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The Open Forum: With or without EU

The Open Forum: With or without EU

Chair: Phil Bowdery, Live Nation (UK)

Guest speakers included:
John Giddings, Solo (UK)
Alex Hardee, Coda Agency (UK)
Detlef Kornett, Deutsche Entertainment AG (DE)
Tim Leiweke, Oak View Group (US)
Bill Silva, Bill Silver Mgmt (US)
Marsha Vlasic, Artist Group International (US)

Live Nation’s president of international touring, Phil Bowdery, returned as host for this year’s standing room-only Opening Forum, which saw six heavyweights gather to discuss the last 12 months in the business, hot-button industry issues and the looming threat of Brexit.

After running through some of the headline figures from 2018 – the largest tour was Ed Sheeran’s ÷, which grossed US$432.4m from 93 concerts in 53 cities, with Taylor Swift’s Reputation in second – Bowdery asked what the trend towards rising ticket prices, coupled in many cases with falling attendances, outlined in IQ’s European Festival Report 2018 means for the industry’s future growth.

Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG) CMO Detlef Kornett said that while his company experienced healthy growth last year – and that sales of top-end tickets continue to grow – less wealthy fans are increasingly finding themselves priced out of shows. “Twenty per cent of the population in Germany now can’t afford to go to a show,” he explained. “The P1s keep increasing but the lower end is a concern.”

Coda agent Alex Hardee said while he didn’t have any statistics to hand (“not that that’s stopped me before!”) he feels the overall market is “flat”. “You’re never going to have a problem selling [new, hot acts like] Billie Eilish, but it’s more difficult with bands on their second, third albums… Record labels are the strongest they’ve been since the ’80s, but the live industry feels like it’s plateauing slightly.”

Tim Leiweke, the ex-AEG CEO who now leads venues company Oak View Group (OVG) – which used the conference to launch its new London-based OVG International division– cautioned that the business “need[s] to address whether we’re pricing people out of concerts”, especially if the global economy takes a downturn.

Solo Agency’s John Giddings countered: “Every time we put a show on sale, it seems to sell out. People want to go out and have a good time.” He revealed that his Isle of Wight Festival 2019 had sold more than 30,000 tickets before it had announced a single artist.

FORTNITE IS A $60BN BUSINESS, AND IT DOESN’T CHARGE TO PLAY. … I THINK THERE’S A LOT TO BE LEARNT FROM THAT”

However, he added: “We push ticket prices all the time – the artists want more money, venues want that peripheral income – so there must be a level it reaches when we say it’s enough.”

Marsha Vlasic of Artist Group International (AGI) said AGI had a great year, with the likes of Billy Joel, Def Leppard and Metallica continuing to sell out shows. She said her biggest concern for the future is “who are the next headliners, and how do we get the next generation of acts to that level?”.

Asked about the impending merger of AEG Facilities and SMG, and the new company, ASM Global’s, potential to rival OVG, Leiweke said he doesn’t think “two [companies] coming together is ever good”, predicting that “they’re going to get challenged in the UK, they’re going to get challenged in Germany and elsewhere in Europe…” He also revealed that OVG’s lawyers are “looking at it” on anti-competition concerns.

Returning to ticket pricing, and the value of the market, artist manager Bill Silva argued that the live music industry – predicted to top $30bn in 2022, according to the latest PwC data – is actually small fry compared to the videogames business, where many IPs rely on a free-to-access model.

Fortnite is a $60 billion business, and it doesn’t charge to play,” said Silva. “That’s one game that’s bigger than our entire industry by a multiple [of two]. I think there’s a lot to be learnt from what’s going on there – people are spending their time on that activity, rather than music and concerts – there’s a model around engagement and experience that encourages them to spend.”

“It’s the old drug dealer model,” he joked. “‘First one’s on me,’ right? Not that I was a drug dealer…”

Kornett argued the success of games like Fornite could help open up to the live business to a wider audience, using the example of DJ Marshmello’s recent performance in Fortnite, which was seen by 10m people.

“WE NEED TO REMEMBER WE WORK IN A SYSTEM WHERE OTHER PEOPLE RELY ON US”

Following on from ILMC head Greg Parmley’s welcome address, when he paid tribute to the ILMC members who had died in 2018, Silva urged the industry to come together and look after those in need.

“When we watch our artists taking their own lives – Chris Cornell, Chester [Bennington] and now this week Keith Flint – as well as promoters [referencing Croatia’s Jordan Rodić, who committed suicide in January], we need to remember we work in a system where other people rely on us as well.

“I guarantee any of the people around people who have taken their lives would say they did everything they could, or that they had no idea… We all have a lot of fun doing what we do, but I like to end most interaction on a high note and let people know I appreciate and respect them.”

Inevitably, with the UK set to leave the EU (with or without a deal) at the end of this month, talk then turned to Brexit. Several people in the room said they were hedging dollars to prepare for any post-Brexit plunge in the pound. “We’re in a gambling business, and that’s just another gamble we’re taking,” said Giddings.

“We’ve been following everything on Brexit, all the scenarios,” added Hardee, “but what can we do?”

Asked the view from the continent, Kornett said: “Once in a while, it’s good to take the other side. The UK industry accounts for almost 25% of Europe’s, so it gets harder to get to the UK from Europe our business gets harder. So there should be a vested interest to avoid that.”