A New Reality Looms Behind iHeart/Bell Media Partnership

Last week Bell Media announced a partnership bringing the iHeart Media brand to Canada. The nuts and bolts of the deal seemed to be that the US multi-platform broadcasting brand could deliver exclusive content to the dominant broadcaster in Canada, and, as importantly, provide a sophisticated suite of integrated technologies that could simplify how Bell Media customers can access content over a wide range of devices including TV, in-dash, mobile devices and wearables.

All that is true, but the kicker was there was another jackpot sitting in the wings that was to be announced separately.

MBW broke the story, reporting from CES that Universal Music Group (UMG) has partnered with iHeartMedia to create a series of virtual reality (VR) music experiences designed to ‘connect artists, music fans and brands and sponsors’.

Full shows from four individual UMG artists will be shot and distributed in VR later this year at the iHeartRadio VR Concert Series held at the iHeartRadio Theater in Los Angeles, with dates to be announced.

According to MBW, many tech experts believe 2016 will see the mainstream maturation of VR headsets, which last saw popularity in the mid-’90s when video game giants released primitive arcade devices such as Sega’s VR-1.

Over the past several years, the options for streaming content online have ballooned as a fleet of technology-based companies have unveiled services that are pitting themselves against established brands in terrestrial, cable and satellite delivery.

Bell Media has long had its eye on creating a leading footprint in multi-platform content delivery. The iHeart Media deals promises an opportunity to set them ahead of technological shifts, particularly with automakers installing entertainment systems in vehicles that connect to the Internet and easily link up with streaming services, and perhaps in the event marketing arena where ticket prices, security issues and even a looming crisis in topline mainstage concert attractions loom.

Google has toyed with offering streamed concerts, but really hasn’t pressed the format as a regular experience. That may change; in the meantime, iHeart Media is a branded, experienced and successful events company and it is at the leading edge with the announcement it is braving new territory in the virtual reality world. The initial foray may be imperfect but it signals a game-changer for content delivery companies. It’s not good enough to be a broadcaster with an app. One needs to have an integrated portfolio of assets that can be deployed seamlessly across a wide range of platforms that are basically OS agnostic. Fees for unique content are going to balloon in the next few years. Bell Media is clearly intent on being the dominant player in this market and is investing in future capabilities before the trends become apparent and the competition becomes too intense, as it has in the music streaming category.



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