min read

Who would watch Live Aid today?

by John Carroll , 13.07.2015

Thirty years ago today (July 13, 1985), the nation was gripped to its television screens to watch Live Aid. It was a dual-venue charity concert in Wembley and Philadelphia, watched by around 170,000 in the two stadia and by a further 2 billion worldwide on live television. That’s nearly 40% of the planet’s population at the time. It was also simulcast on Radio 1 in the UK. Everyone talked about it and those of a certain age can remember where they were that day. Let us fast forward to today and consider who would watch Live Aid now.

For a start, those in the stadium would not have both hands free to clap; they would be holding up their mobile phones and recording the event for sharing on YouTube or streaming live on Periscope. The television audience would still be relatively strong, certainly for share of viewing, but the armchair viewer may have also been simultaneously browsing through #LiveAid tweets. Such an all-day event does not really lend itself to enlarging the 3% of total TV viewing currently enjoyed on BBC iPlayer, although an edited highlights show could do well, as it does for Glastonbury. And what would it add to the 4 billion videos already posted daily on Facebook? Perhaps it would be streamed live on YouTube just as Felix Baumgartner’s record breaking sky dive was in 2012. And when the concert’s last act’s microphone fails at the start of a classic song, then maybe Oreo would post a ‘You can still dunk in silence’ ad.

And what of Periscope? Back in May, the Twitter-based interactive live streaming service made piracy headlines as a number of people ‘broadcast’ the TV pay-per-view boxing event via their smartphones. It is a moot point whether those watching via the social media app would have paid to view anyway. Given Live Aid was free-to-view then the impact of Periscope would have been reduced to showing off to your friends that you were there.

Simulcasting, multi-screening and sharing may have helped popularize the event, but I fear the unique intensity and seminality of the occasion, and corresponding level of audience engagement, would be diluted today. Everyone sitting at home in front of a television set feels more like a shared event than, well, a shared event in the social media sense. But then again, I’m old enough to remember Live Aid. And how many would go out to buy a Sunday newspaper the next day for all the pictures and reviews?

The days are gone when measuring a TV audience would mean looking at a single ‘overnight’ figure the next day; although estimating the global audience size for Live Aid must have been an intriguing calculation. With many screens and platforms now available for viewing an event, the audience can choose when, where and how they watch, and the advertiser can tailor their message and context accordingly. Overlay all this with some measure of engagement, however defined, and there is a wealth of data available for broadcasters and advertisers to interrogate - probably too much data.

And there lies the challenge in measuring audiences - one where there is an increasing emphasis on integrating different data sources, such as live broadcast, video and online, into a single data-set. It is not wholly dissimilar to BARB’s Project Dovetail ambitions and our recent contract win in Singapore for example.

Above all, the return on investment for Live Aid was raising awareness and money for those starving in Africa, thereby underlining the unique power and effectiveness of live television, however consumed, whether the year is 1985 or 2015.

John Carroll is Head of Audience Measurement for UK, Nordics & Baltics at GfK. He can be reached at john.carroll@gfk.com or followed on Twitter @MediaCarroll