VERZUZ almost lost its soul over money
The platform tried to sneak in a last-minute fee model, causing uproar from the fans who made it sellable in the first place.
This week, VERZUZ was dangerously close to losing the familial connection to its loyal fanbase by choosing money over convenience. The risk could have turned a phenom created for and by the culture, into one being sold to all.
The uproar began on Monday, when the platform’s official social media accounts began to promote tonight's matchup between R&B crooners Musiq Soulchild and Anthony Hamilton. People read the fine print on the promo flyer and saw that the only viewing options were on VERZUZTV.com or Triller, both of which require a $2.99/month TrillerVerz Pass subscription. VERZUZ events are usually live-streamed for free on multiple platforms; Instagram was the home base for the series to blossom into a cultural phenomenon and garner enough support to be acquired by Triller in March 2021. But to fans whose hours of engagement directly increased the platform's value, being charged to watch an event they helped build felt like a betrayal.
People were less upset about being charged, and more about VERZUZ's duplicity in the promotion. VERZUZ's official Instagram account has two posts promoting tonight's event, shared on January 31 and February 4. The first post announced Musiq Soulchild vs. Anthony Hamilton as the first VERZUZ of its new season, with information on both the usual free viewing options and paid options. But the February 4 post announced that the tickets to the live concert at Avalon Hollywood were sold out, and promoted VERZUZTV.com as the only way to watch online. VERZUZ co-founder Swizz Beatz was even in the post's comment section directing people to VERZUZTV.com. But it wasn't until four days later, and a week before the event, that VERZUZ even offered a free option in the form of a 14-day TrillerVerz Pass trial. Charging the people who made the platform famous, days after promoting it as a free event, is already an issue. But what VERZUZ did next came across as the most disingenuous act from a company powered by cultural goodwill.
After the public made it clear they weren't paying a dime, the platform reverted to promoting the standard free viewing options in social media posts. "We heard you!" the posts read. A Swizz Beatz Instagram post said that he had been out of the country, implying that he was unaware of the free option being removed from the flyer. An Instagram post from Timbaland jokingly framed the promotion of the subscription-only option to get everyone's attention. I don’t buy it though — I think they both knew that they were prioritizing a paid option.
As VERZUZ grew, it felt like it always listened to its supporters, curating matchups based on the desires of its community. It was an entity that tapped into the culture in authentic ways. But this felt like a soulless corporation forced to do what was right after their efforts to exploit customers' loyalty for profit backfired. Hopefully, future decision are able to tap into the sincerity that made the series so great in the first place.