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16 in 2016: The year in review

The IQ news team highlights sixteen issues that shaped the year for those working in the live music industry

By IQ on 22 Dec 2016


With 2016 drawing to a close, in many aspects, it’s been a banner year for the live music business. So in case you miss our regular Index email updates, or recently emerged from a time capsule, here’s 16 key 2016 takeaways (in no particular order) from the year that nearly was…

1. Seconds out, round…?

As IQ wrote last week in our investigation into take-up of dynamic ticket pricing, “if 2016 will be remembered in the live music business for any one thing, it will be as the 12 months in which the pitchforks well and truly came out against secondary ticketing”.

While the UK, as it often tends to, hogged the lion’s share of the headlines, the backlash against what the FanFair Alliance calls “industrial-scale” ticket touting was a truly global phenomenon, with American congressmen, Belgian ministers and promoters in SwitzerlandJapan and, most successfully, Italy also all getting in on the action.

Look for continued action in this area in 2017 as the boundaries between primary and secondary continue to blur, calls for greater transparency continue, and more income is driven back to the industry, out of the hands of those who contribute nothing to it.

2. The Ticketing Gold Rush

One of the key topics tackled in this year’s International Ticketing Yearbook was the increasing appetite for ticketing by the world’s biggest online players. After Alibaba Group, the $14bn Chinese ecommerce giant, launched event ticketing operation Tao Piao Piao in May, Amazon caught the industry’s attention with several hires in the UK for the new Amazon Tickets, the start of a bid to become “Earth’s most customer-centric ticketing company”.

“From an artist or sports franchise point of view, any channel that will allow [major ecommerce companies] direct access to the end consumer is powerful and attractive,”

Slightly closer to home, Spotify unveiled a tie-up with Ticketmaster in November, Songkick is settled into its dual role as concert recommendation and ticketing app and Apple Music is dabbling the live space on the current Drake tour. Initial hiccups in some areas aside, 2016 could well be remembered as the moment the ticket started to go where the fans are.

“From an artist or sports franchise point of view, any channel that will allow [major ecommerce companies] direct access to the end consumer is powerful and attractive,” comments ticketing consultant Tim Chambers.

3. Live domi-Nation

The world’s leading live entertainment group showed no signs of bringing its ten-year buying spree to an end in 2016, making no less than eight major acquisitions.

Bonnaroo/AC Entertainment, French promoter Nous Productions, Greek ticketing company TicketHour, Australia’s Secret Sounds (Splendour in the Grass/Falls Festival), Canadian festival promoter Union Events, Sweden Rock festival, Big Concerts in South Africa and YouTube multi-channel network InDMusic were amongst those becoming part of the Live Nation family this year, to the tune of more than US$113 million.

“As we look forward, we see tremendous opportunities to continue global consolidation of our concerts and ticketing businesses, with further growth in advertising and ticketing from the concerts flywheel,” said CEO Michael Rapino in a Q3 statement.

4. Splendid isolation?

On 23 June, in the first major political upset of the year (bet you can’t guess no.2!), the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), ending more than 40 years of political and economic union with continental Europe.

Thanks to a two-year exit process – which won’t even begin until next March – we’re still no closer to discovering the effect Brexit has on the international live music industry, although a common sentiment in the UK has been to stress the importance of prioritising the creative industries in any future divorce settlement.

“There is a very real risk that skills shortages in the UK will be made worse – at least in the short to medium term”

Industry body Creative Industries Federation called last month for the UK to retain freedom of movement with the rest of bloc – something especially important for touring artists and crew, many of whom have spoken of their opposition to the return of border visas. “There is a very real risk that skills shortages in the UK will be made worse – at least in the short to medium term – by any restriction on freedom of movement that comes with tightening immigration laws and the UK leaving the European Union,” said the federation.

5. Pollsters Trumped

Despite a majority of analysts predicting a victory for Hillary Clinton in last month’s US presidential election, it was not to be: the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, was victorious in 30 of 50 states, and will be inaugurated as president in January.

Like Brexit, the implications for the touring business of a Trump presidency are still unclear, but Nederlander Concerts CEO Alex Hodges seemed to sum up the mood in the Americas when he told IQ the day after the elections: “The show must go on”.

6. Good times

While Q4 and end of year figures are yet to be published, there are few who’d believe that 2016 was a slow year for live music. Billboard puts the value of the US live music business at a staggering $25billion in 2016, with performance show averages up 25% worldwide (43% in the US) and average per-show attendance up 30% globally (29% in the US).

“The top two global tours grossed more than a half-billion dollars in what has been a great year for the concert business.”

Pollstar, which traditionally offers a more accurate barometer of US market health, has yet to reveal annual numbers, but reports: “the top two global tours [Bruce Springsteen and Beyoncé] grossed more than a half-billion dollars in what has been a great year for the concert business.” Pollstar’s Q3 results pegged the top 100 tours up a more modest 3% year-on-year on combined grosses, with average tickets up 7.6%.

7. Rebates under debate

In terms of page views, IQ’s biggest story of 2016 was the revelation that an increasing number of artists are choosing to bypass their local PROs (for example, PRS) in favour of collecting performance royalties directly.

Direct licensing, as it’s known, presents a headache for festival promoters – the vast majority of which have one-stop, blanket licences – with many facing the prospect of paying multiple licensees: the PRO (performance rights organisation) and the artist directly.

Adam Elfin, who runs direct-licensing agency PACE Rights Management, said leaving promoters out of pocket “is not something we want or that should happen”, but added that it’s “beneficial that we’re having this conversation now, because if they weren’t aware of this [direct licensing] and they proceeded with their deals for next year with local PROs, the impact will be massively different.”

No PRO has yet declared they are willing to offer promoters a discount on fees if they have acts directly licensing bands on their line-up, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that might be a possibility for 2017.

8. Beyond music: eSports/YouTube

More than ever before, 2016 saw a raft of new content being introduced to venues, with the likes of eSports events and YouTube stars regularly selling out shows.

The scale of the eSports business was highlighted in October when Reed Midem, the organiser of the Midem music industry conference, announced plans for a similar event for the eSports market, on the back of new data revealing that global revenues in the sector for 2016 are estimated at US$493 million. That news came on the back of the Electronic Sports League (ESL), the world’s largest eSports promoter, agreeing a strategic partnership with AEG, giving it access to 120 AEG-operated venues for qualifying events, tournaments and world championships.

“2016 saw a raft of new content being introduced to venues, with the likes of eSports events and YouTube stars regularly selling out shows.”

Meanwhile, the power of social media continued to grow, posing opportunities for enterprising promoters to take YouTube stars on tour with agencies including WME, CAA and UTA making a big play for online talent. This rapidly growing sector is engaging young fans the world over – underlined by events like Summer in the City, in London’s ExCel centre, where more than 10,000 people bought tickets to meet their favourite YouTubers, watch them live, and listen to panel discussions.

9. Terrorism

The threat of terrorist acts around the world did not diminish during 2016, forcing promoters and venues to increase the amount of investment they are spending to guard their premises, artists, crews and fans from those intent to inflict death and injury.

Atrocities at the likes of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, as well as attacks on festival sites and, of course the mass murder at Le Bataclan in Paris in late 2015, have brought about stricter security measures, with clubs throughout France now using airport style checks for patrons.

As a so-called soft target, concerts and festivals have found themselves under the microscope, especially in certain countries where terrorist cells are known to operate. At the IFF in September, Rock Werchter promoter Herman Schueremans stated his belief that “We’re more safe now” thanks to some of the efforts that he and fellow promoters around the world have implemented.

Elsewhere, Live Aid promoter Harvey Goldsmith lent his support to a new anti-terror training course, but such measures haven’t appeased everyone, with British peer, Baroness Henig, making moves to force staff at UK music venues to undergo such intensive training.

10. Social media integration

Having a Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat account for your event or venue is hardly rocket science these days, but the past 12 months have seen a number of deals forged to better exploit the audience who uses these and other social media platforms.

In April, Ticketmaster and Eventbrite both agreed deals to sell tickets through Facebook, while later in the year, Live Nation tied up with with Snapchat, initially to create ‘Live Stories’ at V Festival, Way Out West, Creamfields and Reading and Leeds, before taking it to the next level by using links for adverts on Snapchat to sell tickets to their shows.

The past 12 months have seen a number of deals forged to better exploit the audience who uses these and other social media platforms.

Not to be outdone, AEG entered into a multi-year agreement with Snapchat to promote its festivals via the video-sharing app.

Hinting at more deals to come, a survey by Nielsen found that Instagram is used by more US concertgoers than any of its rivals, with an astonishing 83% of those active on social media at shows making use of the photo-sharing app.

11. The SFX/LiveStyle saga

The year ended on a brighter note for those working for beleaguered dance music conglomerate SFX – although a number of creditors might take issue with that statement.

In November, Former Global Group and AEG Live chief, Randy Phillips, was appointed as the company’s new CEO and then, just days later, the SFX reorganisation plan was finally given a green light, following nine months of official administration, but at a cost of nearly US$400million of debt being written off.

The company managed to exit its bankruptcy situation earlier than planned and, moving swiftly to distance the group from its former self, Randy Phillips rebranded the entity as LiveStyle.

Quite whether the saga is truly at an end remains to be seen, with at least one shareholder still asking the courts to look at an alleged undervaluation of the company that accelerated its emergence from debt.

12. Goggle Boxes

The influence of new technology on the live experience continued to break new ground in 2016, with Virtual Reality (VR) a popular talking point. In May, music streaming service Rhapsody launched the Rhapsody VR app which promises, “free, immersive 360-degree videos of great artists from the best seat in the house”. May also saw Live Nation announce a partnership with NextVR to film and stream concerts in the format.

Festival including Wacken Open Air in Germany have begun filming their events for VR headsets, and other players in the space include Warner Music (partnered with MelodyVR and Digital Domain) and Universal Music and iHeartMedia, both recording concerts in VR.

The influence of new technology on the live experience continued to break new ground in 2016, with Virtual Reality a popular talking point.

But is it a genuine source of new revenue streams or a short term fad? Time will tell, but research company Nielsen found that early VR adopters are outspending the average American by 2:1 on live events.

13. Weathering the storm
In Europe, the 2016 festival season was one of the most turbulent in living memory, with FKP Scorpio’s Hurricane and Southside, Marek Lieberberg/CTS Eventim’s Rock am RingUltra Europe, Live Nation’s Rock Werchter and Broadwick Live’s Festival №6 all badly affected by severe weather.

Responses ranged from a government-backed €500k bad-weather fund in the Netherlands to FOLD Festival cheekily giving away tickets to Glastonbury-goers who couldn’t face the mud, while panellists at Reeperbahn Festival’s Epic Production session called for collaboration between festivals and a unified code of conduct for dealing with inclement weather.

Wacken Open Air – which avoided the worst of 2016 – has, meanwhile, embarked on a major overhaul of its festival site for 2017, with a new drainage system and gravel-based ground covering.

14. Bot-tomming Out

The controversial use of bots to harvest primary tickets during an onsale saw inbound legislation in 2016, both in the US and UK. The state of New York made using ticket-buying software on offence in June, while plans for a new anti-both bill were introduced in Ontario, Canada, in October.

By November, the UK’s digital minister, Matt Hancock, had launched his Computer Misuse Act, but the strongest move yet came last week when outbound US President Barrack Obama signed the Better Online Ticket Sales (Bots) Act, which proscribes their use.

15. Desert Trip

Hailed as one of the greatest rock events of all time, Desert Trip, didn’t just smash records – it took dynamite to the entire jukebox.

The concept of putting together three headline acts across three days might not have been rocket science, but when the dream ticket was the Stones, the Beatles and Pink Floyd, the complexities kicked in. But promoters Goldenvoice pulled off the improbable, lining up the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Roger Waters across successive nights and adding in support acts Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Who for good measure, while using the site of California’s uber cool festival, Coachella, to stage the show – and lending to its popular nickname, Oldchella.

Hailed as one of the greatest rock events of all time, Desert Trip, didn’t just smash records – it took dynamite to the entire jukebox.

Not so fortunate were some of the ticket touts who gambled on scooping up as many of the weekend and day passes as they could get their hands on. Despite issuing a ‘sold out’ notice, Desert Trip organisers held back a number of tickets, which were released a month before the shows, prompting a collapse in the value of the secondary market to the extent that, in the days running up to the concerts, many tickets were listed at lower than original face value.

16. In Memoriam

Already considered an annus horribilis due to the number of fallen musical heroes (with Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen among them), the business lost more than its fair share of heroes in 2016. Dan Panaitescu, head of international booking at Sziget festival was killed in a car crash in July, the same month that veteran concert promoter James Nederlander passed at the age of 94.

July also claimed the life of Baloise Session founder Matthias Müller, when the longtime Swiss festival promoter lost his battle with cancer. Meanwhile, other tragic losses to the business included Brazilian promoter and youth project champion Bianca Freitas, who died in October after contracting the rare Guillain-Barré syndrome.

 

Trying to squeeze 12 months of news, views and innovation into this short feature is always going to be tricky, so what did we miss? Please feel free to comment below. We may even publish the best bits…

 


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