How were you impacted, and what was the reaction of the fans?
This pandemic took the whole industry and the public by surprise: in march, we had a great number of shows scheduled for the summer and autumn with a lot of them sold out or nearly sold out, we were on our way to an excellent year. Obviously, seeing the way the virus developed, we quickly realised it would not be that way. We directed our efforts towards postponing the shows whenever possible to 2021 rather than cancelling. We were pleasantly surprised by the reaction of the fans, as the percentage of the audience that asked for refunds was very low; most people chose to keep their tickets. Fans really want to go back to concerts and experience live music and having bought their tickets, there is a really strong desire to see the shows we had scheduled for this summer.
Do you feel you were more ready than other parts of the industry, since you are used to possible cancellation?
Nobody was ready for this. True, the concert industry is accustomed to dealing with cancellations arising from the availability and the health of the rock star, especially the singer’s voice. The industry has developed a means of dealing with that type of risk through re-scheduling shows, which works quite well. But what the Covid-19 has done to the risk of cancelling a show is on a completely different level, especially considering the fact that the audience itself and the general public is at risk if the shows go on. Governments have quite correctly stepped in to protect the public.
What formats can be applied now?
Every city, venue, is trying to setup new formats, for instance shows for 800-1000 people. For instance, the Festival de Pedralbes will schedule shows this summer on that basis. Artists will play mainly acoustic sets with just a basic PA and lights and the festival will focus on offering food and drink as well as just the music. This is going to work, as it generates some income for the festival and the promoter. Will these formats stay on? I think so: capacity is reduced, but it is working. There has been a steady growth in the smaller boutique festivals that offer a fantastic setting and good quality food and drink where the public is happy to pay higher prices.
Is streaming a valid complement? Does it generate any income? It has often been free.
It could be. I read that the boys band BTS recently broke all the records for streaming of one single concert, both of money and attendance, with 765.000 online paying attendees with gross ticket sales at an estimated $20 million USD. If you have the following of a band like BTS, they will accept this format and pay for it.
But promoters will not necessarily see money from these online streaming activities. As promoters, you get revenue from live performance, but you don’t have the rights from the use of the band’s image or name beyond that. But I don’t believe streaming is mutually exclusive with live performance.
There are a lot of parallels between football and musical events, and we could get lessons for the future of our business model. With football the rights of broadcast are already bigger than ticket sales at the top level. Something similar may well happen with live music events. Our industry has always been very flexible and changed its business model when a new challenge came. We will go experience a series of changes, mostly tied to technology, and we will adapt.
But the best event still always involves a crowd of people who are at the event and cheer. This brings the atmosphere, as we see now with the current football games where there is no public. The atmosphere is definitely missing.
Could smaller concert with extras (hospitality for instance) be a solution?
This could be a way. In big concerts, the VIP packs have become very important, and they are proving very successful as well in smaller shows and smaller format festivals. People like exclusivity. Prince, for instance, offered after-party jams in small clubs, and this experience in a different surrounding where you lose some of the technology, can be pretty cool. The performance gets more real. Jazz artists are an example of that: if they get big enough, these artists perform in an arena but the real jazz experience is one of proximity, intimacy with the public. This crisis will spark creativity within the industry on trying new and different formats for live music shows and I am sure we will see a lot of new initiatives. But I am also sure that when we find a way of dealing with the virus, then there will be a demand for big festivals and stadium shows again: the audience loves the excitement.