The touring/festival market
Festivals like Rock in Rio in Lisbon have seen a demand on the vendor end
Live in the balance? Levels of touring activity in the ﬁrst half of the year have been robust, but with the festival market evincing signs of a slowdown and now the uncertainty of Brexit, could it be that the sector is on the verge of more challenging times? David Davies reports
he unsettling air of complete uncertainty and trepidation that descended upon the UK on the morning of 24 June – the day after a thin majority of the electorate decided to vote in favour of leaving the European Union – is difficult to describe with total clarity even from the vantage point of one month’s distance. At the time of writing, a new prime minister has been installed and a new cabinet taken shape – but the timetable and nature of the actual ‘Brexit’ process are still very much up in the air. ‘If there’s one thing that business doesn’t like it is uncertainty’ – or variations thereof – has been repeated so much over the last month as to become almost mantra-like. But of course it is true, and so perhaps inevitably this concern has been voiced in many of the interviews that fed into PSNLive’s latest overview of the current touring and festivals markets. Possible longterm drawbacks – and even the odd advantage – for the live industry were aired by multiple contributors, but until the roadmap is clear (turn off junction 50?), no one is really in a position to make conﬁdent predictions. All of which is rather unfortunate given the fact that the UK and mainland European live business is generally felt to have had a strong ﬁrst-half of the year. Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and Coldplay have been among the acts keep things busy at the arena and stadium level, while Latitude, Reading and Roskilde were among the many festivals either at or approaching ‘sold-out’ level at the time of writing.
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But even without Brexit, there had been some troubling signs that the long-term future of the sector might not be quite so rosy as it seemed a few years back. In June, new research from ParcelHero revealed a picture of precarious ﬁnances at festivals, with a prediction that as many as 1 in 10 might not reappear in 2017. In addition – and there is no easy way to put this – the remarkable number of rock-related deaths during the ﬁrst half of the year has raised further questions about the current reliance in some quarters on the ability of ‘heritage acts’ to shift tickets. “Change begets change”, as Charles Dickens famously wrote, and that could prove to be true of the live industry over the next few years.
Road-worthy By common consent, declining and/or unpredictable income from recorded revenue has led to a substantial increase in live activity over the last ten years. At the higher-end of the market, 2016 has showed few signs of a slowdown, with Phil Bowdery – the London-based executive president of touring at Live Nation, the world’s largest live entertainment company – describing the year as “without question one of the busiest outdoor years” (that is, at stadiums). “Our business is very much feast or famine,” he says. “You will go through years where people are out of touring or album cycle, and that is sometimes simply down to the law of averages. You might have everyone out of cycle, and then all in cycle where there is an
abundance of things going on.” This year is clearly very much “feast”, with Rihanna, Coldplay, Beyoncé and Billy Joel among the Live Nation-promoted acts to be doing strong business. Bowdery and team have even made a start on 2017, with Jeff Lynne’s ELO picking up encouraging sales for a Wembley Stadium show that isn’t due to take place until next June. Bryan Grant, managing director of Britannia Row Productions, alludes to tours with The Cure, Kasabian, Munford & Sons and Robbie Williams as he describes what he thinks has “probably been our best ﬁrst quarter ever. There has been a lot of activity and we are fortunate that people want to use us.” The company’s current bouyancy is underlined by the fact that it has already invested £1.7m in new equipment this year – with more due expected to be added in the second half.
Brexit blues The post-Brexit mood of uncertainty can hardly be seen as welcome. “It’s possible we could see a reintroduction of the ATA Carnets [international customs document] – oh god, those days! – as well as the necessity to have visas everywhere you go. But the honest answer is that nobody knows,” says Grant. Bowdery says currency ﬂuctuations might cause “some US acts to think again about coming here. There are certain cases where it will be a problem because the currency is killing them in terms of being able to make the offers work.”