Want Millions of Views for Your Virtual Event? Just Add Shaq and Gronk. The executive producers behind one of the most-streamed events in history break down the state of live entertainment.
By now you have likely seen the viral moment when NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal did what he does best while playing a game of HORSE against three-time Super Bowl Champion Rob Gronkowski: He ripped the damn rim off the backboard. Game over.
It was all part of the livestream event Shaq's Fun House vs Gronk Beach, which featured the larger-than-life personalities squaring off in a series of goofy challenges, with appearances by DaBaby, Snoop Dogg, Steve Aoki, Diplo and more.
The event, which raised money for the NAACP and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and delivered 1.25M meals to Feeding America, was produced by Medium Rare, a live events and brand activation company.
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Entrepreneur spoke with Medium Rare's co-founders, Joe Silberzweig and Adam Richman, about what it takes to pull off an event like this, and what they see in the near future for the live events industry. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation.
Life in the live events business
Adam Richman: It hasn't been talked about much, and there aren't any bills from Congress really aimed at helping out concert promoters or people in the live entertainment industry. We know a lot of our colleagues and friends who are really hurting. It's really been hard for them to do anything during this time, and that's sort of where we stood a few months ago. We were sitting there saying, "What are we going to do?" And that's when the lightbulb went off. "Let's go virtual!" It worked so great with Gronk and Shaq's two special brands. We don't know exactly what the future will bring in terms of in-person or hybrid events, but everything we're planning for November and December will be 100 percent virtual.
Virtual events can be more than a glorified Zoom call
Joe Silberzweig: There have been hundreds of live streams events since the pandemic hit, but most of them are Zoom calls or Instagram Lives with pretty janky quality. We really saw the opportunity to do something bigger, more polished, more produced, and that's where we see the future of streaming going.
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AR: We really took the initiative of promoting and marketing and this like it was one of our in-person events. We didn't just post a link and say, "Hey, we're going live tomorrow at 10:00 PM. Make sure you check us out on Instagram or Twitter or whatever." We really did a full-on campaign. We had a national press conference, did a full-on social campaign, email blast — really treated it like we would any of our big events. And we think that allowed us to shine through. It gave consumers the confidence that this wasn't going to just be another basic live stream.
JS: The music talent we worked with are used to performing in an arena with a million dollars of production behind them. So you can't just say, "Hey, can you rap in front of your living room couch?" So this challenged us to figure out ways to make it look like a music video, not just something streaming off someone's phone. We knew we needed to the highest production values possible while keeping staff and talent safe.
AR: And for big live events, a challenge can be making sure artists are at the venue and ready to go on time. It was a little shocking that for a virtual event, it is sort of the same thing! You know, where we FaceTimed one or two of the artists to bring them onto the screen, and they pick up and they are in their car driving. So some things never change!
Staying calm in the storm
JS: During the game of HORSE between Shaq and Gronk, we had a tech issue. So Adam and I were freaking out. I think 5 million people watching at that time and it was all pretty nuts. But our team worked through the issue and got it working and instantly at that moment, Shaq ripped off the rim. And that was really the biggest, most viral moment of the entire livestream. Now, I say we were freaking out, but that was on the inside. On the exterior, you need to stay calm and collected and lead your team through difficulties like that.
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The viability of virtual events
AR: We consider ourselves quite lucky that we've been able to quickly make this pivot to streaming. We did lose hundreds and hundreds of live events due to the pandemic, but it is encouraging to see how many artists and personalities are embracing the possibilities. And it's really nice to see sponsors playing in the space as well and transitioning and believing in this model.