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Market report: Belgium

As it is with property, so it is With smallish European countries: it’s all about location, location, location.

Belgium is the 34th biggest (or 16th smallest) nation in Europe by area – it would fit into France 18 times. But it might just be the best-positioned country on the continental mainland, with French, German, Dutch and Luxembourgian borders, and just two hours by train from London.

“We are the best-situated country in Europe,” concurs Pascal Van De Velde of Ghent-based promoter/agency Greenhouse Talent. “If you come from the UK to Germany, you drive through Belgium, and vice versa. If you come down from Scandinavia to southern Europe, you go through Belgium. Logistically, there is always a date for Belgium. And the market is good.”

Well, that’s true. Belgium might be small, but it’s packed – the 13th most-populous European country, with 11m inhabitants, 97% of whom live in towns or cities. So you’re always near a venue; you’re wealthier per head than the UK and France, and not far behind Germany; and in addition to a fairly world-class calendar of tours, you’ve got some of Europe’s biggest festivals in Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop, Dour, Graspop and Tomorrowland.

Then again, few countries have escaped entirely without injury these last few years, whether economic or of a more sinister kind. In common with an ever-growing list of countries, Belgium was the focus of a devastating terrorist incident when three co-ordinated suicide bombings in Brussels on 22 March 2016 killed 32 civilians and three perpetrators. One of many results of the attacks was to put a dent in the live business for much of the remainder of the year.

In January, Belgium lowered its threat level from three to two, judging another attack to be ‘unlikely,’ but while the audiences have come back, the promoters don’t soon forget. “The terrorist attacks were rough, especially the times when they were happening,” says Van De Velde. “And then in the slipstream of it, just security-wise – I can’t say that acts cancelled but putting the shows together was really nasty and difficult because the acts were scared and the audiences were reluctant.”

“We are the best-situated country in Europe”

“But it’s picked up,” he reflects. “It picks up again. When first the Bataclan attacks happened, and then, of course the Brussels attacks, that was huge. The market is very vulnerable, but it recovers fast. People want to go out and see shows, and it moves on. People get sort of used to the situation, you know?”

It takes a little while, though. In the summer of 2016, even a super-festival like Rock Werchter had a tricky year, its attendance 4,500 down on the previous year, compounded by heavy rain in the run-up. “Some people stopped going to shows in 2016 due to terrorism,” says Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium CEO Herman Schueremans, “but they seem to have realised in 2017 that it doesn’t make sense to sit at home, and they decided to live again and enjoy shows and festivals in 2017.”

Last year, says Schueremans, things were resoundingly back to normal. “It appears that they made up in 2017 what they missed in 2016. Of course, the bills of the festivals and the multiple, top-quality tours helped to achieve that. And it looks as if that trend is confirming itself in 2018, both festival- and indoor-wise. Religion and politics divide; music unites.”

Sometimes, it unites in unusual ways. In May, Night of the Proms promoter PSE joined with Werchter, Pukkelpop and GraciaLive to protest local performance rights organisation Sabam’s January move to raise tariffs across the board. Among the increases is a 30% spike in festival rates to 3.25% of box-office receipts, and a 16% hike for larger shows to 3.5%.

PSE’s Jan Vereecke accused Sabam of “simply abusing its monopoly – it is offering no additional services in exchange for the price increase.” Since then, talks have been ongoing, with no resolution yet reached. PwC estimates the value of the Belgian live business at $322m (€261m), and the fact that IQ is reporting at a time of ongoing prosperity and restored calm needn’t mask the fact that Belgium is a more unusual country than many.


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 76, or subscribe to the magazine here

Belgian festivals sue Sabam over rates rise

A coalition of festival and concert promoters is suing Sabam, the Belgian performance rights organisation (PRO), over the live music tariff increases which came into force at the beginning of this year.

As of 1 January, the largest festivals have seen their payments to Sabam increase 30%, to 3.25% of box-office receipts, while promoters of shows whose artistic budgets exceed €1.6 million will pay 16% more (3.5%). Rates have increased across the board, with smaller events also facing increases and Sabam now including sponsorship, subsidies and production costs in festivals’ budgets.

“The new tariffs Sabam pushed through in January are a bridge too far,” says Jan Vereecke of Night of the Proms promoter PSE, who brought the suit with festivals Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop and concert promoter GraciaLive, reports HLN. (Rock Werchter promoter Herman Schueremans had previously said the tariff increase would “kill the goose that lays the golden egg”.)

“Sabam has unilaterally decided to raise their tariffs by 30%. It is justifying this by saying neighbouring countries charge similar rates, but it is simply abusing its monopoly [on public performance royalty collection].

“The new tariffs are a bridge too far”

“For Sabam, nothing has changed: it is offering no additional services in exchange for the price increase.”

Vereecke says the PRO (Société d’Auteurs Belge/Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij) has justified the rises by saying promoters in Belgium had it too easy while creators were being underpaid. This, he says, simply isn’t true: “We calculated after Justin Bieber’s world tour that in the United States he will be paid 12 times less than here.”

“Actually, the whole system is outdated,” he continues. “Sabam takes a percentage of the income from tickets. But shows these days are different from ten years ago – more attention is paid to the entertainment value: larger screens, more fireworks, drones… you name it.

“As a result, tickets are more expensive and Sabam knows it can skim more off the top. That is wrong.”


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