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IFF 2023: Execs talk driving audience engagement

Speakers from TikTok, Pinkpop, Sziget and UTA discussed the challenges of keeping up with changing audience expectations

By Oumar Saleh on 27 Sep 2023

A handful of top agents and festival bookers reflected on the power of festival lineups, audiences’ spending patterns and the impact of social media in the second panel of the 2023 International Festival Forum (IFF).

Moderated by Ticketmaster’s Dan Pearce (UK), today’s ‘The Audience Session — Community Matters’ panel brought together Niek Murraij (Pinkpop Festival, Netherlands), Virág Csiszár (Sziget Festival, Hungary), Sophie Roberts (United Talents Agency, UK), and David Mogendorff (TikTok, UK) at London’s Omeara venue.

As TikTok’s head of artist services across Europe, Mogendorff praised the impact the app has had in driving engagement and excitement towards annual summer festivities.

“It’s been an incredible year for festival content on TikTok,” he said. “We saw a huge amount of growth during the lockdown period. And over the last two years, we’ve seen some great content coming from artists and festivals, but mainly from fans.”

Having analysed around 100 festivals across the UK, Pearce pointed out that 2023 saw a 15% increase in ticket sales compared to last year. While it’s a “standout statistic”, he noted that it tends to change on a yearly basis, confirming a long-held theory that festival-goers care more about who’s on the lineup than the actual festival experience itself — which includes being in a safe environment, on top of other factors such as food & beverage and availability of facilities.

“Festivals have to be clever with the way they announce lineups… so that tickets can be purchased much earlier”

It’s a sentiment Roberts agreed with. “The lineup remains king,” she said. “It’s great that people care about the music, but that’s also been difficult for festival organisers because of the huge amount of stadium business happening right now,” also citing how vital lineup announcements are when it comes to selling tickets as quickly as possible.

“Add the fact that there’s only a finite amount of ad space, and people will only have a certain amount of attention for lineups coming out. Nowadays, festivals have to be clever with the way they announce lineups to ensure maximum attendance so that tickets can be purchased much earlier than they have been in recent times.”

“It’s a tricky situation to navigate, but we always want to announce lineups as early as possible,” Csiszár said. “Lineups are still very important to people, and the data being shown reflects this. Their satisfaction correlates with the acts booked to perform upon the official announcement.”

Another major talking point was the role of volunteer staff contributing to festivals, with Pearce also mentioning how some UK festivals received bad press for making volunteers pay a deposit that they will get back if they turn up to their allocated shifts accordingly. However, the rest of the panel were effusive in their praise for volunteers (Pearce stated they were the “lifeline of the post-pandemic festivals”), highlighting the important role they played as the industry continues to recover from the pandemic.

“We had a lot of last-minute volunteers this year,” Murraij said. “However, we were able to foster a great community with those who attended for work and did their duties in a diligent manner. We’re thankful for working with a focused group of volunteers, who consistently showed up for their shifts, and we can create a great bond with them for many years.”

“While it’s important to have local acts in our lineups, we have to manage international fans’ expectations”

Alongside the increased role of volunteers in ensuring that festivals run smoothly, the panel rounded off their discussion with the rising prominence of local/domestic talents in major shows — which has been another knock-on effect brought about by the pandemic.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a massive growth in local music and in the UK and other markets around Europe,” Mogendorff said. “Some of it has been caused by the decreasing influence the US has over the musical landscape as well, with talents from Africa and the Far East also racking up huge listener numbers in recent years.”

“I’m not sure that we’ll see a Dutch act headline a major festival yet, but compared to a decade ago, we’re certainly seeing more Dutch acts on our bill,” says Murraij. “They’re selling out venues like the 17,000-capacity Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam right now, and there’s bigger demand for domestic acts these days.”

However, Murraij did note that headliners will retain an international majority for the time being, which Csiszár agreed with. “While it’s important to have local acts in our lineups, we have to manage international fans’ expectations and have those global talents as headliners on the main stage,” she said. “Saying that, it’s very pleasing to see Hungarian artists do very well in stadium shows across the country.”


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