Economist Will Page unwraps the touring bounceback
Economist Will Page says the live sector is “winning attention in the experience economy” after revealing that UK music fans spent £2.1 billion (€2.4bn) on gig tickets last year.
The author and former chief economist for Spotify and PRS for Music presented his latest groundbreaking research last month.
Writing in Music Business Worldwide, he reported that the volume of live music events in the UK was down 26% from 2019 to 2022, but the amount spent on tickets was up 22% in the same period – surpassing £2bn for the first time – while spend on recorded music also exceeded £2bn.
“What we’re seeing is akin to a productivity gain: getting more (box office spend) from less (concerts),” said Page. “That could be driven by supply (higher ticket prices) or demand (preferences for bigger events). Inflation will have a role to play, too.”
Page also found that music in the UK stadiums and festivals now make up half of all box office spend, compared to 40% in 2019 and just 23% in 2012.
“While 2022 still provided multiple challenges, as does 2023, the appetite for that unique, communal gig going experience is clear”
In response to the findings, Jon Collins, CEO of trade body LIVE, tells IQ it is “fantastic to see the enormous demand for live music across the UK”.
“While 2022 still provided multiple challenges, as does 2023, the appetite for that unique, communal gig going experience is clear,” says Collins. “Working together and with government, we have an opportunity to grow further and faster. As part of that, it is critical we support our grassroots venues, festivals and, of course, the artists themselves. A vibrant and diverse range of venues located across our towns and cities will give artists the chance to establish a career and fans the opportunity to develop that gig-going habit.”
Here, IQ sits down for a Q&A with Page to delve deeper into his analysis – and gets his future forecast…
How did your findings compare with your expectations going in?
“It felt like there was a lot of ‘stoked up’ demand from the consumers who had suffered during the pandemic, as well as ‘stoke up’ supply from bands who couldn’t tour during lockdown. I was confident UK box office spend in 2022 was going to surpass 2019, but didn’t honestly expect the figure to begin with a ‘two’ – that is £2.1 billion! At the same time, spending on recorded music passed the £2bn threshold. So I expected a bounce back, but the scale of the bounce was unexpected.”
In your opinion, how sustainable is the level of business reported?
“There’s headwinds (namely inflation and interest rates) and there’s tailwinds (innovation in production and ticketing) to consider but I’m confident the sector is sustainable. Live music is constantly ‘upping its game’ in the experience economy. I was at The Weeknd at London Stadium and you could see the diverse 80,000 strong audience opted for this experience over so many other options – be it Netflix or going abroad. Live is winning attention in the experience economy.”
“UK gig-goers spent more on stadiums and festivals in 2022 than they did on all of live music in 2012”
Given that stadiums and festivals have more than doubled their box office shares, where does that leave the rest of the sector?
“To add some more colour to this observation, UK gig-goers spent more on stadiums and festivals in 2022 than they did on all of live music in 2012. But, we have to be careful with knee jerk reactions here – especially when people argue the explosion in stadium shows is at the expense of the grassroots. The majority of those fans who went to see Coldplay at stadiums, I don’t think they would be interested in going to Camden on a wet winter night to support the grassroots. But we’re also talking about a bigger overall pie than there was a few years ago.
“If you accept this point, then what we’re witnessing is something I explore in my book Pivot Eight Principles for Transforming your Business, which is that customers are interested in the thrill of a bargain (Spotify at £9.99 a month) the thrill of a luxury (Coldplay at £119 a ticket) but not what’s left in between. I think you can see this everywhere, be it how we shop (those who shop at Aldi and Waitrose) or buy flights (fly with EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic).
“But to reiterate the demand-side point, I don’t think this explosion in demand for stadium shows is stealing business away from the grassroots. Sure, there’s a dependency issue to explore on the supply-side on the need for grassroots to generate headliners of tomorrow. Protecting those stages is as important as ever and beyond the scope of the research here. There’s certainly some ‘knocking of heads’ to be done between promoters, streaming services and labels.”
“We really are in uncharted waters where an artist like Wizkid – who is definitely not a household name – is selling out the state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium”
What do you consider to be the biggest opportunities and threats for the market at this point?
“I think this ‘gin and tonic’ relationship between spending more on subscriptions and then spending even more on live music is so intriguing and really needs unpacking. The chart below paints a picture, let me add some ‘tone’ as it’s worth asking a few ‘what if’s?’
“What if growth in music subscribers were to stall this year, would that lead to a negative knock on effect for live music?
What if the ‘mental budgeting’ meant consumers were to cut their music budget, either unsubscribing or reducing their gig-going frequency?
What if one of the large DSPs were to go all in with a promoter and bundle subscription and ticketing?
When I watch what Dice is doing, I think a lot about this.”
Your 2022 forecast was on the money; what are your predictions for 2023?
“Bigger, and more stadium-heavy! I’m going to ask IQ readers to think long and hard about this headline More than 1 million attend London concerts in a week. That’s insane! We really are in uncharted waters where an artist like Wizkid – who is definitely not a household name – is selling out the state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. I think those headlines are going to become the rule, not the exception, across the UK in 2024.”
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