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TEL panel breaks down ‘The State of the Nation’

Industry leaders in live entertainment production gathered to kick off ILMC’s inaugural Touring Entertainment Live (TEL) and share their thoughts on ‘The State of the Nation’.

Chaired by Imagine Exhibitions’ Tom Zaller, the panel — which included guest speakers Liz Koops (Broadway Entertainment Group), Jenny Sirota (RoadCo Entertainment), James Harrison (ASM Global) and David Pitman (Cirque du Soleil) — discussed topics such as booming demand and higher costs, technological advancements, an over-reliance on established IP, and a lack of venues.

Zaller started by bringing up the effects of a post-Covid environment.

“Consumer demand is booming in certain areas, and inflation is causing issues for some of us in certain places,” he explained. “We’re also seeing different types of ticketing deals and dynamic pricing, but we’re also seeing production, operational, and labour costs rise.”

Koops, whose Broadway Entertainment Group has established itself as a key player in the Middle Eastern market with their productions of Disney classics, reckoned that while the increasing interest in the Gulf states is always a positive (“Doing 77 shows of Shrek across the region and within three cities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai, and Qatar was phenomenal!”), there was still a problem affecting the burgeoning territory.

“The touring world and circuit is getting smaller, unfortunately”

“There’s been genuine interest in developing the market, but while there are many more opportunities nowadays, there aren’t enough venues to accommodate the increasing demand,” she said.

That sentiment was shared by Pitman, who referenced certain geopolitical factors to explain dwindling availability in territories Cirque du Soleil used to sell out in.

“We used to tour Russia for 12 weeks, which isn’t going to happen for a long time now,” he said. “Prior to Covid, we held our ice show Crystal in Ukraine, the big venue in Helsinki [Helsinki Halli] is still shut, and there’s the situation in Israel as well to consider. The touring world and circuit is getting smaller, unfortunately.”

Another major point of discussion was the reliance on familiar IP, which the panel agreed made it difficult for original productions to get booked.

“There’s been such a massive spike in ideas being developed and everyone wants to get stuff out there, but especially after Covid, people crave the big IPs more,” explained Sirota. “It’s “comfort food”, they want to buy tickets to something they recognise,” adding that while the US doesn’t share the same experiences with venues as other territories, it’s still difficult to book fresh programming at present. “Especially with costs going up, it’s a real risk for producers to book anything that’s not heavily branded right now.”

“Customers tend to respond more in secondary and tertiary markets because it’s something different for them. There’s not as much competition”

Sirota also expressed concerns over heightened travel costs and a lack of transport availability.

“Trucking is incredibly expensive, and in terms of availability, buses for tours are booked up from 10 to 100 weeks,” she said, adding that it’s highly unlikely they’ll reduce their fees due to fuel prices anytime soon. “There’s so many shows nowadays, and there should be more trucking and bus companies to keep up with such demand.”

The panel soon moved on to entering new and developing territories. While Asia and the Gulf states have been her company’s bread and butter, Koops also stressed the importance of established markets that are smaller by comparison.

“We found that working with local promoters in the Eastern European markets has been incredibly successful for us,” she said, citing high demand in the likes of Croatia and Slovenia that enables her to develop multi-week touring opportunities.

“You don’t necessarily need to be in the A+ markets like London, Paris, or Berlin to have a successful touring production,” added Harrison. “Customers tend to respond more in secondary and tertiary markets because it’s something different for them. There’s not as much competition, so there’s more opportunities for fresher productions.”

To close out the panel, Zaller asked each guest for a one-word answer on what they’d like to change the most: Pitman responded with logistics, both Harrison and Sirota wanted more original shows, while Koops wished for more venues.


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