‘Dedicated Fans Buy Tickets’

In part one of a two-part series on digital influencers and how important they have become for the live entertainment business, Pollstar speaks to Joe Fucigna and Phil Battiato, music and special projects agents at UTA. 

YouTube is well on its way to reaching larger audiences than TV and radio. Social media personalities have enough fans to potentially fill venues, if their art can be translated into a live production.

Joe Fucigna
– Joe Fucigna

This “has had an incredible effect on the A&R process,” Fucigna said. “It’s removed some of the early gatekeepers from the equation, which opened up creative freedom and allowed talent to develop on their own, unimpeded by production companies, agents and managers. By the time those pieces of the industry are in place, the talent usually already has millions of views and a loyal following.”

Followers don’t translate into ticket sales one-to-one. There’s no formula for determining how many ticket buyers any given social media personality will attract. It varies from genre to genre, “but also by client, event, location and price point,” Fucigna said.

Battiato added, “The overall number of followers is important, but the level of follower engagement is more so. A high level of engagement means there exist dedicated fans and not passive followers.

Talent with lower social stats but high engagement may outsell talent with higher social stats and lower engagement.” Many YouTubers garnered a huge following with a completely out-of-the-box idea, expanding the types of events that can be implemented in a live environment.

Rethinking traditional formats and creating a live experience around any genre is both agents’ favorite part of the job. “Sometimes the talent that are the hardest to pigeonhole are the most fun to work with because it forces you to think creatively,” Battiato said.

Makeup artists create some of the most-viewed content on YouTube.

That leaves some flexibility as far as size and venue.

“A client may want a traditional stage show format where they host a 90-minute show featuring beauty tips, demonstrations, a Q&A, with a goal of selling 1,000 tickets; or an intimate fan interaction where they host a 30-minute beauty demonstration and a 90-minute meet-and-greet with the goal of selling 200 tickets,” Fucigna said. “Or an all-day, highly intensive event where they host, and various other influencers lead segments on hair, nails, makeup, etc, with masterclass breakout sessions, all with the goal of selling 500 tickets; or even a small festival featuring multiple stages, multiple influencers, large scale activations, and different types of content with the goal of selling 5,000 tickets.

“It’s not unrealistic to think you may be looking at doing a few versions of these events with the same client, so they can serve their fan base in different ways.”

As can be witnessed each year in London at Summer In The City, meet-and-greets are a big deal for fans of YouTube stars. Kids will queue for hours just to meet the relatives of a certain online personality. And while, at the moment, meet-and-greets can attract more people to a social media star’s tour than general admission tickets, “in the long term, the quality and diversity of the show is what will give these stars longevity,” Battiato said.

Given that most audiences of digital influencers are quite young, it may open up new opportunities for venues to host a day-time program.

Fucigna says “we are often crunching set times to see how quickly a fan base can be at a venue after school on a weekday or booking matinee shows on the weekend before traditional evening acts need the room. It’s not cut and dry, as the double booking generally means figuring out a lot more logistics with the venue but when a venue is able to make more efficient use of their room, it tends to work out better for everyone.”

The new and ever-changing forms of digital entertainment have changed the way agents work: “We don’t sign talent for ‘live’ unless the talent is supported by the core digital talent agents who are working to get clients acting work, brand deals, etc. 

Phil Battiato
– Phil Battiato

The rest of the agency is building the client’s brand in other verticals to increase overall visibility, which aides us on the live side,” Battiato explained. A practical example of this is the comedy duo Rhett & Link, which is releasing its first book in October. 

“Instead of doing a book tour in retail stores, we had the idea of doing an entertaining book tour in traditional live venues. The tour sold out in the onsale (30,000-plus tickets) and created a lot of buzz around them and the book.”

Both agents agree there are very few promoters who completely understand the digital space, making it an educational process. As digital talent is an emerging industry in the live space, most of the time they are selling promoters talent they’ve never heard of.

Which makes it all the more gratifying to receive an email “from a very surprised promoter,” saying, “Thank you so much for this booking, it was the easiest sellout of the year.”

Since most promoters’ email database will contain mostly traditional fans of rock, pop and hip-hop concerts, marketing also need to be rethought. Luckily, digital influencers already have the “ultimate platform,” as Battiato put it.

“The digital talent has the biggest database there is and can reach their fans way more effectively than a anyone else can. With the tour we just announced for our podcast client, Up & Vanished, the tour dates were announced via the product itself. The podcast gets 20-25 million downloads a month – incredible reach. Very few musicians have such direct paths to sell tickets to their fan base the way digital talent does.”