BookMyShow lays off 200 as restrictions continue
Indian ticketing giant BookMyShow has laid off another 200 employees as coronavirus restrictions continue to hurt demand for live entertainment and cinema.
BookMyShow, headquartered in Mumbai (Bombay), is India’s biggest online ticket seller, shifting as much as 50% of the movie-mad country’s cinema tickets and ticketing many of its major live music events. It also operates as a co-promoter for international concerts, such as U2’s historic Mumbai show in December 2019, one of the last before the pandemic hit.
New initiatives such as the launch of livestreaming solution BookMyShow Online in mid-2020 haven’t been enough to avoid further redundancies, following an initial round of 270 lay-offs last May, according to CEO Ashish Hemrajani, who announced the redundancies on Twitter.
Hemrajani tweets that BookMyShow has been forced to let go of “200 of the most incredibly talented and performance-driven individuals” who had been been “handpicked and curated over years”, and that announcing the lay-offs was the “right thing” to do to enable them to find new jobs quickly.
“I’m sure we will all come out of this stronger”
He has asked other companies who have openings for the staff to send him a message on Twitter or email email@example.com with information.
“I had two thoughts: one of managing optics, or two just doing the right thing,” Hemrajani explains. “And for me, finding each of them a new home, where a new journey can begin, was the easy choice. So if you have leads, please DM me and we will do the needful.
“They will contribute incredibly to the growth of your wonderful firms. I’m sure we will all come out stronger.”
At press time, India had around 60,000 daily cases of Covid-19. While heavy restrictions remain in many areas, some states, such as West Bengal and the Punjab, are again opening up, with restaurants, bars and cinemas allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
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Covid worries as world’s biggest festival to go ahead
Authorities in Uttarakhand are ramping up Covid-19 test, trace and treatment facilities ahead of the Kumbh Mela festival, the world’s largest religious gathering, which is expected to draw millions of pilgrims to the northern Indian state next month.
Held roughly every three years, alternating between the cities of Haridwar, Nasik, Ujjain and Allahabad, Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival centred on bathing in certain sacred rivers, is one of the largest gatherings in the world, and is visible from space. The last festival, held in Allahabad in early 2019, attracted a peak single-day attendance of 50 million people.
Kumbh Mela 2021 will take place in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, on the banks of the Ganges, from 1 to 30 April. Organisers expect more than 150 million visitors from all over India across the 30 days, and the national and state governments have spent more than half a billion euros on preparing the city for the festival, including laying 300km of new roads and building car parks to accomodate over 500,000 vehicles.
Fearing a superspreader event in the Himalayan city, the Indian health ministry last week wrote to the state government of Uttarakhand to say that its daily coronavirus testing capacity of 55,000 people was not enough given the large numbers of expected attendees, and that cases were already rising as pilgrims began arriving early.
“This [virus] positivity rate has the potential to rapidly turn into an upsurge in cases, given the expected large footfall during Kumbh,” it read. “Currently more than 12 states in India have shown a surge in Covid-19 cases during the past few weeks, and pilgrims expected to visit Haridwar during the Kumbh Mela could also be from these states.”
“This positivity rate has the potential to rapidly turn into an upsurge in cases”
In response, local authorities have brought in private companies to increase Haridwar’s testing capacity, and are building field hospitals, as well as a 1,500-bed isolation facility, for those who test positive for Covid-19.
“Six temporary hospitals are being built in the [Kumbh] area,” Uttarakhand’s chief medical officer, SK Jha, tells the Hindustan Times. “Also, ashrams and medical colleges in Haridwar would also be utilised to ensure adequate beds for Covid-19 isolation during the fair, which is expected to witness millions of devotees, especially during the shahi snans [main bathing days].”
The state government, which has already made mask-wearing mandatory for pilgrims, says it will distribute millions of masks for free during the festival.
Organisers will also adhere to a number of standard operating procedures issued by the Ministry of Health, including displaying signage urging attendees to self-report any new symptoms of disease and monitoring the flow of foot traffic.
Kumbh Mela last took place in Haridwar in 2010, when it was attended by an estimated 10 million people.
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Indian budget “completely ignores” live events
Industry association EEMA has sharply criticised the Indian government for making no provisions in its most recent budget for the live entertainment sector, which has been devastated by the series of lockdowns and ‘unlocks’ imposed on the country since last March.
The 2021–22 Union Budget, presented to the Indian parliament by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman earlier this week, “completely ignores” the events sector, as well as hospitality, tourism and other related industries, according to Siddhartha Chaturvedi, general secretary of the Events and Entertainment Management Association.
While cinemas are permitted to reopen at 100% capacity from 1 February under so-called ‘unlock 9.0’ guidelines (ie the ninth easing of lockdown), the live events sector has had “almost nil revenue” since the first lockdown came into effect” in March 2020, said the EEMA in a letter sent to Sitharaman (pictured) last month asking for relief for the industry.
The association had asked for wage subsidies, tax relief/refunds, free venue hire and interest-free loans, among other measures, to be included in the budget.
“We were really expecting some SOS measures for our industry in particular”
Chaturvedi says the industry has been left bitterly disappointed by the lack of support for what he describes an industry that is still “bleeding” money. “The budget has been extremely disappointing for us in events. The government has completely ignored this bleeding sector, and so is the case of the entire hospitality, tourism and aviation sectors, which are all related to each other,” he comments. “We were really looking forward to a helping hand from the government in these dire times.”
While the budget shows the government’s intent to “spend a lot to infuse economic activities”, EEMA was “really expecting some SOS measures for our industry in particular, and are extremely disappointed with this lack of empathy towards us.”
“The budget largely seems progressive for the economy,” adds Samit Garg, the association’s executive vice-president. “However, there is unfortunately nothing in there for our events and experiential industry. The only silver lining is the increased government expenditure, which may yield more business opportunities for us.”
EEMA represents more than 1,000 companies, including artist managers, talent agents, event organisers and event management companies.
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Dice rolls out across India
Dice, the UK-based mobile ticketing and discovery platform for live events and live streams, is rolling out across India today.
Dice India will launch with exclusive live streams from international and local artists, including retroFuture, Pabllo Vittar, Anushka Manchanda (Nuka) and Raghav Meattle, which will be aired globally.
In April, Dice expanded its offering with live streams and has since worked on exclusive live streams with Laura Marling, Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue and Bjork.
“With venues in lockdown since the pandemic struck, high quality livestreamed shows have quickly become an important new source of revenue and engagement for artists,” says Phil Hutcheon, founder and CEO of Dice.
“Dice’s long term aim in India is to build a more sustainable live industry to help venues, promoters and artists thrive”
“Dice takes event livestreaming to the next level by putting Indian artists on a global stage. Fans in turn enjoy a best-in-class experience powered by personalised recommendations. We understand what it takes to make a great show that fans love and only the best events make it on Dice.”
Arnav Banerjee, Dice India Lead, adds: “Dice’s long term aim in India is to build a more sustainable live industry to help venues, promoters and artists thrive. Our commitment to the highest production values, as well as our unique ability to recreate the sense of anticipation and exclusivity that fans love about traditional gigs, means we attract the very best in local and international talent.”
In the Indian market, Dice will compete with the country’s largest online ticketing company BookMyShow – which launched a pay-per-view streaming platform for live events in July – and Alibaba-backed digital payments platform Paytm.
Read the Indian market report in IQ 90 here.
Since launching in 2014, Dice has launched in markets including the UK, the US, France, Italy, Spain and Australia – and is accessible to fans globally through its live stream offering.
China conflict hits Indian production cos
Indian event businesses under pressure to boycott China are facing increased production costs for non-Chinese-made equipment.
Organisers of entertainment, corporate and other live events currently have a choice between buying event kit (sound, lighting, stages, trussing, etc.) at a higher cost from the US or Europe or continuing to purchase from a country widely regarded as public enemy no 1.
A third option – manufacturing these products in India – would require government support for the industry in the form of subsidies, says Modern Stage Service’s Pratik Wadhwa.
An influential, celebrity backed social-media campaign, launched in May, urges Indians to boycott Chinese products and companies in response to the ongoing military stand-off at parts of the India–China border.
The most vicious fighting, in mid-June, saw an estimated 20 Indian and 43 Chinese soldiers lose their lives in melee combat in disputed areas of Kashmir; both sides, meanwhile, accuse each other of firing shots in a skirmish at the line of actual control (LAC) between the Indian territory of Ladakh and Chinese-occupied Tibet yesterday (7 September).
“Matching price with China will be difficult at present … but it is achievable in the long run”
India blames China for the incursions, and has even gone so far as to ban Chinese-owned mobile apps including TikTok and WeChat and Tencent-published Fortnite rival PUBG. The Chinese state-run Global Times accuses a nationalistic Indian media of inflaming tensions, warning that the press “must be reined in” if India wishes to avoid further conflict with Beijing.
Speaking to EventFAQs, Wadhwa, CEO of the New Delhi-based pro-AV distributor, explains: “95% of lighting and trussing, and all LED walls and LED TVs, are imported from China, [as is] cheaper audio equipment.
“The alternative to this is that either India needs to manufacture equipment or international companies have to start assembly lines in India. The Indian government will have to support this industry by giving subsidies.”
Santana Davis, the managing director of Bangalore’s J Davis Prosound & Lighting, adds: “My assumption is that a certain level of impact will surely be there on import of this equipment or materials from China if the current scenario between India and China doesn’t improve.
Davis notes that equipment imported from Western countries is “top-class”, but compared to a quality Chinese brand is “at least two or three times higher” in price.
Indians are urged to boycott Chinese products and companies in response to the ongoing military stand-off at parts of the border
Both Wadhwa and Shivam Singh of pro-AV company Shivam Videos say they plan to start manufacturing audiovisual equipment domestically.
“We have got back into manufacturing lights in India,” explains Wadhwa. “Matching price with China will be difficult at present, because they produce for the world, but it is achievable in the long run.”
“We have already planned […] to import parts from Taiwan, Japan or Korea and assemble them in India,” adds Singh. “Later, we are also planning to start manufacturing in India.
“We want to support our nation and be self-sufficient. We are ready to support ‘Make in India’. But for that we would need the government’s support as well, as setting up a manufacturing unit is not easy.”
India: State of Hindipendents
If there were an award for the greatest potential touring market, India would be on that stage, brandishing the trophy, year in, year out. With a population nudging 1.4 billion and projected to surpass that of China by 2022, India is about as vast as countries get. Nonetheless, when a big band comes to town, the comparative rarity of the event still makes global headlines.
U2’s show in December at Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium, the very last stop on the fifth leg of The Joshua Tree Tour, wasn’t the first superstar show to come to India – far from it: The Stones played Mumbai and Bangalore in 2003, while Beyoncé and Shakira came in 2007, Metallica in 2011, Coldplay in 2016, and Ed Sheeran in 2015 and 2017, with other significant visitors in between.
But each major concert fires up the expectation that India’s biggest cities could soon become routine destinations for the world’s biggest artists. And U2’s show before a crowd of 42,590, staged by local ticketing giant BookMyShow in partnership with Live Nation, got the country dreaming once more.
“There were a lot of reservations from everybody coming into India,” says BookMyShow CEO and founder Ashish Hemrajani, who freely concedes that India has failed to meet international expectations for live shows in the past. “It was the first outing for U2 here; it was the first show of this scale and magnitude; it was the last show of the tour. There was a lot riding on it and everyone was on tenterhooks.”
BookMyShow has been scaling up its promoting exploits in recent years, bringing Cirque du Soleil, NBA pre-season games, an adapted Hindi Aladdin and the Coldplay-headlined Mumbai edition of the Global Citizen festival, but Hemrajani says U2 represented a new level and a new set of pressures.
“There were a lot of reservations from everybody coming into India”
“We have got a great team in India, but nothing prepares you for dealing with Arthur Fogel, with Jake Berry and the whole team,” he says. “But if you talk to the folks that we dealt with, they were very pleasantly surprised by the level of professionalism they found.”
More than anyone else in the Indian business, Hemrajani has both a vision and a platform to bring about a revolution in the nation’s live entertainment offering. BookMyShow sells between 35% and 50% of all cinema tickets in a cinema-mad nation (“we are a hot, dusty country, which is an assault on all your senses, and cinema is the cheapest, most comfortable form of indoor entertainment,” he explains), and played a part in the massive success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) of cricket. If Hemrajani judges that India is ripe for some concert-going, the chances are he knows what he is talking about.
The same feeling has recently been in the air across the country. The preceding month, also at DY Patil Stadium, Katy Perry and Dua Lipa inaugurated the OnePlus Music Festival, along with local acts Amit Trivedi, Ritviz, as we keep searching and The Local Train. Both of the top-billers were new to the market, and again, the show was an unconventional labour of love, this time organised by the local operation of Chinese smartphone brand OnePlus, which rivals Samsung and Apple in India.
As OnePlus India general manager Vikas Agarwal told India’s The Telegraph newspaper: “[We were] not looking to organise everything by ourselves, but the country [was] not yet ready to organise such a large-scale event. [So] starting from the artist selection to the whole conceptualisation of the event, logistics – everything was done for the first time by the brand. I hope more such events will be organised in India.”
And then, of course, came Covid-19, to which we will inevitably return in a minute.
“The folks that we dealt with were very pleasantly surprised by the level of professionalism they found”
Still a mostly rural nation of numerous languages and cultures, heavily regionalised laws and huge inequality, India has always had more pressing priorities than slotting conveniently into a Western live music model. All the same, its entertainment market is highly evolved. The homegrown cinema industry enjoys a sophisticated, mostly mobile ticketing infrastructure, spearheaded by BookMyShow, with strong competition lately from Alibaba-backed Paytm. Both have diverse businesses and are busy across many sectors, including cricket, theatre, food and mobile payments.
Online ticketing was reckoned to be worth $330 million in 2017, according to Indian management consultant RedSeer, whose prediction of $580m in revenues this year has sadly been scuppered by recent events. In the past, the lion’s share of online ticket sales (55%), was for movies, with sport on 25% and events taking the remaining 20%, though both the latter categories are growing.
EDM, in particular, has found a booming home in India, where there is a large network of clubs and established festivals, from OML’s multi-city Bacardi NH7 Weekender to the monster Sunburn in Pune.
“The electronic music scene in the country has developed into its own industry and it’s spread to wider parts of the country,” says Dev Bhatia of dance music management and booking agency UnMute. “Having said that, I still feel we’re barely scratching the surface. Considering India will [soon] have five to six hundred million people under the age of 35 with cell phones and accessibility, the potential is endless.”
That potential is currently on pause. At the time of writing, India was attempting to relax its notably strict lockdown conditions even as it faced a record spike in Covid-19 infections. In a country where many millions of informal workers live on a daily wage, the economy can’t stand idle for long.
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 90, or subscribe to the magazine here
Indie promoters talk challenges, post-corona recovery
The latest IQ Focus virtual panel, The State of Independence: Promoters, checked in with independent concert promoters in the UK, Europe, India and South America to discover how these entrepreneurs are preparing for the live industry’s return to normality.
Hosted by agent Emma Banks (CAA), yesterday’s session welcomed British promoters Anton Lockwood (DHP Family) and David Messer (DMP), Munbir Chawla from India’s The Wild City, Melanie Eselevsky from Argentina’s Move Concerts and Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion’s Roman Pitone to discuss the current difficulties unique to their sector, as well as the opportunities and challenges of a post-Covid-19 world .
Speaking about emerging concert formats such as drive-in shows, Pitone said Karsten Jahnke has done a number of drive-in events in Germany over the past few months. “Overall, they went well,” he said, but enthusiasm has declined over time as fans increasingly miss ‘real’ shows: “You could see when we started it that people were really eager to see shows [in some form] again, but it slowed down as time went on as people realised it’s just not the same.”
He added that the company is only breaking even on its drive-in and other socially distanced events. “With the income, we’re just paying for what we’re doing,” he explained. “This is just to keep doing something that is our passion and our livelihood, until we can do something [else]…”
In India, where live music is still invariably sponsored, brands have realised the coronavirus crisis isn’t going away and are spending less on live events, creating a headache for promoters, said Chawla. “The brands have realised they’re in it for the long haul, and cultural marketing spend is now being put back into marketing the products” directly, he commented.
“I want to remain independent. It’s not all and gloom”
“Unlike a lot of other scenes, the Indian scene is pretty reliant on brands. So, with the brands spending less money, that will also affect shows and the scale at which they can happen.”
Giving an overview of the situation in countries where Move Concerts operates, Eselevsky brought panellists up to date on the latest developments in Latin America, from the furlough scheme in Argentina to ticket vouchers in Brazil and drive-in concerts in Puerto Rico.
She also touched on the challenge of organising concerts in Argentina when the value of the local currency fluctuates so often: “Three years ago, the exchange rate was 18 pesos [to the US dollar],” she said. “Now it’s 75 pesos.”
Banks described her own experience of playing Argentina, relaying how one of her acts once oversold a show in Buenos Aires and still didn’t break even. “Try explaining that to the manager!” she said.
Turning to 2021, Messer said he’s “finding that because so many things have been moved into next year, things are fully booked” for late 2021 already. “So it’s very hard to know what you can book – the dates are going very quickly, but you can’t book the artists” because the situation around international touring is still so unclear.
“People are talking a lot more to each other … We’re all in the same place”
Lockwood said he can understood why many artists, especially American ones, could be reluctant to travel internationally well into next year, even if it’s a “depressing” thought. “Imagine the nightmare of being a US band,” he explained, “you get to the border of Spain and Portugal, and your bus driver gets a cough and you have to quarantine for 14 days. So, your whole tour’s just gone.
“Whereas, at least if you’re a US band and you tour the US, you won’t get caught in that.”
While the crisis has thrown into sharp relief the vulnerability of the independent sector, none of the panellists responded in the affirmative when Banks asked, tongue in cheek, if they wish they’d sold to Live Nation before coronavirus hit.
“It’s not all and gloom,” said Chawla, highlighting the quality of the music being released and the increasingly global nature of the industry as among the bright spots, while Messer praised how “people have come together” to mitigate the impact of the concert shutdown.
“People are talking a lot more to each other – people from different sides of the industry,” he said, in a sentiment echoed by Banks. “We’re all in the same place, and luckily everyone’s helping each other, which we have to do. We all need each other – we’re not going survive unless we can all exist.”
Indie promoters in spotlight for next IQ Focus
Continuing the weekly series of IQ Focus virtual sessions, State of Independence: Promoters will see independent event organisers from across the globe come together to discuss the specific obstacles facing their business.
The tenth panel of the popular IQ Focus series, the session will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube on Thursday 16 July at 4 p.m. BST/5 p.m. CET.
Across the touring world, independent promoters are facing a similar challenge when looking ahead to a post Covid-19 business.
While this current period presents many unique challenges for this creative and entrepreneurial sector, it’s one of many pressures they face. So what’s the state of play in Europe, South America and India? And what alternative show formats, and business models are independent promoters adopting to stay ahead?
CAA’s Emma Banks hosts the session to ask, as the industry emerges from its current crisis, where the opportunities might lie?
Joining Banks are DHP Family’s Anton Lockwood, Karsten Janhke Konzertdirektion’s Ben Mitha, DMP UK’s David Messer, Melanie Eselevsky from Argentina’s Move Concerts and Munbir Chawla from the Wild City in India.
All previous IQ Focus sessions, which have looked at topics including the challenges facing festivals, diversity in live, management under lockdown, the agency business, large-scale venues and innovation in live music, can be watched back here.
India’s BookMyShow launches livestreaming platform
BookMyShow, India’s largest online ticketing company, today (1 July) launched a pay-per-view streaming platform for live events.
BookMyShow Online will showcase performances across music, comedy and the performing arts and will be accessible via the BookMyShow app and website. A subscription-based model will also be rolled out in the next few months.
One of the first events to appear on the platform will make its debut is Sunburn Home Festival, the virtual edition of Goan EDM festival Sunburn, which is taking place on 11 and 12 July with sets from Bassjackers, Vini Vici, Mattn and Ummet Ozcan.
Tickets cost Rs99 (€1.20) for one day or Rs199 (€2.40) for both days.
Other upcoming events include shows by Bang Bang Romeo and Electric Enemy, and theatre workshops with veterans like Puneet Issar, Rohini Hattangadi, Rakesh Bedi, and Anant Mahadevan.
During lockdown, BookMyShow has facilitated the discovery of online entertainment on its platform, with currently almost half a million viewers accessing virtual events via its service per week.
With BookMyShow Online, the company intends to put all events behind a paywall, with prices varying per shows and platinum options, including post-performance Q&As, available for a greater price.
“Our latest video streaming platform BookMyShow Online was born out of this need to make virtual live entertainment a frictionless and hassle-free viewing experience”
“Sensing the shift in our users’ appetite for entertainment during this lockdown, we were agile enough to change tack by introducing virtual in-home entertainment offerings in India and other global markets,” says Parikshit Dar, co-founder and director of BookMyShow.
“Our latest video streaming platform BookMyShow Online was born out of this need to make virtual live entertainment a frictionless and hassle-free viewing experience.”
The streaming platform will initially be able to host over 50,000 concurrent viewers per minute, with the company reportedly testing a feature to take this up to 100,000.
“The platform is built for scale,” says Dar. “This tech allows us the ability to spin multiple live events with our livestreaming capability, enhance the user experience, and provide a lightning-fast video player for streaming content.”
The company has partnered with global video technology platform Brightcove to power BookMyShow Online.
In May, BookMyShow announced cost-cutting measures including the lay-off or furloughing of 270 employees and company-wide salary reductions.
Read the Indian market report in the latest edition of IQ Magazine here.
Indian benefit concert raises almost US$7m
A virtual fundraising concert organised by Bollywood directors Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar in coordination with Facebook India has raised over Rs520 million (US$6.9m) to fight the coronavirus outbreak in India.
In the latest high-profile online benefit event, Mick Jagger, Joe Jonas, Bryan Adams and Will Smith performed from their homes along with Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Akshay Kumar in a five-hour concert, which was broadcast on Facebook on Sunday night (3 May).
Every donation generated by the I For India event goes to GiveIndia’s Covid response fund and is matched rupee for rupee by donors including Action Covid-19 Team, ATE Chandra Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network India and Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies.
According to charity GiveIndia, the I For India event has become the biggest live fundraiser on Facebook, raising Rs4.3m ($568,358) through individual donations and Rs477m ($6.3m) from corporate donors and philanthropists.
“Humbled by the love and trust showered on [us] via the I For India concert”
“Humbled by the love and trust showered on [us] via the #IFORINDIA concert,” reads a post on GiveIndia’s Twitter page. “Thank you – our galaxy of stars and to each and every one of you who have donated.”
GiveIndia’s relief efforts help provide PPE kits to healthcare workers and food, rations, and cash relief to daily wagers and migrant workers.
India’s 1.3 billion people have been in lockdown since 25 March. Restrictions have recently been eased, but they are expected to last until at least 17 May.
The incorporation of a ‘donate’ button into live videos, is one of a number of new video-related features introduced by Facebook, which has also augmented its tipping tool and now allows artists to charge for access to online performances.