By Carolina Mandl
SAO PAULO, April 29 (Reuters) - "Calling all the cattle! Our live broadcast is about to begin," Brazilian singer Marilia Mendonca whooped as she kicked off a recent three-and-a-half-hour quarantine performance of 'sertanejo' country music hits from her living room, streamed on YouTube.
The concert, which drew 3.3 million peak concurrent viewers - a worldwide record for YouTube - was one of the most dramatic signs yet of how live streaming has gone viral in Brazil as the coronavirus lockdown has virtually paralyzed Latin America's most populous country. It was also just the culmination of a single webcast-filled day that saw everyone from CEOs to government ministers holding forth from their home offices and living rooms.
With much of the world stuck at home, YouTube's top 10 most-watched concerts in real time all took place this month - and seven of those were by Brazilian artists, the Alphabet Inc-owned platform said. Mendonca led the list, followed by sertanejo duo Jorge & Mateus, ahead of Andrea Bocelli's solo Easter concert from an empty Duomo cathedral in Milan.
"YouTube has seen a very specific phenomenon in Brazil with musical live streaming, especially for sertanejo," said Sandra Jimenez, Head of Music Partnerships for YouTube in Latin America, referring to Brazil's brand of wildly popular country-style music. "'Lives' are the new prime time for Brazilians."
The webcasts, locally described by the single English word "live" - can lead to awkward moments, like when Economy Minister Paulo Guedes realized during one recent session that his computer was running out of batteries.
"It's saying 'find another energy source' here," he said. "Since I don't understand this kind of thing, I'm going to call my daughter."
In addition to Guedes, Vice President Hamilton Mourao, central bank chief Roberto Campos Neto, and the chief executives of the country's top-three private-sector banks – Itau Unibanco Holding SA, Banco Bradesco SA and Banco Santander Brasil SA - have participated in at least three livestream events each in roughly a month of social isolation.
The Brazilian business-oriented livestream events differ from those in most other countries in that they include Q&A sessions and are open to all interested viewers - not just a bank's clients, media, or some other targeted audience.
BUSINESS NOT AS USUAL
Taking notice of the big virtual crowds at a time when concert halls, stadiums, and malls are shuttered, companies such as Brazilian brewer AmBev SA, payments firm StoneCo Ltd and fashion retailer Lojas Renner SA have started to sponsor some of the concerts.
Ambev believes 250 million people have already watched sertanejo 'live' concerts sponsored by the company, which had long sponsored rodeos and music concerts to promote its brands, marketing vice president Ricardo Dias said.
CEOs and government officials, connecting using platforms that include Zoom and Instagram, are using livestreams instead of business conferences, discussing publicly everything from business strategy to interest rate policy.
While their viewership numbers come nowhere close to pop stars like Mendonca, the business-oriented livestreams are garnering a surprisingly wide audience in a country that lacks any kind of specialized business cable channel.
A webcast by Guedes in late March has scored 617,000 views, while Santander Brasil's CEO Sergio Rial has since last week reached 241,000 views discussing the country's economic outlook.
Zoom Video Communications Inc has seen its share price rocket as the global userbase for its video chat application has surged to some 300 million in recent weeks.
It declined to give exact figures for Brazil, but said in an email that it had seen "exponential" growth of its business-focused product in the country.
"There has been a substantial increase in the purchase and deployment of our webinar product," said Abe Smith, head of international market at Zoom.
Brazilian brokerage XP Inc, one of the first companies to ramp up the use of 'live' meetings amid the quarantine, is organizing roughly ten webcasts daily and has had among its invitees Campos Neto and Kraft Heinz's global CEO Miguel Patricio. "People are hungry for information, so we decided to intensify our schedule," XP partner Karel Luketic said.
Brazil's largest independent investment bank, Banco BTG Pactual SA, sees live webcasts with experts as a way to lure new clients. "In a lockdown, it is harder to be in contact with clients, so 'lives' turned out to be a tool also for attracting investors," said BTG partner Marcelo Flora.
Perhaps nostalgic for the country's normally backslapping business culture, in which people have long greeted one another not just with a handshake but a half-embrace and kisses, Brazilian business people and politicians seem to have a bottomless appetite for the live events, which often stretch into the evening, weekends and holidays.
"There are so many live webcasts going on now that things are getting blurred," XP's Luketic said.
But is the new live outbreak here to stay?
"Webcasts have proved to be a useful tool, but nothing replaces meeting people in person," said Credit Suisse's Brazil spokesman Edgard Dias. The bank's local unit has hosted more than 80 webcasts in April, most of them with CEOs and CFOs.
(Reporting by Carolina Mandl; Editing by Christian Plumb and Rosalba O'Brien)