
WOULD DO OVER:
- I would sell my apartment, risk it all and I would quit my job.
- I would get my hands dirty and do things I didn’t think I’d ever do. (Coming from the business-side, “getting my hands dirty” means getting involved in coding, servers and the tech side of things, it also meant being a master in all things related to audio/video hardware & software, video encoding and streaming etc. It also means hiring, firing, finance, legal, everything!)
- I would again hire people who have passion. Criteria #1. Passion for the job, the industry and passion for working.
- I would work with a well-chosen VC again, professional investor who has great insights/ contacts/ expertise/ experiences to share.
WOULD NOT DO / WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY:
- I wouldn’t do it alone. It’s lonely out there without (a) co-founder(s), in good times and in bad. In good times, you want to share the joys, and in the worst times, you have to be honest with the team but you can’t share every detail with them. However, choosing a co-founder is not an easy thing to do: must have same mind-set but opposite/complementary skillset.
- I wouldn’t choose a developer whose approach is to achieve perfection by “re-inventing the wheel”. There are plenty of great developers and frameworks out there, choose the right dev for you & choose the right framework to get started! (This is a tough one to succeed at, there is no manual for this – have a technical co-founder!)
- I wouldn’t outsource the technical development. Keep it in house to control costs, manage advancement, keep it agile, and deliver quick tweaks.
- I wouldn’t hire a marketing guy from the start, I’d invest in tech instead (Build MVP before getting the buzz out!) Anyways, the CEO is the first and foremost sales guy on the team.
- I wouldn’t neglect my angel investors & manage the relationship better (it’s the biggest mistake I made). I took them for granted and thought their role was to come speak to me. I shouldn’t have, it’s not, and they didn’t. It cost me time, re-work, and spoiled a relationship that could have been a great collaboration.
- I wouldn’t accept funds from angel investors with no experience in investing, or no work experience in the startup’s field.
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Check out 8020films.com for more info on our video production work with brands, agencies, institutions, live events (example: live broadcast of David Guetta @Bercy, Pitchfork Music Festival, TED conferences). Sébastien – our superstar director – has joined me at 8020 Films, as well as working on his own projects, bringing to life some great stories over at Sandgate Productions. Anousonne – our content king – is working with “the competition”, making amazing branded music films over with our friends at La Blogothèque. Stan – co-founder and ruthless business developer – produces commercials for Henri de Czar.
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So these are the defining moments that gave me chills, some of my favorite concerts (quality is SD, it was HD on Grandcrew.com) and some of the most memorable moments, beyond the business aspects:
5000 people bumpin’ to De La Soul (after 2min50 everyone gets down). De La asked us to make their tour DVD after they saw the video:
Carl Craig vs. Les Siècles, our first huge hit. Thanks to C2 and the folks over at Warp/Infiné France (only regret – we were only allowed 3 cameras in the venue, far from the stage). Working with a legend, a pioneer:
A cool collaboration with Warp & Ed Banger Records (we had done some awesome tour visuals for SebastiAn, an Ed Banger artist, at Sonar in Barcelona), these are some scenes from a killer party we did more visuals for in Paris:
My favorite concert ever on Grandcrew, a bunch of canadian kids ;)
Collaboration with an amazing artist (Hervé Salters from General Elektriks on Discograph – Thanks to PO and Olivier). GE was the first band we live streamed, and 100 fans payed to view the show online. 3 hours before the show, we received a new video encoder prototype from the manufacturer, only they had forgotten to wire the sound inputs – we were forced to find a last minute solution, not without a little stress (!) This video is from another GE show in Nantes:
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BEST CONCERT VIDEOS ONLINE (as of Oct’13)
No one can beat Grandcrew ;)
But if you’re looking for concert videos online you can find some great services out there:
#1 – Moshcam from Australia has an amazing service with a similar approach and style as Grandcrew. With exclusive access to Australia’s premier venues, they own rights to over 1000 shows that you can stream across all your connected devices including some connected TV’s. Great new website that just came out (Oct’13), awesome video quality. http://www.moshcam.com/.
->FREE, pay on mobile/tablet
Evntlive, the up & comers from LA. The team sounds rock solid and the interface is very intuitive. Their catalog is still small but they just partnered with Lady Gaga so look forward to hot content on their platform. https://www.evntlive.com.
->Mix of FREE and PAY PER VIEW
For a great listing of live streaming concerts, check out iRocke. http://www.irocke.com/.
Arteliveweb spend hundreds of thousands (of French public subsidies) per year on sourcing, producing and broadcasting high quality concert videos. http://liveweb.arte.tv/.
France Television is a copy/paste of Arteliveweb, they also get major grants from French government and have amazing shows. http://culturebox.francetvinfo.fr/live/musique.
Qello and i-Concerts, the veterans. They’ve been around for a while and have different approches. i-Concerts is still the world leader in powering TV, cable, VOD offering around the world. http://qello.com, http://www.iconcerts.com
->PAY PER VIEW
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Don’t hesitate dropping me a line, reach me at christopher.esclapez “at” 8020films.com
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