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Brian Becker: Holograms will ‘grow the business for everyone’

The dawn of holographic technology is an historic “inflection point” for the live entertainment business, as significant as the emergence of the major multinational promoters, according to Brian Becker, the former CEO of Live Nation forerunner Clear Channel Entertainment.

The growth of the diversified Live Nation model ushered in a new paradigm for the music industry, says Becker, now leading BASE Hologram, the company behind holograms of deceased stars such as Roy Orbison and Amy Winehouse. “Clear Channel, SFX, Live Nation… all those companies focused on organic and innovative growth, and a new way of doing business. That’s what [BASE Hologram] is doing, though obviously on a smaller scale.”

An entertainment industry veteran with more than 35 years’ experience producing live events, Becker was previously CEO and president of US mega-promoter PACE Entertainment – then the world’s biggest live entertainment business – before assuming an executive role at SFX Entertainment, which acquired PACE in 1998. In 2000, in a deal worth US$4.4bn, SFX merged with Clear Channel, and Becker became chairman and CEO of the newly created Clear Channel Entertainment.

He left Clear Channel in 2005, when its live entertainment division was spun off as Live Nation, and formed theatre producer BASE Entertainment the following year. In January this year, the company launched a holographic division, BASE Hologram, and recently announced it would add a holographic Amy Winehouse to its stable of touring shows, which also includes Roy Orbison and Maria Callas.

BASE’s Orbison show, In Dreams: Roy Orbison in Concert, and the Callas tour, Callas in Concert, are currently playing to packed theatres in North America. Meanwhile, a Ronnie James Dio hologram tour of Europe (produced by rival outfit Eyellusion) wrapped up with a show at the 1,100-cap. Trix in Antwerp in late 2017. “As the Dio Returns shows went on and word spread […] the crowds kept growing,” said Eyellusion CEO Jeff Pezzuti at the time.

A far cry, then, from the mixed reaction that greeted earlier experiments in the space, such as 2Pac’s brief appearance at Coachella 2012 and Michael Jackson’s moonwalk at 2014’s Billboard Music Awards. (“Creepy” was Pitchfork’s verdict on the latter.)

Becker tells IQ the philosophy behind BASE Hologram – three years in the making – is to take technologies prevalent in other sectors, chiefly cinema, and “externalise them” in a live format, allowing them “to be enjoyed in a communal environment”.

“We’ve already gone two steps beyond what we thought could be done”

“If you look at holographic tech, and mixed and augmented reality, all those things are, at the end of the day, cinematic techniques,” he explains. “We realised that if we can combine holographics with live performers, and on top of that add cinematic effects, then we’ve already gone two steps beyond what we thought could be done [in a live environment].”

While the original concept for BASE Hologram was “straightforward: to put shows on tour”, Becker continues, “we now think we can go much further with this, with residencies, on Broadway and the West End, in museums…”

While In Dreams: Roy Orbison in Concert has been a huge success, reporting on the rise of the holograms still tends to fall back on their perceived strangeness (although Vulture notes the Orbison shows are “disappointingly, not as creepy as you’d think”), indicating a degree of consumer (or at least journalistic) unease about the process and ethics of bringing dead stars back to life.

“First of all, we’re not bringing people back to life,” Becker explains. “We’re making a theatrical, immersive concert experience, bringing music and images to this stage. This has been done in many different ways for years: in Broadway shows, movies, documentaries…

“The second think I’d say is, the overwhelming majority of people that who go to these shows are in awe and really enjoy what they’re seeing. Initially, people are ooh-ing and aah-ing – and by the third song they’re applauding. If you go and see a ‘real’ artist and clap, you’re thanking them, encouraging them… In this case they’re speaking to speaking to the hologram, which means their belief has been suspended and they’re able just enjoy the experience.

“It’s not for everyone, but it’s like if you hate horror films – don’t go and see a horror movie. Vote with your wallet.”

Is there also an argument, IQ wonders, that growth in popularity of holograms could take marketshare away from the already struggling (living) grassroots artists – after all, why take a chance on a new band when you could go and see Freddie Mercury play ‘live’ at a local club?

“Holograms provide access to extraordinary content that isn’t otherwise available”

“No – just the opposite,” Becker emphasises. “This is a conversation we’ve been having in different forms for the past 30 years. It’s a myopic point of view to think that when new technology comes along it’s going to hurt something. In almost every case [historically] that technology found a way to expand the business; there’s a few years when people have to adjust, but ultimately it expands the universe for everyone.

“TV didn’t kill the film business, home video didn’t kill TV. When streaming came along people said music was finished, but music is bigger now than it’s ever been – there are new music companies flourishing and new artists emerging like never before.

“There are always naysayers, but you’ve got to take a step back and look at the broader picture.”

Alongside the other companies in the space (Becker says several of his BASE partners know Eyellusion and “think very highly of them”), BASE Hologram is doing something “unique and new,” comments Becker, “and we hope we’re going to really accelerate the creation of a whole new sector in live entertainment.”

Becker says over the course of his career he’s “recognised certain inflection points” that changed the face of the entertainment business: Consolidation in the theatrical market is one, he explains; the growth of motorsports is another (PACE pioneered staging motorsports events in indoor stadia). “No one bats 100%,” he concludes, “but we think this [holograms] is one of those opportunities that has all the components needed to be a successful new industry sector.

“It’s incredibly creative, and it provides access to extraordinary content that isn’t otherwise available. That’s what we’re bringing to the table.”

 


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