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Montreux Media head on futureproofing the festival

By diversifying into digital content and live programming for its partners, Montreux Jazz Festival has been able to soften the impact of Covid-19, says Nicolas Bonard

By IQ on 10 Jul 2020

Nicolas Bonard, Montreux Media Ventures

image © Anne-Laure Lechat

Music festivals must diversify their business model beyond simply staging events if they are to thrive during periods of crisis, Montreux Media Ventures CEO Nicolas Bonard has told IQ.

Montreux Media Ventures (MMV) – the media and content division of Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival, launched last year – has enabled Montreux to earn some revenue throughout the pandemic, and sustain its partnerships with clients and brands, even as nearly every festival worldwide fell by the wayside, says Bonard.

“I think this is a time when Montreux Media Ventures has really come into its own,” explains Bonard (pictured), who joined Montreux from Vice Media France at the start of 2019.

Bonard says the “genesis of the idea goes back a few years”, when festival bosses started to consider how they could futureproof what was, up until then, solely an “event business”.

“Because the festival is a foundation, we had to create a new entity to drive that event and hospitality business into something closer to a media company,” he explains. “That meant embracing digital and diversifying all our lines of revenue.”

Of course, the official launch of Montreux Media Ventures (MMV) at the tail end of last year – just as Covid-19 took root in China – couldn’t have come at a better time for the festival, which was forced to pull its 2020 edition as the pandemic hit Europe.

“The whole point of MMV is to diversify our sources of revenue so we can mitigate the revenue risk of a festival”

“It was all planned,” jokes Bonard, who describes how the festival has been able to use MMV revenues to soften the financial blow of cancelling Montreux 2020.

“Through some of the incremental revenue we generated through these [MMV] actions, we’ve been able to cushion the impact of Covid,” he explains (albeit not entirely, as it’s “a big hit”).

With MMV, the festival team is able to “leverage the huge audiovisual archive we have and bring those performances back to life”, continues Bonard – a mission exemplified by this month’s Summer of Music, a 16-day virtual festival that draws on performances from Montreux Jazz Festivals across the past five decades.

This takes the form of digital, streamed content (the festival already sold DVDs and vinyl LPs of historic Montreux performances), as well as custom live programming for selected brand partners, such as the Fairmont Hotel Group, for which MMV organised the recent ‘Fairmont World Tour’.

Both of these strands build on the three traditional sources of revenue for Montreux, as well as music festivals more generally: tickets, sponsorship and food and beverage, says Bonard.

He explains: “The whole point [of Montreux Media Ventures] is to diversify our sources of revenue so we can mitigate the revenue risk of a festival, where everything is just focused on those two weeks.”

“Through some of the incremental revenue we generated, we’ve been able to cushion the impact of Covid”

At present, MMV’s digital events, such as Summer of Music, are primarily “about giving back” to the music community rather than trying to turn a profit, says Bonard. (All MMV’s YouTube advertising profits for that event are being donated to the new National Museum of African-American Music in Nashville.)

However, in a few years’ time Bonard expects Media Ventures revenues to represent 25–30% of the group’s overall income, “if not more”, he says, such is the strength of the Montreux brand and archive.

“I don’t think one will replace the other,” he comments. “Because music is so emotional and personal, you’ll always need that physical contact with the artist or band. So, in my view, physical events will continue to reign supreme.”

“The future,” he adds, is in “hybrid” events, with “technology coming in and amplifying the live experience. Digital will come on top of it and augment the show, but nothing can replace that common experience with other fans.”

Future MMV projects include films, documentaries and podcasts, as well as another Fairmont tour when the Covid threat has passed.

“The festival has an incredible asset with these archives,” concludes Bonard, “and this is about amplifying them around the world.”

 


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