A Cool, Hip AT&T? Step Inside Blue Room

Marketer Breaks Old Mold as Music Fans Flock to Site for Live Concert Webcasts

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When the 2006 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival sold out its 80,000 tickets a week before the concert, fans who went away empty-handed were left with the option of standing outside the 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn., hoping someone was looking to unload tickets. Or, as the Bonnaroo site urged, they could stay home and log on to AT&T's Blue Room website for live webcasts of the concert.

Yes, AT&T -- the "stodgy" brand Ad Age readers described as "your father's phone company" -- is the online broadcaster of several of the hottest summer concerts. And the AT&T stereotype didn't deter Sonic Youth, Matisyahu and Korn fans from flocking to Blue Room. In May the site attracted 87,000 unique visitors, according to ComScore, which doesn't yet have June numbers. But Hitwise estimates traffic surged 500% over the mid-June weekend on which Bonnaroo was held. It's no Live 8, but it's a good start for a fledgling online-entertainment property.

Riding a trend
"We're not just a communications company but a communications and entertainment company," said David Banks, director of Blue Room for AT&T. "We want to use it to show our services provide a better overall content experience." Mr. Banks calls Blue Room a key indicator of the way the company is trying to shift its marketing proposition from that of being a services company to a digital lifestyle brand.

With the free-access site, AT&T is also riding a trend -- marketers creating their own entertainment content to connect with their potential customers on a deeper level. The idea is that people will value those brands providing a service or content they want.

Blue Room was born out of a CBS Radio property called Street Date, which is similar to iTunes' New Music Tuesdays. Street Date premiered albums on CBS stations and their websites every Tuesday when the albums hit the stores -- or "street," in record-industry lingo. About 15 months ago, CBS sold the property to SBC, which has since been acquired by AT&T. Now CBS continues to debut albums and run interviews with artists on its stations and their websites, but that content is branded as part of the AT&T Blue Room vault.

It was originally conceived as a way to help drive record sales for the labels, said David Goodman, exec VP-marketing, CBS Radio. "The artist is getting a tremendous amount more messaging for their new release and AT&T gets the patina of being able to work with great musicians."

Since taking over the new music property, AT&T has been ramping up the site's content. Last year it webcast three concerts; this year that number grows to five. In two weeks, it will stream the Chicago stop on the Lollapalooza tour.

Three screens
In addition to the concert and festival partnerships, AT&T has aligned with artists such as Coldplay and Keith Urban to drive awareness and traffic. And with the company's recent acquisition of Cingular, Mr. Banks says there are plans to distribute the content across "all three screens" -- computer, TV and cellphone.

For CBS, rebranding the Street Date property under a marketer's moniker was a way to generate additional revenue for its radio group in an anemic radio-advertising market. As more marketers shift their dollars from traditional broadcast media to online, CBS Radio and its competitors are aggressively expanding their web offerings.

But it's a fiercely competitive online-music environment. Coke recently folded its U.K. digital music store, citing too much competition from Apple's iTunes. AT&T executives are banking on exclusive content to help Blue Room survive and build itself into multiplatform media brand.

A lot of competition
The early data are promising: A Hitwise analysis of downstream traffic indicates about a third of those leaving the Blue Room site visit an AT&T high-speed data site, about 10% head to a search site and the rest move off to another entertainment site.

"There's a lot of competition ... and a fixed set of consumers that everyone's trying to communicate to, so we establish content differentiation points and then use that content to demonstrate what our products can do," Mr. Banks said.
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