House rules: The O2’s roaring residency trade
The O2 has hailed the ‘return of the residency’ as it reports its busiest-ever year for runs of four nights or more.
By the end of 2023, London’s flagship venue will have hosted five concert and comedy residencies including Peter Kay (12), Elton John (10), Micky Flanagan (9), Madonna (6) and Chris Brown (6), compared to just two residencies in 2022.
“Residencies are something that are becoming more and more important in the way we programme the venue,” says Emma Bownes, vice president of venue programming at The O2.
“There is a huge demand for live music at the moment at arena, stadium and outdoor level, so artists are realising they can serve the amount of fan demand by sitting down at The O2. We’re lucky that we’re in London and there’s a huge catchment area of really active music fans. I can see that an artist will opt to play potentially 10 shows at The O2 rather than looking at a stadium or a festival headline slot.”
Robbie Balfour, director of marketing and brand at the AEG venue, also points out that “with the economic situation that touring finds itself in, there are some efficiencies with being in one venue for a longer period”.
Madonna is one such artist who has opted for the advantages of an arena residency over stadium shows or headline sets at festivals (though she’s rumoured to play Glastonbury 2024).
“Residencies are something that is becoming more and more important in the way we programme the venue”
Tonight, the Queen of Pop returns to the 21,000-capacity venue to perform the penultimate London show on her Madonna: The Celebration Tour, having delivered four in October (14, 15, 17, 18).
Across the six concerts, the 65-year-old has shifted 85,000 tickets, with prices ranging between £47.55–432.25 for general admission and up to £1,307.75 for VIP.
With ticket prices rising, giving fans more value for their money is something Balfour is wary of when enhancing the fan experience around residencies and concerts.
“People expect a lot more and need to see the value of their investment in a ticket,” says Balfour. “We want to repay them and make sure that from the moment they arrive, it feels like a big day out and not just the two or three hours that the show is taking place.
“As a venue, you could think you’ll invest in the fans until they’ve bought their tickets and then that’s where you stop. We have a policy to invest in the fans after they become a ticket holder.”
The extended period of time a residency offers enables The O2 to go the extra mile for both fans and artists – an opportunity they’ve consistently seized upon.
“I can see that an artist will opt to play potentially 10 shows at the O2 rather than looking at a stadium or a festival headline slot”
For the Queen of Pop, The O2 commissioned the Royal Family’s flagmakers to create a bespoke Madonna-themed flag that flies from the venue’s roof to signify that she’s in residence.
For Drake’s 2019 residency, The O2’s sign was altered to an ‘O3’ in honour of the rapper’s single God’s Plan, in which he raps: “And you know me/Turn The O2 into The O3.”
The O2 also paid homage to BLACKPINK during their two headline shows in 2022 by lighting the tent pink, and to comedian Mo Gilligan during his 2021 homecoming show at the ‘MO2′.
“It’s about working with [artists’ team] to make sure it’s an authentic activation and ultimately if you do it right it’s a win for the artist and the venue because it’s an extra spotlight and a win for the fan because it’s a better experience,” says Balfour. “We are obviously so much more than just a rented space… we want to create a sort of festival destination for a fan base for a period of time.”
Bownes adds: “We don’t want artists to ever feel like they’re just another artist coming through the venue. We want to show the artists and the fans that we’re grateful and excited to have them at the venue.”
Musical artists aside, the venue’s longest run in 2023 belongs to comedian Peter Kay. The British stand-up act is the first-ever artist to hold a monthly residency at The O2, performing a show at the venue every month between November 2022 until April 2025.
“We don’t want artists to ever feel like they’re just another artist coming through the venue”
“The demand for Peter Kay was utterly off the scale,” says Bownes. “We were genuinely really lucky to get him to agree to become the first artist to play a monthly residency at the O2… we’ve been trying to find an artist who could do that for years.”
Kay’s 29-show run secures him second place in The O2’s all-time longest residencies (of which there are 92), coming second only to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) which turned the London venue into a training facility for 44 days.
It has also earned him a place in the 21 Club, a hall of fame launched after Prince’s iconic 21-night run in 2007 to honour the artists who have performed 21 or more shows at The O2.
Prince, Take That, Drake, One Direction, Micky Flanagan, Michael McIntyre, Young Voices and Michael Bublé are among the members, all of whom have been presented with a symbolic ‘key to the venue’.
While 2023 is by far The O2’s busiest-ever year for residencies, 2024 looks to rival that with five already announced. Take That (6), Olivia Rodrigo (4), Liam Gallagher (4), The 1975 (4) and Michael McIntyre (4) will all grace the hallowed stage for multiple-night visits, with more to be announced according to Bownes.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Venue experts tackle rise in crowd disorder
European venue experts have spoken out on the increase in unruly audiences at live events since the business returned from the pandemic.
The issue, which has been reported on by a number of UK publications, was explored during The Venue’s Venue at this month’s ILMC in London, chaired by The O2’s Emma Bownes and OVO Arena Wembley boss John Drury.
Teeing up the discussion, Bownes spoke from personal experience in saying the problem was not limited to one form of entertainment.
“It’s fair to say that at The O2 we’ve definitely seen, across multiple genres, a change in audience behaviour,” she said. “I go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every year, and I noticed a massive trend in quite aggressive heckling. Heckling’s always been a thing in comedy, but it’s not as prevalent as it definitely is now.
“I’ve heard racist heckling. I’ve heard heckling to the detriment of the entire show, where two drunken members of the audience just wouldn’t let an issue go with a comedian and it’s ruined the show for everybody. We’ve had really poor and aggressive audience behaviour at country shows, pop shows, comedy shows. As I mentioned, it’s not specific to one genre.”
“I feel like there’s an increased expectation when you get to the gig. With some individuals, if it’s not perfect, then they’re willing to kick off”
Katie Musham of Oak View Group’s Co-op Live in Manchester, and Sybil Franke of Germany’s Velomax Berlin, noted that the trend had not been mirrored at venues outside the UK.
“I spoke to my counterparts [in the US] and they’ve not experienced anything to the detriment that we’re seeing in the UK,” said Musham.
“I haven’t heard of any incidents across [Germany],” added Franke. “We do have such incidences, but at New Year’s Eve public gatherings or after football games, not in venues from what I have experienced.”
Bownes questioned whether the rise in disorder was related to people having less disposable income than in the past.
“I feel like there’s an increased expectation when you get to the gig,” she said. “With some individuals, if it’s not perfect, then they’re willing to kick off with the audience member who might be stood up in front of them.”
“Just before Covid, through Covid and post Covid, there was definitely a change in the audience”
“I think we are seeing that certainly,” agreed Drury. “Actually, there’s a conversation as well about the level of abuse that we should take. I had a customer who was unhappy about something. She was screaming down the phone at me, and it was so loud that the speaker was distorting on the phone. None of us should have to put up with that.”
Crowded space expert Prof Chris Kemp of Mind Over Matter consultancy put forward some of the sociological factors – explaining that the changing crowd dynamics pre-dated the pandemic.
“This is a window into our society, and what’s happening in society is being mirrored by what’s happening,” he said. “Just before Covid, through Covid and post Covid, there was definitely a change in the audience. I was working on a lot projects, and I was finding that things weren’t the same.
“There’s a polarity in music at the moment between the protest songs emerging from a number of genres and sub genres, and also, simultaneously, this new kind of relationship between concertgoers and artists where the crowd is more fragile.”
Kemp said there had been a rise in “young male on female assaults”, plus instances where security has been deliberately distracted to enable fans to “jump from the seating onto the floor, which causes severe problems”.
“This is about an audience recovering from the immense impact and emotional challenges caused by a pandemic as well”
“This is about an audience recovering from the immense impact and emotional challenges caused by a pandemic as well,” he added. “We’ve also seen concomitant rise in challenges in both society, and more from a kind of micro viewpoint [with] the recognition of autism, Tourette’s, ADHD and other, often hidden, conditions… coming to the fore. That’s been quite an interesting development, alongside difficulties with mental health. Also, it shows that the event is not a one-size-fits-all scenario; it needs a graduated response to take into consideration the many things that are changing in the industry.”
Responding to a question from the audience, Kemp agreed with the assertion that fans who had bought tickets pre-Covid were attending the rescheduled shows “in a completely different mindset” and were harder to impress and less patient as a result, with that potentially contributing to unruly behaviour.
“I think you’ve got a possible link there,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s a great many people, but it may be one or two, and it only takes one or two people do incite violence.”
In conclusion, Drury said the debate had shown the subject to be more nuanced than it might initially have appeared.
“I think you make a really good point about mental welfare, and people going back into society who might already have some issues that are exacerbated by the reopening of society,” he told Kemp.
“It’s interesting that when when we look at the headlines of ‘have audiences forgotten how to behave’, and ‘has Covid sent them crazy? They’re coming back out to see events and they just don’t know how to behave,’ it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
“Just incredible”: Inside the O2’s emotional first shows back
The team behind Gorillaz’ two shows at London’s O2 Arena earlier this week have spoken of their joy in being involved in the UK’s first full-capacity arena concerts in 17 long months.
The Damon Albarn-led virtual band made their return to the O2, the world’s busiest music venue, on 10–11 August, playing a free show for National Health Service (NHS) workers on Tuesday and then a sold-out ticketed event for the general public the following night. Stuart Galbraith, CEO of the shows’ promoter, Kilimanjaro Live – who says he last saw a concert in May 2020 – tells IQ of his excitement at seeing “17,000 people all in one place, having world-class entertainment and just having fun. And [the first night] in particular, it’s brilliant that we could say ‘thank you’ in this way and give these heroes a night of free entertainment.”
Featuring special guests including Shaun Ryder, Little Simz, Leee John, Robert Smith and New Order’s Peter Hook, the shows marked both the return of full-capacity arena entertainment to the UK and Gorillaz to the stage, the O2 dates being the band’s first live performances since October 2018.
“The atmosphere was… I really can’t describe it. It was just incredible,” says Emma Bownes, vice-president of venue programming for the O2’s operator, AEG Europe, for whom the Gorillaz’ shows marked the first arena concerts at the venue since Halsey played on 8 March 2020.
“We’d been talking internally about how great it would be if we could have a really special first show back,” she continues, recalling the genesis of the free gig for healthcare staff, “and then Stuart from Kili got in touch, as he’d been talking to Ian [Huffam at X-ray Touring, Gorillaz’ agent] and also the band about this NHS show, so that was really fortuitous. He said, ‘We want to do this’, and we told him on the venue side we were also trying to think about how amazing it would be to have a special first show back, so it worked really well.”
“It’s brilliant we could say ‘thank you’ and give these heroes a night of free entertainment”
Bownes explains that the venue used a now-familiar system of Covid-status certification to keep concertgoers safe, with entry restricted to those who could prove they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have natural antibodies against the disease, or had returned a negative lateral-flow test in the previous 36 hours. Due to a combination of effective communications ahead of the event, she says, and growing awareness among fans of the need to keep shows provable free of coronavirus as they return, a huge 95% of the 17,000 people who attended the second Gorillaz show had their NHS (National Health Service) Covid Pass ready at the gates – despite it being, in many cases, the first live event they had attended in nearly two years.
“What we spent a lot of time doing in the run-up to the show was trying to make sure that everybody knew what to expect before they arrived,” Bownes says. “For the ticketed show, only 5% of people weren’t quite set up, so the comms worked. Even among those 5%, she adds, “none of them required a test – some, for example, had already taken the it but they hadn’t uploaded the result to the NHS yet – and none of them were turned away.”
Helping with the speedy ingress was the fact that people turned up earlier than for a ‘normal’ gig, continues Bownes. “Because we did all these comms in advance, it wasn’t like it normally is, where you get a massive rush 45 minutes before the band goes on,” she says. “People turned up in good time and had factored into their journeys that we needed plenty of time to check their Covid Passes.”
Covid-status certification like that used at the Gorillaz shows is a “good thing to educate the audience on”, particularly as it could become mandatory for live events in the UK later this year, Galbraith says. “I think it’s a good thing to do it now and get people used to it,” he comments. “In the way that you’re going to use exactly the same system for travel, I think it will become the norm for many things in society for the next few months, and possibly a couple of years. And I don’t think it’s that big of an imposition to be able to just prove to your fellow customers that you’re safe – and that therefore enables us to say to the customers, ‘Come to the show with certainty that everyone around you is virus-free. That also adds to that overall customer confidence, which in itself will add to our ticket sales.”
“I think the vast majority of people are quite happy to do it and show that responsibility to their fellow members of the public,” he continues. “And we’re running similar protocols backstage as well: The ability to get a pass to work in the backstage area is contingent on providing your Covid certification in exactly the way that getting a ticket is in the front of house.”
“I will never take it for granted, being at a gig, again. Everybody says it, but I genuinely mean it”
With a busy diary of upcoming shows – Galbraith notes that ticket sales are picking up across the board, particularly among rock acts and those popular with younger audiences, with acts as diverse as Sabaton, Andrea Bocelli and film composer Hans Zimmer selling particularly well – the Kilimanjaro Live chief says he’s looking forward to getting back to doing what he loves after nearly 18 months of “politicking and lobbying” with LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) to help the UK business survive the coronavirus crisis. And while he’s under no illusion that the industry body will have plenty to deal with over the next few years, particularly the challenges posed by Brexit and the environmental impact of touring, “it’s going to be brilliant to get back to what we should have been doing”, he says.
“It’s been such a weird time because we’ve just been rescheduling constantly. We’ve rescheduled over 200 gigs, and we’ve had to cancel 55, and whereas normally we’d be doing all this work and have all these gigs – actually have something to show for it – the past 18 months have just been reschedule, reschedule, reschedule countless times,” adds Bownes. “So to have the show actually happen was amazing.”
“The bit that did it for me,” she continues, “was walking around the back of the stage to go and see Stuart and Ian. The O2 probably does 200 gigs a year so it was something that you used to do so often, but it was like you’d forgotten that you used to do it – just walking behind the stage on the way to see the promoter and the agent, and hearing the crowd… It was amazing. It was just great.
“I will never take it for granted, being at a gig, again. Everybody says it, but I genuinely mean it. You know what the industry is like: People don’t always go to gigs, or they’ll maybe see a few songs and go home, but I do feel like that will change.”
Another free show for NHS workers headlined by Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher will take place at the O2 next Tuesday (17 August).
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Little Mix awarded for 12 headline shows at the O2
Little Mix returned to the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena this week, playing two consecutive nights to bring their total tally of headline shows at the London arena to 12.
Throughout their career, Little Mix have performed at the venue on four separate tours, selling a total of 184,000 tickets. The girl group have played five shows at the O2 this year alone, as part of their LM5 tour.
Emma Bownes, vice president of venue programming at the O2 comments: “It’s been an honour hosting Little Mix for what has now been 12 incredible shows at the O2. Just as expected the four tours have generated a lot of excitement across the ages selling in excess of 184,000 tickets. We’d like to thank Little Mix and SJM for letting us be part of their journey.”
LM5, the sixth concert tour by the British girl group, has visited arenas in Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Ireland and the UK.
Pictured (L – R): Danielle Kennedy-Clark (deputy general manager, the O2), Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards and Emma Bownes.
The New Bosses 2019: Marc Saunders, The O2
The New Bosses 2019 – the biggest-ever edition of IQ‘s yearly roundup of future live industry leaders, as voted for by their peers – was published in IQ 85 last month revealing the twelve promising agents, promoters, bookers and execs that make up this year’s list.
To get to know this year’s cream of the crop a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2019’s New Bosses, to discover their greatest inspirations and proudest achievements, pinpoint the reasons for their success and obtain advice for those hoping to be a future New Boss. Snippets of the interviews can be found in the latest IQ Magazine, with all interviews being reproduced in full online and on IQ Index over the coming weeks.
The sixth New Boss is Marc Saunders (27), programming manager of The O2 in London. Saunders studied music journalism at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in Surrey in the UK (but took a different route into the industry to award-winning IQ news editor Jon Chapple, who did the same course).
After interning at Vector Management (James, Il Divo), Saunders spent two and a half years at publisher Hornall Brothers Music, before joining The O2 in London in 2015. (Read the previous interview with HomeComing Events’ Katlego Malatji here.)
What are you busy with right now?
Finalising 2019’s calendar and looking ahead to 2020 – and 2021 – ensuring that the diary is being filled up with the biggest artists and top events. One perk of always looking so far ahead is that time seems to fly by!
Did you always want to work in the music business?
Being the dreamer that I am, I originally wanted to work in the industry but as a musician, I can play a few instruments and I used to be a session guitarist for various artists. I then had a realisation that it might be a wiser step to head into the business side of the music industry.
What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
I’d say booking my first event which was Blue Planet II: Live In Concert in March 2019. It was amazing to see everything finally come together after months of planning and watch the incredible shows play out. It was also the first plastic-free event at The O2 which I was really proud to be a part of.
On the other hand, I had the privilege of presenting Post Malone an award to celebrate his first headline shows at the arena. I’m a huge fan, and I hope next time I have a chance to challenge him at beer pong.
“Building and maintaining relationships is so fundamental to what we do”
How has your role changed since you started out?
I first joined the team as programming administrator in 2015, where my primary focus was the coordination of our very busy calendar, and also issuing show contracts. My evolution within the team has culminated in me now focusing on the physical booking of shows, by means of working closely with agents and promoters to ensure we attract the best talent and book the most sought-after events.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt while at The O2?
Building and maintaining relationships is so fundamental to what we do. One of the main keys to the venue’s success is based on our efforts to ensure that our clients and their artists are the top priority. If you go the extra length to make your clients happy, then the shows will always be more successful.
What, if anything, would you change about how the live industry is run today?
I would like there to be more focus on grassroots venues in the UK. The amazing fundraising work of the Music Venue Trust this year has shown that there is still a strong belief in ensuring the survival of these venues, and I firmly believe that without them, artists will not have an initial platform to one day reach the level of performing in arenas.
“I feel very fortunate to work at the world’s most popular music, entertainment and leisure venue and I don’t want this adventure to end”
What do you do for fun?
I have a love/hate relationship with running. I regularly go for jogs to keep active, and also finished the London Marathon this year for the Make-A-Wish foundation. But if I’d call running ‘fun’ then I’d be the world’s biggest liar!
Do you have an industry mentor?
Since being introduced into the programming team, Emma Bownes and Christian D’Acuna have been so influential in helping to shape my career. They’ve taken me under their wing and helped to teach me the ins and outs of how to book shows at an arena level, and I have the utmost gratitude towards them for that.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get into, or is new to, the business?
A music-related degree is always a bonus, but realistically if you have the passion and drive to go the extra mile, then you’ll succeed in this industry. Make friends with everyone, broaden your horizons, and good things will come your way.
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
I usually don’t know where I see myself in ten days time, let alone ten years! But as it stands I feel very fortunate to work at the world’s most popular music, entertainment and leisure venue and I don’t want this adventure to end.
The Crystal Ball: Predictions for 2019
IQ: Panellists, what do you anticipate being next year’s greatest challenges, both for you and for the wider industry?
Emma Bownes, vice-president of programming, AEG Europe: I think most of the industry is concerned about the impact of Brexit on the music industry – will it lead to restrictions on travel for British acts?
The government have to make sure that musicians, particularly smaller ones, can continue to tour the EU easily without the need for visas – and similarly for European artists – while they develop as artists and build their fan-bases and careers.
Beverley Whitrick, strategic director, Music Venue Trust: So much attention is being focused on Brexit that it makes it even more difficult to advance with the changes needed to protect the grassroots of the music industry. Not surprisingly, enormous and necessary energy is being spent trying to safeguard international touring and ensuring that the UK continues to be a leader in music.
Trying to reconcile what is needed at home with these global concerns poses the greatest challenge for 2019.
Stephan Thanscheidt, managing director, FKP Scorpio: A challenge faced by both the touring and festival sectors is the rising costs in all areas, such as personnel, production, administrative expenses and, especially, artist fees. Of course, ticket prices cannot – and should not – be scaled limitlessly, so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate these expenses.
Okan Tombulca, managing director, eps: I think our biggest challenge will be the same as for the rest of the industry: labour. Europe-wide, there is a huge problem with the availability of staff – security, stagehands, event co-ordinators – as well as equipment.
“Europe-wide, there is a huge problem with the availability of staff”
Kim Bloem, vice-head promoter, Mojo Concerts: The biggest issue over the last two years is the lack of personnel and materials for the number of events taking place from May to September. The number of shows, festivals and special events is rapidly increasing in this period, and therefore building crew, technicians, riggers, security personnel, etc., get exhausted because they’re working crazy hours.
We need to make sure live music remains a safe working place for everybody, but getting the number of people needed is very challenging.
Okan Tombulca: I think 2019 will be the biggest year in 20 years in terms of the number of events going on.
Jules de Lattre, senior agent, United Talent Agency: The issue of ticket pricing, both on the primary and secondary markets. Although significant progress was made in 2018, how to combat illicit secondary-ticketing practices will continue to be an issue we deal with on a daily basis.
As the secondary market becomes more regulated but not fully eradicated, will a more widely used and accepted model of dynamic pricing on the primary market emerge?
IQ: How about the biggest opportunities?
Jules de Lattre: As music consumption on ISPs explodes, there will be increasing opportunities for fans to fully connect with artists in the live space.
Mark Yovich, president, Ticketmaster International: There are more opportunities than ever before to empower artists to connect with their fans and harness their live experience. Whether that’s through digital tickets or facial recognition, we are continuing to innovate in a wide range of products that are changing the landscape of the live business.
“Hopefully, 2019 will see further action to ensure that live music is accessible to the widest possible audience”
Emma Bownes: This year saw a great deal of progress made in terms of restricting the ability of professional ticket resellers to acquire and resell large amounts of tickets with a huge mark-up. The British government introduced new legislation to ban resellers from using bots to purchase tickets in bulk, secondary ticketing sites Get Me In! and Seatwave are closing down, and the O2 and the SSE Arena, Wembley, both introduced a digital ticketing system featuring a dynamically changing barcode system that ensures tickets cannot be copied or shared on secondary sites.
Hopefully, 2019 will see further action to ensure that live music is accessible to the widest possible audience.
IQ: Can you identify any key market trends you expect to see emerging next year?
Stephan Thanscheidt: Concentration of power. Next to the continuously evolving activities of FKP Scorpio in Germany and abroad, as well as the strategic partnership with AEG, the live sector of [FKP majority owner] CTS Eventim is growing further due to purchases in Italy and Spain. The same can, of course, be observed at Live Nation and other international companies.
Beverley Whitrick: More grassroots music venues will close unless people who claim to be supportive actually start demonstrating that support through their actions.
Stephan Thanscheidt: Another observation is the formation of investors and investment groups who don’t have a background as a promoter buying up festivals all over Europe.
“Apart from music and comedy, we see the market for speaking events growing”
Mark Yovich: One word: mobile. We’ve been saying it for years, but 2018 saw a huge spike in the percentage of mobile traffic and, more importantly, mobile ticket sales. We think mobile-first with everything we do, from how fans discover events through to digital methods of entry.
Beverley Whitrick: Local activism and campaigns to support music will grow. Both artists and audiences are getting more vocal about the value of live music to communities, local economies, and health and wellbeing.
Emma Bownes: Alongside the music programming you’d expect to see at both venues, we’re seeing a lot of shows coming through the O2 and The SSE Arena, Wembley, that are aimed at more of a family audience: Hugh Jackman, Cirque du Soleil, NBA, Harlem Globetrotters, Strictly Come Dancing, WWE…
We’re also hosting Superstars of Gymnastics at the O2 – a major new showcase of the sport, featuring Simone Biles and Max Whitlock.
Kim Bloem: My colleague Gideon Karting promoted a show with K-pop band BTS this year, which was huge, so that is definitely something that we expect to see emerging in the market in the next few years.
Also, apart from music and comedy – the latter of which is a genre that sees massive audience interest – we see the market for speaking events growing. This year, Barack Obama did a couple of events, and I hope we can have his wife Michelle come to the Netherlands at some point. We can hopefully embrace this kind of role model and learn from them how we can all contribute to a better world.
“I’d like to see much better communication between all sectors of our industry”
IQ: What are you most looking forward to in 2019?
Mark Yovich: The Sunday night at Reading Festival for Foo Fighters. Their London Stadium gig was amazing and I can’t wait to see them again.
Emma Bownes: Sheffield Wednesday turning things around and making it to the play-offs.
Jules de Lattre: We have a very exciting summer of major international festivals planned for Christine and the Queens in 2019. Considering how strong and unique her live show is, I expect the summer will have a significant impact on this campaign. I’m excited for festivalgoers to see and experience this incredible show.
Mark Yovich: Muse and Fleetwood Mac are some other great stadium shows I’m looking forward to, as well as Billie Eilish at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in early 2019.
Beverley Whitrick: Continuing to meet amazing people whose passion for music makes the work we do worthwhile.
IQ: Finally, what, if anything, could the industry do better together in 2019?
Okan Tombulca: In Germany, we have a twice-yearly meeting of all festival promoters and service companies, to share information about health and safety and develop one set of rules for the whole country. I’d like to see much better communication between all sectors of our industry, to share knowledge, help each other and work better together.
“Anyone in the business should do whatever they can to provide support to those in need”
Kim Bloem: Be a bit nicer to each other, work more closely together, and try to reduce the amount of paperwork and covering our own asses all the time. If we work hard and well, we should be able to trust each other’s judgment.
Jules de Lattre: Conversations about mental health are becoming more commonplace and I hope will continue to do so. Anyone in the business should look around them and do whatever they can to provide reliable health and wellness support to those in need.
Gender diversity and equality in the music industry as a whole – from the presence of female-fronted acts at festivals to gender pay gaps and fairer access to leadership roles in the music industry – will also remain a major talking point in the year to come.
Mark Yovich: Accessibility is a huge issue in our industry and we’re working closely with Attitude is Everything on their Ticketing Without Barriers campaign to make sure more is being done.
There seems to be some great momentum, and now is the time for us all to come together to find solutions to ensure equal access to live entertainment.
Stephan Thanscheidt: We need to stand united against political and societal injustice.
Music is being used by groups who are against democratic values and human rights – so why shouldn’t we do the same for freedom and peace?
John Langford promoted to AEG Europe COO
AEG Europe has made three internal promotions, including the appointment of the O2 general manager John Langford as chief operating officer.
Paul Reeve, currently finance director of the O2 and SSE Arena, Wembley, becomes chief financial officer, while Emma Bownes, the O2’s programming director, is elevated to the newly created position of vice-president of programming across AEG’s European venues.
The appointments follow the recently announced promotion of Alex Hill to president of AEG Europe, following the retirement of long-serving president and CEO Tom Miserendino.
Langford, who joined AEG from Scotland’s SECC in November 2016, comments: “We’ve got amazing venues and superb people across the AEG global family, and I’m really proud that I can continue to play a key part in delivering on our vision to give the world a reason to cheer.”
“I’m looking forward to working closely with John, Paul and Emma in continuing our vision of excellence across our portfolio of European venues”
Bownes has worked for AEG for eight years, developing and curating content for London’s two largest arenas. She programmed the O2’s recent tenth-birthday shows, which included performances from Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters, alt-J, Jamiroquai and more.
“It’s an honour to be recognised in this way by AEG, and I’m looking forward to focusing on programming across all of our venues in Europe,” she says. “With the way European touring is developing this is a brilliant opportunity for us to be joining forces and making planning simpler for our promoters.”
In addition to the O2 and Wembley Arena, AEG’s European venue portfolio includes Hamburg’s Barclaycard Arena, Berlin’s Mercedes-Benz Arena and the newly opened Verti Music Hall, Stockholm Live and AccorHotels Arena in Paris.
Commenting on the appointments, Alex Hill adds: “I’m looking forward to working closely with John, Paul and Emma in continuing our vision of excellence across our portfolio of European venues and other live entertainment and sports properties”.
Past, present and future: The O2 at 10
When, back in 2001, AEG founder Phil Anschutz brokered a deal with the British government to turn the much-maligned Millennium Dome into his company’s flagship London venue, many were, understandably, sceptical.
The Dome was, after all, widely ridiculed as an £850 million vanity project for then-prime minister Tony Blair: a “great, frayed tent by the Thames” that very nearly finished off the political careers of cabinet ministers Peter Mandelson and John Prescott.
It’s a credit to Anschutz’s vision, then, that, 16 years later, a once-derelict site on the Greenwich peninsula polluted by toxic waste from a nearby gasworks is now home to the world’s busiest music venue – a far cry from the unoccupied white elephant that came to epitomise what many saw as the blind optimism of the early New Labour era.
What is now The O2 Arena – the 21,000-capacity centrepiece of The O2 entertainment complex – opened its doors on 24 June 2007, with a concert for staff featuring Tom Jones, Snow Patrol, Basement Jaxx and Snow Patrol. Its first major show, by Bon Jovi, followed the next evening.
It took just a year for the new venue to leapfrog New York’s Madison Square Garden and the UK’s MEN Arena (now Manchester Arena) to become the world’s top arena for ticket sales – 1,806,447 in 2008 – a position it has held ever since.
As The O2 celebrates double figures by signing another decade-long deal with naming partner O2 and hosting a series of big-name tenth-birthday shows (with more dates to be added later in the year), IQ catches up with The O2’s general manager, John Langford, and programming director, Emma Bownes, to find out what the future holds for the world’s most successful arena…
IQ: How have the tenth-birthday concerts been so far?
Emma Bownes: Really great. We started with alt-J on Friday [16 June], then we had Celine Dion [on 20–21 June] and Ed Sheeran [on 22 June]. It’s had a real party atmosphere – we even had an impromptu conga line in one of the bars!
Plus, thanks to the guys at O2, we’ve had the huge birthday present [a 6x6m installation housing a game show hosted by Vernon Kay], life-sized cakes of Ed Sheeran, Celine Dion and Jamiroquai, a marching band out the front, lots of free activities… it’s been like having our own festival.
Was it difficult to persuade the acts involved to come and play? All three are mid-way through tours…
John Langford: Two things helped: Firstly, we went out chased artists who are currently playing festivals – we thought it might make sense for them play a few arena shows in between festival dates.
Secondly, we had massive marketing support from O2, which put up huge billboards across London. There’s a really brilliant picture Jay Kay [of Jamiroquai, whose planned O2 shows have been cancelled owing to the singer’s back problems] posted in front of his ad.
— Jamiroquai (@JamiroquaiHQ) March 15, 2017
What have been your highlights of your time at The O2?
EB: Definitely Monty Python’s farewell gigs [in 2014]. Muse’s Drones tour was amazing, and Adele was fantastic – she’s such an endearing individual.
JL: I’ve really enjoyed some of the sport –the David Haye vs Tony Bellew fight was amazing. I’m a bit of a production geek, so I also loved the lighting ‘balls’ at Red Hot Chili Peppers in December.
John, what made you make the jump from The SSE Hydro?
JL: Well, when you’re at the UK’s number-two venue there’s only one place to go!
What’s the secret to The O2’s success?
JL: It was the right venue at the right time in the right city. London is the pinnacle of the live music market, and it was under-served prior to The O2’s opening, which filled a gap in the market.
AEG really had incredible insight to understand that – they always knew it was going to be a winner, when lots of us didn’t.
EB: The design of The O2 lends itself to intimacy. When you get a lot of people in a venue, you get a lot of energy, but some venues let all that out – The O2 is big but it’s intimate.
“Going to a gig has changed significantly in the past ten years. Expectations are much higher than they used to be”
How has the security situation changed over the past ten years?
JL: From an AEG perspective, it’s always been high on the agenda. But the Bataclan – that’s when things really changed.
AEG has always been on the forefront of responding to these things: for example, The O2 was the first venue of its size to have full search and scan on the doors.
Did you see a drop-off in attendance after the Manchester Arena bombing?
JL: No, there was no drop-off – in fact, we had Iron Maiden here the week after the attack.
Bruce Dickinson put it well when he said, “When we’re all together like this, it sends a message of love, of peace, of joy…”
JL: We all have a role to play to ensure the industry stays healthy and vibrant. We can’t let them change our lifestyles.
EB: The fans, too: At Ed Sheeran we had people wearing Manchester T-shirts, which was great.
Emma, what are you booking most of at the moment?
EB: From the programming side, comedy is definitely on the rise again. We’ve got 12 nights with Micky Flanagan coming up, all sold out. Rock shows are still big, and we’re doing more sports – as well as our own festivals, which we’re trying to schedule for quieter periods.
“It was the right venue at the right time in the right city”
How about esports?
EB: We haven’t had any esports at The O2 yet, but watch this space. I’m also programming director for The SSE Arena, Wembley, where we have League of Legends events. Last time we had 6,000 people per day for four days.
It feels a lot like a gig – the crowd are really excited. If I watched it I wouldn’t understand what was going on, but they know the games so they can appreciate the strategy.
Finally, what’s your goal for The O2’s next ten years?
JL: To ensure we’re meeting needs of fans. Going to a gig has changed significantly in the past ten years, and expectations are much higher than they used to be.
It’s really about focusing on the fan experience. Content is obviously an integral part of that, but it’s also about matching what you’d get in the centre of London: cold beer, decent food, hospitality…
Are you finding fans like the ‘entertainment district’ model of having everything in one place?
JL: Definitely. It’s what consumers want. We’ve got our designer outlet coming in September next year, we’re expanding our cinema concept – people want 24/7 entertainment, and these sorts of facilities should be integrated into entertainment complexes when they can.
Not every venue has the capacity – but the advantage for us is that we’ve got the space to do it.