John Empson joins UK promoter Senbla
London-based promoter Senbla has hired John Empson, known for promoting Eden Sessions, Wilderness and last year’s Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival, to lead the company’s growing experiential events business.
Empson – who was instrumental in setting up Eden Sessions (now run by AEG Presents) in 2001, and later programmed Wilderness, Citadel and Somersault festivals for Mama Group – will also support Senbla CEO Ollie Rosenblatt in “maximising potential across all verticals”, according to the company.
“The experiential side is clearly a huge growth area, marrying music and IP, entertainment and interaction,” comments Rosenblatt on the appointment. “We see huge potential, as do our partners at Sony Music Masterworks, with the exploitation of IP.”
“I have known John for quite some time now,” he adds. “One conversation led to another and we found a great common ground and an area that could really be developed.”
The Empson-created Legitimate Peaky Blinders festival, based on the hit BBC TV series of the same name, will also return for a second outing next year under the Senbla umbrella.
“I couldn’t be more excited to join Senbla,” says John Empson. “Their ambition, creativity and enthusiasm is unmatched in this industry.
“With the backing of Sony, we’re working together on ground-breaking new live formats, developing a major experiential arm and presenting a raft of original immersive events and festivals. There’s more to come.”
“We’re working together on ground-breaking new live formats, developing a major experiential arm”
The appointment of Empson follows Senbla’s recent acquisition of two festivals, Strawberries and Creem and The Cambridge Club, and news it will be bringing performances by Michael Bublé and Olly Murs to new outdoor venues, including the 15,000-capacity Royal Crescent Bath and 15,000-cap. Chewton Glen in Hampshire, in 2021.
In other company news, 2021 will also see Senbla enter the US market through a strategic alliance with artist manager Jonathan Shank’s Terrapin Entertainment, which was last month acquired by Senbla parent company Sony Masterworks. The alliance will see Terrapin and Senbla develop and produce IP-driven live entertainment productions.
Rosenblatt was also instrumental in the recently announced Sony Music Masterworks 50% acquisition of Seaview Productions, the Broadway producer, which will collaborate with Senbla on specific projects.
“Although clearly 2020 has thrown up enormous challenges, what is clear is that this has given everyone a moment to reflect,” Rosenblatt continues. “The Senbla family has always been one of diverse productions, creative ideas and a huge appetite to grow. To develop and expand you have to be slightly uncomfortable. Therefore, more than ever, we have to be inventive, broad and bold, pushing beyond what we consider to be the norm. The audience expects more from a live experience.
“Next year also sees our new venues come into play: the Royal Crescent is set to become one of the crown jewels in the touring circuit, particularly for international artists, with its absolutely exquisite and quintessentially English backdrop, as does Chewton Glen in the most stunning of settings next to the New Forest. Our foray into the US with Jonathan Shank is very special; he is someone I have known and admired for a number of years. The prospect of working together in a more cohesive way has always been something that has excited me, so I am truly delighted we made this happen and for us to now formally be in business together.”
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On the edge of culture and creativity: Superfly Q&A
Superfly, the company behind festivals such as Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, has been making major moves in the experiential space.
Founded in 1996 by Rick Farman, Jonathan Mayers, Rich Goodstone and Kerry Black, Superfly has a history of exploring different kinds of immersive, live events from comedy festival Clusterfest to music and arts festival Bonnaroo.
More recently, the company has invested in businesses including sensory experience specialist Listen, immersive entertainment hot spot Two Bit Circus and event technology company LiveStyled, part of its commitment to marrying music with technology.
IQ catches up with Superfly co-founder and music-tech specialist Rick Farman to find out more about the paradoxical relationship between new technology and live events and the potential for music in the virtual events space.
Superfly has invested greatly in the immersive entertainment space recently, why?
There are certainly a few aspects to this. Due to Superfly’s background, we have a great vantage point for the entertainment and experiential industries at large, so we can identify companies with great potential for growth that we can have a very meaningful impact on.
With these investments, we are trying to find crossover with other companies. We have seen over the years on both sides of our business – be it as an event creator and operator, or as a brand agency business and service provider – that there’s a lot of scope for this.
At the same time, we are not a typical music company or promoter – the core of what Superfly does is create experiences that impact people in positive ways with a high level of creativity. We are interested in all different kinds of artists and art forms – anything that helps people find where their passions lie. So, as we grow our business, we are seeking to explore all different types of entertainment and create more diversification across the board.
“The core of what Superfly does is create experiences that impact people in positive ways with a high level of creativity”
How does this translate into your festival business?
We build festivals by trying to replicate that big experience on stage. It’s about performance, but with heightened participation. Outside Lands, for example, does this primarily through food and drink: people learn about wine from the region, talk to those who make it, do wine tastings etc.
What was really brand new and cutting edge for Outside Lands this year, was that we had sales and consumption of cannabis on-site. Globally, no other major festival has done this. Other events have concessions, but we built out a whole different experience from it for people to learn about cannabis – there was a smell wall, information on how it’s made, and we worked with leading brands in the cannabis eco systems. It’s all about bringing that immersive quality and tying it into that culture – that’s the general way we approach that kind of thing at festivals.
It’s like what we’re doing with the Friends and the Seinfeld experiences, too. The idea came out of our comedy festival, Clusterfest, to present immersive experiences with leading media IP from TV shows. We created the format and exported the Clusterfest ideas into standalone installations. The Friends Experience sold out in New York when it launched and recently opened in Boston too.
“It’s an interesting paradox in a way – live music is growing both because of and in spite of that innovation”
The consumer demand for the experiential has increased massively in the past few years, what are the main reasons behind this?
In many ways, there is a direct correlation with the ways in which people experience entertainment at home and the advent of a more digital lifestyle. We have seen this happen before with the explosion of the festival market, especially in the United States, which was driven by advances of technology around digital music. Having access to all that content makes sense when you can then go and see it all at a festival – they’re like mirror experiences.
This is similar to what is happening right now, but with even more interactive digital experiences – people are not just watching but participating in the digital space now, and they are looking for experiences that feed into that real world experience.
For example, visual social platforms like Instagram create a level of needing to get out and experience special events firsthand. All of this increases the desire to go to a festival or event. On the other hand, a festival is an experience that lasts for days, away from screens and technology, so it provides a respite from that digital life.
It’s an interesting paradox in a way – live music is growing both because of and in spite of that innovation. I personally think it’s awesome when these things happen – the convergence of what your experiences are in the digital world with what you’re getting from the live experience.
“Technology can be an amazing tool for artists and Superfly has a real opportunity to play within that overall emerging space”
Could you argue that technology is taking away from the real, lived music experience in any way?
For me, technology only adds to live experiences. The whole artistic universe – streams, merch, live – is being translated to a different context, where a lot of young people interested in entertainment and culture are living, so there is great potential.
The virtual events space is ripe for music to be one of the leading components. There is obviously momentum there already, the watershed moment being the Fortnite x Marshmello concert, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
What is so cool about the gaming format, and what’s developed with streaming platforms like Twitch, is that the level of interactivity that the artists can have with the fan is really incredible. We are now transcending the normal ability for an artist to participate with the audience and having more of a conversation and feedback element. Layer on top of that, all of the magic that can be created in a CGI environment and there’s something really special.
I believe that technology can be a really amazing tool for artists and Superfly as a brand has a real opportunity to play within that overall emerging space.
Superfly makes moves in experiential space
New York production company Superfly has delved further into the immersive experience side of live entertainment, following the buy-out of its stake in Bonnaroo by Live Nation.
Superfly, the company that co-founded Tennessee-based Bonnaroo in 2002, last week announced the launch of The Seinfeld Experience, a year-long, immersive activation based on hit TV show Seinfeld.
“We’re thrilled to bring The Seinfeld Experience to life in an innovative way, combining nostalgia with immersive entertainment,” says Superfly co-founder Jonathan Mayers.
The production company also recently acquired a majority stake in sensory experience specialist Listen. Founded in 2012, Listen has collaborated with artists including Childish Gambino and Brian Eno, as well as carrying out experiential marketing for brands such as Microsoft, Paypal and Virgin.
“We’re thrilled to bring the Seinfeld Experience to life in an innovative way, combining nostalgia with immersive entertainment”
Superfly has created activations for San Francisco comedy festival Clusterfest, which it co-produces with television channel Comedy Central, since its inauguration in 2017. Installations include replications of sets from TV programmes The Office, Atlanta and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Superfly’s festival portfolio includes Bonnaroo, which it produced for a final time this year in a sell-out edition, and San Francisco’s Outside Lands. The company was the original production partner of Woodstock 50, pulling out after the festival lost its financial backing.
The Seinfeld Experience will open in autumn. Tickets will go on sale in the coming months.
Eventbrite files IPO in bid to go public later this year
It has been reported that global ticketing company Eventbrite has confidentially filed an initial public offering (IPO) with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, in a bid to go public later on in the year. The venture will be led by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., the Wall Street Journal reports.
Since its inception in 2006, Eventbrite has raised $332.3 million and it is currently valued by investors at well over $1 billion. Details about the ticketing company’s IPO will become available to the public in the weeks leading up to its listing on the stock market.
The news is the latest in what has been a busy twelve months for the ticketing giant. The last year has seen the company acquire Dutch ticketers Ticketscript, US-based Ticketfly and Spanish platform Ticketea.
Just this summer, Eventbrite has racked up a number of partnerships. In May, the ticketing company teamed up with Instagram to integrate and streamline ticket buying through the app. In June, the company announced it would be entering into a multi-year partnership with Barcelona-based event and party series Elrow Family. July has also seen the company sign a deal with British promoter MJR.
The news of Eventbrite’s intentions to go public come after a ticketing partnership announcement with UK-based experiential brand Mega Events. The brand, which is behind popular events including the Pizza & Prosecco Festival and The Great British Gin Festival, will place all its ticketing and touring needs with Eventbrite.
“At Mega we use the latest technology and marketing techniques to promote our events and it is reassuring to know that with Eventbrite alongside us, our efforts are supported by matching cutting edge tools,” says Nathan Reed, managing director.
“A ticketing partnership with Eventbrite felt like the right move to support our growth”
“Our festivals and brands cover music, clubbing, food, drink and culture, and draw people in from across the UK and Europe; a ticketing partnership with Eventbrite felt like the right move to support our growth.”
Experiential events have seen a marked increased in popularity over the past few years and those with touring potential are particularly attractive to consumers and businesses alike. In 2017, Mega Events sold over 200,000 tickets across its portfolio of events in the UK and Europe.
Sally Pigott, head of festivals at Eventbrite, says this rise in popularity is part of a new generation of events and event organisers: “Developing new, participative and long lasting festivals that tour across the UK and beyond requires great creativity, skill, and hard work,”
“I’m that confident adding Eventbrite’s Instagram and Facebook integrations can help Mega even better connect and engage with their audience, and ultimately sell more tickets.”