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Q&A: As South Africa's president announces a three-week lockdown during live's busiest period, Howler's Shai Evian says the industry is at a "standstill"
By IQ on 24 Mar 2020
As of midnight Thursday (26 March), South Africa becomes the latest country in lockdown, after president Cyril Ramaphosa announced a three-week closure of all non-essential shops and businesses.
The lockdown follows a previous ban on all gatherings of over 100 people, and a prohibition on restaurants and bars serving alcohol after 6pm. To find out how southern Africa’s live industry is coping, IQ caught up with Shai Evian, co-founder of cashless and ticketing payments platform Howler, to hear about life on the front line…
IQ: Are people largely following the government’s advice?
SE: It seems like it. For starters, all immediate events were cancelled or postponed. This sent a shockwave across the industry, with the end of March and Easter being extremely busy times in southern Africa.
How is the live entertainment business dealing with the crisis?
The industry has been brought to a standstill and is in shock. I don’t think many people were expecting this so quickly.
Personally, I had been in Europe for the past few weeks, and was at the ILMC conference, so it was very much top of mind and I had already started making plans. Before the ban, we already saw all major events being postponed or cancelled, such as MTN Bushfire in Swaziland, AfrikaBurn, Cape Town International Jazz Festival, KKNK, etc.
All ticketing companies have different policies and are dealing with it in their own way. For all postponed events, tickets are valid for the next edition, and for the cancelled ones there are various refund policies, some offering 100%, some partial and some none.
Are the government offering you any assistance?
The government recently announced relief funds for SMEs, but nothing has been specifically mentioned for the entertainment industry. We are are waiting to see how this plays out.
How has Howler specifically been affected?
This is still a very busy period of our season, with March (specifically the end of month) our second busiest month after December. We have seen all events overnight postponed or cancelled. Fortunately, most of our clients have postponed to later on in the year or 2021.
We expect no revenue for the next couple of months and currently employ 65 permanent staff, so it’s going to be trying times for all. We are working through it and but confident we can come out stronger.
“The industry is really showing solidarity and support”
We recently acquired Glownet’s European business and had a busy season in Europe planned this summer, so it’s affecting us on both African and European soil. On the day of the announcement we were also forced to put the company in remote working, as we had an infection scare in the office. As things start to settle down, we are using this downtime to double down on our technology and refine the product, and work on things that were not possible while in full-blown operations.
We want to be prepared for when the bans are lifted and events explode. We are also exploring how to adapt the platform to cater for the shift in digital entertainment consumerism.
You’ve sent a few mail-outs calling for patience from ticketholders…
We have taken a very proactive approach appealing to eventgoers to find compassion with event organisers at this time, to take a postponed ticket and not demand a refund.
We also sent out a survey to all our vendors/traders to understand the potential impact on their business. Based on 120 vendors, without relief, 70% will need to retrench staff in the next three months, directly affecting over 1,000 people. We expect to see this impact more 10,000 casual staff.
We have seen the most important thing has been to communicate regularly with all stakeholders, as well as being honest about the situation.
How are fans responding? Are they generally understanding?
We have been overwhelmed with the response. So far, we have seen less than 10% of tickets being refunded for postponed shows. The industry is really showing solidarity and support.
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