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The Rise of Concert Films

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Dan Runcie

“As soon as I accomplish one goal, I replace it with another one. I try not to get too far ahead of myself. I just say to myself, 'All right, well, I'd like to headline a tour,' and then when I get there, we'll see what my next goal is.” - Taylor Swift

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This is a guest essay from Jimmy Stone from Alderbrook Companies and Leveling Up.

The Rise of Concert Films

Back in college, some friends introduced me to Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Waltz. If you’re unfamiliar, the documentary covers rock group The Band’s farewell concert at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco during the late 1970s. During the show, the group is joined by a number of legendary special guests, including Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. I loved the film. It introduced my teenage self to The Band’s music, and The Last Waltz’s soundtrack remains in my regular playlist rotation.

 

Concert films like The Last Waltz aren’t a new genre. Some of the earliest examples date back to the 1940s. While developing a concert film isn’t new, 2023 was arguably this genre’s most successful year ever

 

Two films – Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour and Renaissance: A Film By Beyonce – released last year topped the weekend box office charts in their respective opening weekends. According to Box Office Mojo, Swift’s Eras Tour and Beyonce’s Renaissance have grossed over $260 million and over $40 million, respectively, in theaters worldwide. These results put both movies in the genre’s all-time top 10. Eras Tour became history’s number-one-grossing concert film, narrowly surpassing Michael Jackson’s 2009 posthumous documentary This Is It. And while it technically wasn’t a motion picture concert film, Elton John’s concert film Elton John Live: Farewell From Dodgers Stadium on Disney+ resulted in the artist winning an Emmy and granting him rarified EGOT status. 

Source: Box Office Mojo, Billboard, and Alderbrook estimates.

 

At the same time, Taylor Swift may be the most famous person on the planet as of 2023, and her film was “only” the 22nd highest-grossing movie at the global box office last year. Compared to video game movie adaptations, The Eras Tour film wouldn’t even crack the top 10 grossing of all time. So, is this trend overhyped? 

 

In this piece, we’ll try to answer that question by considering why music artists and Hollywood are interested in developing concert film projects. Next, we’ll explore the necessary ingredients to drive this genre’s success. And finally, we’ll speculate on where this trend might be headed.  

  

What is Driving the Rise of Concert Films? 

Over the past few years, there has seemingly been increased interest and investment in motion pictures showcasing live musical performances. Let’s explore a few of the likely drivers of this trend from the point of view of two key stakeholders: the artist/rights holder and the distributor/film studio. For the first group, there are several reasons to consider releasing a concert film.

They’re an alternative way for artists to engage and retain fans

Musicians releasing their IP in new formats to continuously engage with their audiences aligns with the transmedia entertainment trend. Leveling Up has written about transmedia storytelling in the music industry when we analyzed the South Korean music company HYBE. 

 

As a reminder, transmedia storytelling is the telling of stories across platforms. For example, a story might originate in a comic book series and then be expanded through television, novels, games, films, etc. 

 

For actively touring artists like Taylor Swift and Beyonce, releasing a concert film helps keep their content fresh in the minds of their fanbases. Meanwhile, for legacy artists, concert films can help rights holders re-engage their older fanbases and/or enable discovery by a new generation of fans (like my college experience with The Last Waltz). 

 

For example, film studio A24 re-released Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense late last year. Originally released in 1984, the film grossed ~$5 million in theaters and contributed to the band’s internet search interest spiking (depicted below). According to the Hollywood Reporter, nearly 60% of the audience for Stop Making Sense’s opening weekend was under 35 years old, with many attendees not even born when the Talking Heads split up.

Source: Google Trends.

Concert films enable artists to engage and monetize new demographics.

Certain fans may prefer concert films to live or live streaming at home. For fans with less disposable income, concert movies can be an attractive alternative. While it may be an extreme example, the ticket pricing for Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour concert films ranged from $19.89 for adults to $13.13 for children and seniors in the U.S. versus the average resale prices for The Eras Tour live concert, reaching over $1,000 per ticket. 

 

Similarly, other demographics – including children, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and/or those impacted by geographic constraints – may find a movie venue much more accessible than a live concert. As one Taylor Swift fan said, “It makes [The Eras Tour] accessible. Hopefully families with young children who can’t afford over [$500] on tickets will take their kids to see this, and the little ones especially won’t particularly care that they’re not seeing it live.” 

 

At the same time, the concert film still enables an artist’s fans to share an in-person experience with other fans. This can get lost watching a concert at home on a streaming service. Along these lines, moviegoers were allowed to ignore typical big screen etiquette for The Eras Tour film, with fans encouraged to dance and sing along to the film. Here’s a link to what dozens of Swifties going nuts at the movie look like. Simply put, concert films can help artists extend their demographic reach.   

Source: The Detroit News.

Concert films can catalyze fans to engage more often with an artist’s music.

Instead of cannibalizing consumption of an artist’s other IP, the data suggests that concert films may actually lead passionate audiences to consume even more of an artist’s content. According to Luminate, Taylor Swift, Talking Heads, and Beyonce all saw a meaningful increase in U.S. and global on-demand audio streams in the weeks after their films were released in 2023 (depicted below). 

Source: Luminate. 

Concert films can be more lucrative now than ever.

While the transmedia storytelling strategy is becoming increasingly popular, it’s fair to argue that it’s not really a new one. 

 

If we’re trying to understand the “why now” for concert film’s growing popularity, the deal Taylor Swift and her team struck to distribute The Eras Tour film is likely a key driver. 

 

In a novel move, Swift partnered with AMC Theaters directly to distribute her film rather than working with a Hollywood film studio. Beyonce also chose to partner with AMC directly for her film as well. As a result, both artists reportedly received an unprecedented 50% of ticket sales – a much higher split than the traditional creator/studio deal. For comparison, actor Tom Cruise reportedly received just over 5% of Top Gun: Maverick’s gross ticket sales, equaling ~10% of film studio Paramount’s ~50% split of gross sales after the theaters got their ~50% cut. Cutting the studio from the split equation makes the concert film genre much more lucrative for artists. 

 

Swift’s film is estimated to have cost only $10 to $20 million, whereas major motion pictures can easily cost $100+ million to create. This means that Swift likely earned over $100 million on her 50% share of the gross box office. And that’s before licensing the film to streaming services. 

 

Plus, development is relatively straightforward. Whereas it can take a meaningful amount of time – typically measured in years – to develop a major motion picture, concert films can be spun up in a matter of months. This helps reduce the effort and risk associated with creating them. Simply put, due to innovative partnerships, successful concert films are now more lucrative for rights holders than ever.

Concert films are another form of artistic expression.

In addition to any commercial motivations, concert movies are an opportunity for creative control and artistic expression. For instance, Beyonce’s involvement in Renaissance as a writer, director, and producer illustrates a trend where artists take more creative control over their content. This level of control helps ensure that the film accurately represents an artist’s vision. 

 

Meanwhile, many concert movies allow artists to document pivotal career moments, serving as time capsules for fans. In this sense, fortuitous timing is also likely at play with the recent rise of concert films. Both Taylor Swift and Beyonce – generational talents – simultaneously showcased their talent and creativity. There is an element of chance (or perhaps strategic timing, coming during their world tours) for these two superstars to release their films in the same year. As a result, the happenstance may have allowed each film to garner greater momentum, existing as part of a “trend” rather than as a standalone entity. 

For distributors like AMC Theaters, there are also reasons to want more concert films in their theaters.

They increase the supply of new releases

This was particularly valuable last year when Hollywood writers and actors had a labor dispute. These two work stoppages pushed several anticipated new films off their 2023 release schedules. Viewed over a longer period of time, the number of new film releases appears to still be trending below pre-pandemic levels. According to Box Office Mojo, there were 587 films released at the box office in 2023 versus over 900 in 2019. For distributors, concert films provide compelling content for audiences that aren’t reliant on the writers and actors of traditional narrative films. In this way, it helps distributors diversify the risk of new supply being released on time, which supports ticket and concession sales.      

Source: Box Office Mojo.

 

Concert films diversify content types offered by movie theaters.

By offering concert films of well-known artists, distributors can attract fans who otherwise might not go see a traditional film in theaters. As discussed above, one key benefit of seeing a concert movie is the shared experience with other fans. It may result in audiences returning to the theater for a traditional film and providing incremental ticket and concessions revenue that might otherwise not be realized. Along these lines, global box office annual revenue is still estimated to be ~25% below its pre-pandemic high. 

 

Similarly, AMC Theatres’ annual revenue (depicted below) is slowly recovering but remains 20% to 30% at its pre-pandemic peak. Assuming that AMC received 50% of The Eras Tour and Renaissance domestic gross box office sales, that is an incremental $100+ million of revenue (2.5% of their 2022 total sales) before any concessions or other sales are factored in. In short, experimenting with new types of content, like concert movies, can help drive more revenue to make up the industry’s road back to pre-pandemic heights.      

Source: Stock Analysis.

The unit economics are potentially more lucrative than traditional films.

While concert films have historically driven less revenue per film than blockbusters, distributors likely receive a higher percentage of every box office dollar. I am speculating here, but I imagine theaters like AMC have more leverage when negotiating with an artist’s production company than a large Hollywood studio.    

What Makes a Concert Film Successful? 

With these drivers in mind, let’s look at some of the characteristics of successful concert movies. Admittedly, a film’s definition of “success” may vary. For higher budget projects – like The Eras Tour and Renaissance – it likely means tens of millions in gross box office revenue. For smaller projects and re-releases, it probably looks more modest. Nevertheless, here are some of the commonalities observed across the higher-grossing concert movies:

 

1) The artists already have a dedicated and sizable fan base. 

Unsurprisingly, the all-time top 10 concert films have superstar artists involved. Similarly, the two largest films in the genre last year were from Taylor Swift and Beyonce – global superstars with large, dedicated fanbases. 

These fans help de-risk a project and are the primary audience for the concert films. Their enthusiasm and support can drive initial ticket sales and word-of-mouth promotion. Is there a rule of thumb for a minimum number of social media followers or monthly listeners? It’s tough to say. 

Interestingly, according to kworb.net, only four artists associated with the top 10 grossing concert films are in Spotify’s top 50 most streamed artists of all time. That said, eight of the top 10 artists are in the top 100 most streamed artists of all time. This suggests that popular artists on streaming services will likely have fans who come to a concert movie. It also points to a potential opportunity for a number of other popular artists who have yet to develop a concert film.  

Source: kworb.net. Note: Emphasis of artists associated with concert films in the Top 10 all-time gross box office revenue added by Alderbrook.

 

2) The artists’ music is mainly associated with pop and/or rock genres. 

The top-grossing concert movies overwhelmingly consist of pop and rock acts. It will be interesting to see if artists in other genres like hip-hop, Latin, and Country – which are successful on streaming services – experiment with bringing projects to the box office.

3) The concert films have high-quality visuals and sound. 

This helps make the film experience more visually and sonically engaging for audiences. For example, the Talking Heads’s Stop Making Sense re-release was reproduced in 4K resolution. 

4) They are interactive.

A key difference between releasing a movie at the box office versus streaming services is the opportunity to have a shared experience with other fans. Taylor Swift got this and leaned into it by encouraging her fans to interact, sing, and dance at the theater.  

5) The movies offer something more than just the concert.

From behind-the-scenes footage to personal narratives to thematic elements that offer a deeper insight into the artist’s world, these films aim to be authentic to the artist’s vision while often offering a more intimate view of the artist’s world than a typical live performance. More than just a recording of a live event, successful concert movies serve as a bridge between the artist and the audience, strengthening the fan-artist connection.

6) The release of the films should ideally coincide with significant milestones in the artist’s career.

This capitalizes on public interest peaks. For instance, concert movies like BTS’s Yet to Come and the Band’s The Last Waltz marked the band’s last concert as a group. Meanwhile, The Eras Tour arguably marks a new pinnacle of Taylor Swift’s career, with fans celebrating her progression through various stages. 

 

Where is the Genre Headed?

All signs indicate the concert movie trend will continue over the next few years. On a recent earnings call, AMC Theaters CEO Adam Aron confirmed as much: “The phone has been ringing off the hook since we announced [The Eras Tour release]. A significant number of the world’s best artists would like to explore doing things with AMC.” 

 

I think it makes sense for pop genre artists like Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, and Billie Eilish to explore concert films. They have large, dedicated fan bases and the resources to execute Taylor Swift’s and Beyonce’s playbook of working directly with a distributor like AMC. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see top-charting artists in other genres – such as hip-hop (e.g., Drake), Latin (e.g., Bad Bunny), and Country (e.g., Morgan Wallen) – that haven’t historically been associated with top grossing concert movie projects. 

 

From my perspective, a Latin music project would be particularly interesting because it is the only genre other than pop to have its on-demand video streaming market share far exceed its on-demand audio streaming market share. Simply put, consumers appear to enjoy watching Latin artists perform.

 

It will be interesting to see if the Majors look to get more involved in this area, perhaps by providing certain artists with the marketing and production services necessary to create and scale these films. On the other hand, it is not necessarily a core competency, and they may not want to step on Hollywood’s toes. However, at the very least, providing the financing on more attractive terms seems like an opportunity if artists continue to bypass Hollywood film studios.

 

In addition, there is likely room for innovation in the space. We’ve seen more projects utilizing AR / VR technology gaining traction. One notable example is ABBA Voyage, in which virtual avatars of the band ABBA perform with pre-recorded vocals and a live instrumental band for a 3,000-person audience seven days a week in London. (Check out a trailer of ABBA’s performance here.) 

 

According to Bloomberg, this show generates more than $2 million weekly. Scaling this experience to thousands of movie theaters today seems unrealistic, given technical and financial challenges. But over time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more examples of this type of immersive experience that allows fans to feel like they are actually attending a live performance. 

 

It may be an interesting application for older and/or deceased artists’ IP. For example, if you could get an artist like the Beatles to agree, I’d imagine they / their estates could make multiples of the ABBA show.

 

Closing Thoughts

In an increasingly crowded media landscape, artists and rights holders are exploring new formats to capture more of their fans’ attention, time, and ultimately share of wallet. The rise of concert films in 2023 is an avenue to implement this kind of transmedia strategy in film. 

 

Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour and Beyonce’s Renaissance underscores how lucrative these projects can be in a success case. They also provide a blueprint for artists looking to release their own concert films. 

 

As a result, I expect that we’ll see growth in the genre over the coming years, providing fans with more experiences to interact with their favorite musicians and offering artists a new platform for creative expression and connection with their audiences.

 

Thanks to Emily, Hannah and Adam for the feedback, input, and editing! 

 

Leveling Up’s work is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, business, investment, or tax advice. You should always do your own research and consult advisors on these subjects. In addition, our work may feature entities in which Alderbrook Companies, LLC or the author has invested and/or has provided consulting services.

Chartmetric stat of the week

Beyonce’s Renaissance film made its released on December 1, 2023. The week before its release (Nov 22-28), her average Chartmetric artist rank was #20 of all the artists in the world. By the end of December, her rank jumped up to #13.

 

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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