CBI: One Direction: Social media made them a global phenomenon, says Sony CEO
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One Direction: Social media made them a global phenomenon, says Sony CEO

One Direction have become a $50m business thanks to their army of fans across the world - and this is just the start, according to Nick Gatfield

One Direction

This article appeared in the December edition of Business Voice, the CBI magazine

'Their live business is through the roof. I haven’t seen anything this big in my entire career on a global level.'

- Nick Gatfield

To understand the transformative effect of social media on how music labels market their acts, look no further than the success of One Direction.

The boy band, who are signed to the Syco label, came third in The X-Factor TV show in 2010. Since then they have won a Brit award recognising their worldwide success and become a $50m business – with Sony Music UK CEO and chairman Nick Gatfield predicting that this will double in 2013.

Nick Gatfield: X-Factor made us complacent >>

“They are a global phenomenon,” he says. “Their live business is through the roof. I haven’t seen anything this big in my entire career on a global level.

"You can get that kind of explosive moment if you galvanise young music fans and find something they want to engage with – it goes worldwide incredibly quickly. That’s the beauty of social media and the internet: we sign locally but we market globally from day one. That’s a fundamental change in our business.”

By acting on pockets of support for the band that emerged online in places from Sweden and Italy to Australia and Canada, the company built support for the band before they’d had any airtime on the radio. This was particularly important in the US – an impossible nut to crack for British pop bands for more than 20 years.

Sony Music’s US division picked up on a campaign called “Bring 1D to me”, originally developed in the UK, which encouraged fans to pitch for the band 
to play in their area. As a result, What Makes You Beautiful, their first single available to buy on iTunes in the US, sold 130,000 copies in a week and entered the top ten without any airplay.

Gatfield says this has completely changed the dynamic of launching an act, enabling music companies to bypass the traditional radio-station gatekeepers.

“Traditionally you’d have to persuade radio to support it and there’d be a long, hard slog while you built up the support and marketed them on the back of airplay,” he says. “This is the other way round: you market them and then airplay is the accelerator.”

He adds that he would be loathe to sign an act that had no social media profile. “All that would say to me was that they hadn’t got sufficient wherewithal or drive.”

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