It’s been almost a year since many have been to a live event. The pandemic almost halted an entire industry overnight, but some companies, like RushTix, have found a way to live on. The ticketing company has shifted its business model from live events to streaming comedy.
Since March, they have been committed to bringing the comedy club experience to fans around the world at home. Their large-scale virtual live-streamed comedy shows have included performances from Maria Bamford, Kevin Nealon, Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman, Sarah Cooper, and Patton Oswalt.
For founder and CEO, Jill Bourque, the process of shifting the business from in-person to streaming has been an important one. Pre-pandemic the company offered a monthly premium membership for tickets to comedy shows, concerts, theater, and other events. “March came along and all live events ceased to exist. As a company, we were close to organizations and artists that went to zero income, including ourselves. We went from being a really healthy thriving business to having to pause all of our subscriptions… We went to basically zero revenue in a week,” Bourque recalls.
The company had to think fast on how to support themselves and the artists they worked with. RushTix had already used live-streaming for marketing, mostly in the form of live-streaming red carpet events to their social media, and believed they could make it work for the shows themselves. “Originally, we didn’t know if people would pay for live-streams,” Bourque says. “There weren’t a lot of paid events on live-streams and we even had feedback that people wouldn’t pay for it.”
Their first ticketed live-streamed event with San Francisco drag star, Heklina, was on a Tuesday at 5 pm and only made $78. Bourque says, “It was nothing compared to what we do now, but it was huge because we saw that people were willing to pay.”
Since then, they have refined their strategy to focus on comedy. “Comedy works really well for live-streaming,” Bourque, a comedian and comedy producer herself, says. Since then they have been adding features, like a ‘live’ or rather, remoted in, studio audience to give shows an authentic comedy club feel. Having people laughing is important for Bourque, as she says, “Comedy is a conversion and the audience and the laughter is part of the whole art form… We feel that live-streaming brings a cool and immersive quality that lends itself to the form well.”
“We really think of ourselves as programming, as co-producers” Bourque says. “Not any old show can be on RushTix; we are curating the show.” Currently, much of their curatorial lean has been setting up shows and events around holidays as well as talents. Their upcoming schedule includes multiple love-themed shows set for Valentine’s Day weekend. They even have plans for more Pride-themed shows this coming June.
Even if by this summer, more in-person venues and experiences reopen, Bourque doesn’t believe the audience for streaming content will disappear.
“I was reading a comment last night from one of our customers [which said] ‘I can’t always see a comedian that’s performing in another city. I don’t have access to that. It’s so convenient and fun to have this experience in my own home.’” Bourque explains, “I think live-streaming is a form that has been evolving. The pandemic just set a fire [under it.] There were already different types of live-streaming happening, but now there is a comfort level because it’s so ubiquitous and has become part of our life. It’s going to be like the podcasting category, where there will be companies like ours that specialize in it and have a lot of programming. Frankly, for artists, what they can do in one live-stream is what they would be able to do during a whole month on the road. The economics of it is very favorable and fans love it. It’s here to stay for sure, but it doesn’t replace the live experience.”
For Bourque, live-streaming is more than a necessary stopgap. Bourque says of live-streaming events, “[We need] healthy ways to gather online. Social media platforms cause a lot of problems and personally, I am interested in ways we can gather online and form a community that feel positive.”