The Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium CEO says it's clear fans want to get back to normal, with strong demand for onsales for rescheduled shows
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Even the most experienced industry pros "have never experienced the like of this", says the AEG Presents UK co-chief, as he offers his predictions for the months ahead
By IQ on 28 Apr 2020
Tales from Covid, IQ’s new series of Q&As with locked-down industry leaders, sees leading lights of the concert business explain how they are weathering the coronavirus crisis and offer their predictions for the months ahead.
Following the fourth interview, with Rock Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium head Herman Schueremans, IQ chats to Steve Homer, co-CEO of AEG Presents UK, about barriers to recovery, long-term changes and the decision to cancel AEG’s festivals, as well as how the crisis has brought the UK live industry together…
IQ: What professional lessons have you learned so far from the Covid-19 outbreak?
SH: The importance of maintaining communication with your team is vital to not only the business, but also the mental wellbeing of the staff. Using Teams and Zoom has been a revelation, and we are looking at lots of ways of supporting people through this crisis.
Since the start of the lockdown here in the UK, it is encouraging to see agents, promoters and managers have seen this as an opportunity to increase the level of communication. It’s a shared problem and there is a real desire to work together to get through this and come out the other side, all still in business. It has shown the live sector is made up of real people who genuinely care about live music.
When do you think the recovery might start, and how is AEG Presents preparing for it?
We have been looking at Q4 2020 but, as has been the case from the start, you have to keep monitoring and considering the position. The live industry appears to be the last to see any return to what we have considered to be normal.
The Presents team have been working hard to maintain information to customers, agents, artists and venues, so that as the government brings us out of lockdown we are ready to move forward. But from what has happened so far, we are moving with caution and not over committing to one strategy.
How do you feel about the British government response to the situation?
Hindsight is great. It’s easy to say now we should have gone into lockdown earlier and we would not be in the situation we find ourselves. New Zealand and Germany reacted quicker and are showing how it limited the impact, but, as I said, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
It’s the most difficult situation any of us has ever gone through. I feel we are getting the information from the government in a timely fashion and the logic behind it makes sense.
“The lockdown has shown us how important interaction is with our fellow humans – and where better to experience interaction than at a live show?”
Many major UK summer events have yet cancelled, and the government has yet to make a clear statement on how long any event ban would last, unlike in much of Europe. Given these circumstances, how did AEG Presents come to the decision to cancel BST Hyde Park and All Points East?
The UK events seem to be cancelling or postponing in a chronological order, so in some ways it doesn’t give the general public a doomsday scenario to face with the whole summer still in front of them.
As for AEG festivals, the set up, particularly for BST, have such long lead-in times it was only right to inform the artists and customers as soon as was practically possible.
According to DEAG’s Peter Schwenkow, “the open-air season is destroyed”. Would you agree with him?
As of today, it’s certainly looking that way for this summer.
As I’ve said, we are working hard towards the return but with the understanding things are continually subject to change. Social distancing being in place will have such a massive impact on this industry, of course. I know venues and events are modelling how to operate at reduced capacities.
What other challenges do you think the industry may face getting back up to speed?
The first question is, ‘When will that be?’. The longer we go on without operating, the bigger the strain on the companies within the industry and the suppliers we all rely on.
The live audience has a vast age range, and we currently believe the younger audience will come back quicker, with an older audience potentially not returning in numbers until there is a vaccine.
It’s about being able to react to the changes – what will the new normal be when we return? We are all speculating, but even the most experienced heads in the industry have never experienced the like of this.
What changes might we see long term?
The industry has, in the main, consolidated into key players over the past ten years, and this pandemic might change all this – we may see more independent companies emerging. Hopefully venues will be able to survive the lockdown, as it’s vital to have somewhere to play when we can get audiences back.
If anything, the lockdown has shown us how important interaction is with our fellow humans – and where better to experience interaction than at a live show? We have a future.
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