Last year, the Grammy Awards ratings rose 10 percent from 2008, with a 23 percent increase amongst viewers aged 18-34. And while there are a number of factors to which you could attribute that increase, one major factor is this: the 51st Annual Awards marked the first year that the Recording Academy took social media seriously, with a full team bolstering their web presence with Twitter, Facebook and other tools to engage with fans.
This year, though, marks a whole new evolution for the awards ceremony; not only is the site moving forward with a renewed use of the web, but it’s celebrating fan engagement with the music world. This has led to the unique step of building a sister site to Grammy.com — one that showcases how the music fan expresses him or herself online these days.
The We’re All Fans site uses technology developed by Visible Technologies to give a real-time portrait collage of what people are saying, Tweeting, and YouTubing about Lady Gaga, Maxwell, Leonard Cohen, Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon and ten other major artists from all genres of the music industry, selected due to the size of their followings and their relevance to social media. The campaign concept is currently driving print, outdoor and TV advertising, including 30-second spots that show the idea in action, such as this Lady Gaga adaptation built around fan videos from YouTube.
The nifty bit is this: The Grammys have annotated the ad on YouTube with links to the original videos sampled, and excited fans, thrilled to be featured, linked back to the spot, helping it to get over 750,000 views in its first two days, with the ad now currently hitting over 1.1 million views. Beyonce and LL Cool J videos have followed.
In addition to YouTube, the Grammys are working with MySpace as its streaming partner — for a full 72 hours leading up to the show, live events and behind-the-scenes footage will be featured. This includes the Sunday afternoon three-hour pre-telecast awards, the Grammys red carpet, and the after party. “It’s the longest stream any awards show has ever done,” said chief marketing officer Evan Greene, with whom I spoke via phone.
However, the actual awards will only be viewable on CBS Sunday night — during the broadcast, past Grammy moments and some behind-the-scenes footage will be shown online instead. “We want it to be a two or three screen experience,” Greene said, with the third screen in this case being mobile, which the Grammys are getting closer to utilizing fully. This year’s iPhone app includes not just a trivia challenge, but a “Guess the Grammys” component, which allows fans to guess the winners in 21 of the 109 award categories and compete with their friends predictions, with all of the music from those 21 categories being available for purchase via iTunes. The hope is that by next year, the app will also include live-streaming.
While the lead-up to the awards is well-choreographed, however, the video strategy for the awards following the broadcast isn’t quite as clear. The Recording Academy owns the rights to the actual broadcast material, but archiving and distributing live performances for the web isn’t an instantaneous thing, due to the many rights issues involved. “It’s tough to point to a performance prior to the show and say it’ll be available,” Greene claimed. For one thing, even if the record label approves the song for online distribution, the artist might not be happy with how they performed and will thus not allow it to be distributed.
And when artists with different record labels and different representation perform together, such as last year when the Jonas Brothers and Stevie Wonder dueted, that only doubles the complications.
However, once the footage is approved they’ll have no shortage of distribution possibilities — including a brand-new Vevo channel that currently features footage from the nominations concert and classic Grammys performances.
The key to all of the Grammys pre-show work, though, is getting people to actually watch the Grammys when they air — on CBS, on TV. “It’s critical for us to reach out in a credible and organic way to fans where they’re actually living, because not all of them are watching TV. We want to try and migrate them back from the digital universe,” Greene said. The barometer for success there will be the ratings on Monday morning.