Paul Reed, AIF general manager, talks about why companies eating up the festival market might harm the industry
A couple of weeks ago, Live Nation announced the acquisition of regional UK promoter, Cuffe and Taylor. The company is an independent success story, promoting Rod Stewart’s 2016 UK stadium tour alongside shows from artists such as Tom Jones, Bryan Adams and Little Mix. They have programmed Scarborough Open Air Theatre since 2016, successfully reviving the venue alongside promoting Lytham and Greenwich Music Time festivals.
This was the fourth major acquisition made by Live Nation in January alone, including bringing Metropolis Music into the fold. It now controls more than 80 festivals worldwide including Governors Ball, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Electric Daisy Carnival, Reading and Leeds, alongside a portfolio of 165 venues and an increasing interest in artist management.
In fact, if you were tracking the global footprint and market share of the company, you would need to update it on an almost daily basis.
It is not the only one on a shopping spree – Global Live made a strong entry into the festival market with various acquisitions of leading independent festivals and let’s not forget, AEG Live, its activities include the operation of the O2 arena and British Summer Time festivals in Hyde Park.
Everybody wants to rule the world but why it is a bad thing?
1) The live market is competitive and margins so tight. Exclusivity deals on talent are essential as a selling point, especially for major events. Bidding wars between major entities falsely inflate the value of talent and most agents and artists will make hay while the sun shines.
2) A diverse live market with many operators and entrepreneurs is a healthy one for artists; grassroots venues and festivals are effectively the incubators for emerging talent and not all of those opportunities can be delivered by two or three major operators.
Meanwhile, immersive and experience-based events are thriving. Such events are multi arts and not reliant on headline talent, they have taken themselves out of the arms race almost entirely and some are experiencing incredible growth. There is certainly an appetite for events outside of the major festivals and arenas.
I also hope that this year, festivals continue to go beyond escapism and function as a platform for debate, potential change and influencing audience behavior in politically turbulent times – we need a range of operators and independent success stories to achieve this.