June 12, 2024

Swizz Beatz And Timbaland’s $5 Billion Verzuz IPO Collapses


The highly anticipated Verzuz IPO touted by Swizz Beatz as “the greatest creative IPO in history” appears to have collapsed (for now) having missed their first quarter timeline.  Shares of SEAC, the reverse merger vehicle, are trading down at just over $1.

In January, Swizz Beatz excitedly announced that Verzuz would be going public via a reverse merger with a holding company, SEAC.  Swizz said the IPO would be led by a group of over 120 celebrity shareholders. The list includes The Weeknd, Lil Wayne, Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg, Young Thug, Ashanti, Fat Joe, Hit Boy, and E-40.

The new company was to be known as TrillerVerz, and listed on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol “ILLR”. According to TheStreet.com, it was to be valued at around $5 billion. The deal was expected to close in the first quarter of 2022 after board approval, making shares immediately available to the public.  

However, the 1st quarter has come to a close and the ILLR IPO is nowhere in sight. NASDAQ’s last notice about “ILLR” was from December 2021 when the original announcement was made. Meanwhile, the holding company, SEAC, closed today at almost $1 per share.  Neither Swizz Beatz nor Timbaland has issued any update on the announced IPO.

The relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions and return of in-person live events pose a threat to the Verzuz live-streaming model. Touring, the most common money-making method for hip-hop artists is back in full force.

The Verzuz model worked for pandemic-weary fans desperate for some connection and live entertainment from the safety of their homes. Now fans are unleashed, and the choice between seeing an artist live versus on a sometimes unstable Instagram stream is an easy one.  The hip-hop transition from the lockdown has come pretty swiftly. Live shows and concerts are in abundance nationwide from artists eager to get back to touching fans and touring for money. The aftemassive multi-day festivals – ESSENCE Fest, Lollapalooza, Coachella.

And adding a subscription fee to a model that was built on free access has made the Verzuz model even less appealing.

Since 2020 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Versuz has been free to watch for all users. Its popularity skyrocketed thanks to its widespread accessibility. This is in addition to its use by viewers to cope and unite with one another during the lockdown.  The celebrity competition became a way for viewers to feel nostalgic and watch performers interact with one another through social media features such as comments and replies while watching.  Therefore, the community that had formed around Verzuz was blindsided by the announcement that the Valentine’s Day show would be moved to a subscription-based model.  

Verzuz kicked off the first musical battle of 2022 with a Valentine’s Day special on February 15t. The showcase event involved soulful R&B legends Anthony Hamilton and Musiq Soulchild. The two artists brought out a full house of fans to the famous Avalon Hollywood Nightclub. Selling out tickets just days before the show, it was clear fans were excited to see this Valentine’s Day showdown up close and personal, and the energy online was high for fans looking to watch the stream.

However, just hours before the event, an Instagram message from the official Verzuz account announced it would be available by subscription only via a “TrillerVerzPass” and offered fans a free trial:

To watch, sign up NOW for the #TrillerVerzPass (14-Day trial* included!! DON’T WAIT!!) LINK IN BIO!!!

The subscription, at $2.99 per month, promised to give fans access to Verzuz plus Trillerverz’s other content including boxing matches.

Immediately after the announcement, Verzuz was dragged on social media.  Fans of the celebrity battle show took aim directly at founders Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, scolding them for trying to make money off the community behind their success. 

The uproar continued for hours with fans stating outright that they would refuse to pay for the event.
Swizz Beatz informed the public last-minute via IG that the event will in fact be free after all.  Swizz assured fans he had nothing to do with the recent change. According to him, he was “out of the country” when the decision was made.

However, the damage was already done.  The reputation of founders Swizz Beatz and Timbaland had soured with supporters.  And with fans confused and angry, the Anthony Hamilton Vs Musiq Soulchild Verzuz tanked.  Though official streaming numbers are not publicly available, the live audience during the event was significantly subdued in comparison to previous R&B Verzuz competitions. The trending conversation the next day was about fan disillusionment and calls to “defund” the platform that saved our sanity during the pandemic.   For those who watched, there were complaints on Instagram that the live stream ended mid show.  Other fans threw darts about the quality of the stream.

The TrillerVerz Pass subscription is priced at $2.99 a month (totaling $35.99 for twelve months) or $29.99 a year. The subscription includes live footage from Triller Fight Club (boxing), TrillerFest (concerts), Verzuz (rap battles) and BIG3 (basketball). Also included are an ad-free experience, unlimited view-on-demand Viewing, Live Chat, as well as FITE DVR. 

Comparable content subscription services Netflix and Disney Plus charge $9.99 per month and $7.99 per month, respectively. These prices reflect a basic plan, and offer thousands of hours of a wide variety of entertainment. The Verzuz TrillerPass offers significantly less than these services but at $2.99 per month offers comparable value.  That is assuming the programming and content are quality and consistent, an issue highlighted by some fans.

Putting the value of the subscription aside, there is an even more pressing question on the minds of many fans.  With the cultural clout Verzuz has gained from the community behind its success, is it appropriate to make Verzuz a commodity to sell back to this same community?

Despite the unfulfilled IPO, Verzuz has continued with new original programming on their VerzuzTV. This includes a documentary about the rise of the streaming battle event and a gospel-themed Verzuz matchup for Easter.

Swizz Beatz proudly announced an Amazon Doc about Verzuz, produced by Lena Waithe.  The documentary, Gifted & Black, will show the journey into the making of ‘Verzuz’ music phenomenon.

Meanwhile, on the original programming front, Verzuztv.com is presenting a mental health series with Deepak Chopra and NLE Choppa and Jhene Aiko. Also, the upcoming Bebe and Cece Winans gospel Verzuz slated for Easter includes tickets for $65 or $150 to attend the live experience or stream via Trillerverz Pass for either 2.99 per month or $29.99 per year.

Additional reporting by Aevum Callum, Daniel Jerkins, and Seeka Starsky.

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