Kiswe CEO Mike Schabel on VenewLive and BTS' Online Concerts: 'The Relationship Between BTS and ARMY Is Profound'

In June 2020, BTS put on an online concert called “Bang Bang Con The Live” on a streaming platform called VenewLive. The concert went on to set viewing records, and multiple BTS concerts have streamed on VenewLive since “Bang Bang Con The Live.” The platform has also hosted concerts for artists including Tomorrow X Together, Seventeen, and Sunmi.

On Oct. 24, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook of BTS held an online concert called “Permission to Dance On Stage.” Following the concert, Showbiz Cheat Sheet interviewed Mike Schabel, the CEO of the company behind VenewLive, Kiswe. Over email, Schabel shared his thoughts on BTS and the future of concert livestreams.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Mike Schabel is the CEO of Kiswe

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: For those who don’t know, can you explain what exactly Kiswe is?

Mike Schabel: Kiswe is a B2B technology company that helps media rights owners create direct connections with their audience. We specialize in live events and creating deeply interactive experiences for consumers.

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: How does Kiswe create memorable experiences for viewers, especially since sports and music fandoms are quite large and have high expectations?

Mike Schabel: Memorable experiences are created by artists, not by Kiswe. The artists are the ones with a story to tell. Our job is to make sure they have a very good platform with which to tell their stories… Make no mistake. True live video is extremely hard to get done right. That is true for TV, and it is true for live digital video.

Live events always have hiccups at some point — but if nobody is impacted, then we did our job as a platform provider. We also make sure that the video is exceptionally high quality and is presented in a way that feels comfortable for different audiences. One thing we have mastered is the delivery of real-time multi-language closed captioning to serve international audiences. 

Our platform includes a huge portfolio of tools that allow fans to cheer — by smashing buttons or by contributing video, which we use to produce a huge virtual fan camera that we include in the event. When fans contribute and see that their contribution makes a difference on the event, the experience becomes exceptional. Then they become part of the story.

‘Bang Bang Con The Live’ was BTS’ first online concert on VenewLive

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: How did you first begin working with HYBE?

Mike Schabel: Looking back to the beginning of our journey with HYBE, it was triggered by a market need and made real by the development of relationships built on trust and commitment to do something new and fundamentally different. BTS worked very hard in 2019 to tour all of the world. Even so, they only were able to perform live for a fraction of their fans. They wanted to create more live and meaningful connections with all of their fans through the presentation of their music. 

The relationship has been expanded to include Universal Music Group and YG Entertainment to help transform the industry approach to livestreaming music with the launch of a consumer-facing platform called VenewLive. 

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: Can you walk us through what it was like putting on BTS’ “Bang Bang Con: The Live” show in 2020? 

Mike Schabel: Again, Big Hit Entertainment and BTS took the real risk to put on “Bang Bang Con.” But Kiswe had an important job to do. It was both exhilarating and, truth be told, terrifying. We built our platform and went to extreme lengths to test it.

My nervousness was amplified because of the importance of the event. What I had learned, and come to respect, is that the relationship between BTS and ARMY is profound. Because of the pandemic, they have been kept from each other. We had one shot, and only one shot, to give them an opportunity to connect with a live event. We felt a tremendous sense of duty to BTS, to ARMY, to HYBE, to the emerging livestreaming industry, and to the huge number of music professionals around the world whose livelihood depended on live music, to get this right.

A month or so after the concert, I was giving a virtual guest lecture at a college. One of the students brought their BTS lightstick, waved it wildly, said she loved the concert and thanked Kiswe. That made me feel like we did our job for BTS and ARMY. 

BTS’ online concerts are hosted on VenewLive

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: How did it feel when “Bang Bang Con: The Live” set the Guinness World Record for the most viewers for a music concert livestream? 

Mike Schabel: Every award that is earned is a humbling achievement, and that was no different when the world record was set. But that award is not Kiswe’s to take credit for. It was set by BTS and ARMY. We were there as a platform to facilitate it. What we really get excited about are not the traditional things that are measured by Guinness, but rather, the level of interaction that comes from every concert attendee… When you see people in nearly every country lighting up the world — all cheering together for the same reason — it creates a feeling of joy and hope that no award ever can. 

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: VenewLive has since hosted multiple BTS concerts including “Map of the Soul ON:E,” “BTS 2021 MUSTER SOWOOZOO,” and most recently “Permission to Dance On Stage.” How did working on these online concerts compare to “Bang Bang Con: The Live”? 

Mike Schabel: I would be lying if I said it got easier. None of the events were easier than the last. Our commitment to provide BTS and ARMY with an amazing experience gets harder every time. There are always more fans. There is always a new feature. The show is always bigger and bolder. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We push the envelope of our platform with every concert so BTS can push their creative envelope. I am so impressed with how deeply engaged BTS is with their fans, and how they try to give more to them. 

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: After successfully putting on “Permission to Dance On Stage,” can you share what you or your company learned the most from this experience? 

Mike Schabel: There are always important learnings about the platform and how we can make things better, more efficient, more robust, etc., and how we can provide a better experience for fans. But that probably isn’t interesting to readers. After every event, though, we are reminded about how lucky we are to support BTS and ARMY. It is a privilege to support their growth and success, and we hope to always earn the opportunity to support them again. 

Mike Schabel on the future of livestreaming

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: With in-person events returning, what do you think the future of streaming and interactive video experiences looks like? 

Mike Schabel: I am so excited for this to happen! This is the opportunity that we originally wanted to address when we formed the company, and now we’ll have an opportunity to really innovate. I am so excited to see how we can blend the in-person audience with the at-home audience to create something truly powerful.

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: Is there anything you hope to accomplish next? 

Mike Schabel: Fortunately, we are moving at such a fast pace that whatever is articulated as the next accomplishment will be behind us by the time this article is published. So let me instead talk about where we want to end up. The at-home audience is huge and is served today with lean-back made-for-TV content that assumes a monolithic audience. We know that actual audiences encompass a wide spectrum of demographic interests, they want to participate, they want to be recognized for their fandomship, and they want to matter.

We think that can happen for all live content, be it music, sports, news, talk shows, and more. If we can help bring that vision of video to the industry, then we’ll have accomplished what we set out to do.

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