The big business of touring entertainment
It’s boom time for touring entertainment as people seek out social activities that bring them closer to their favourite TV shows and films, opportunities to learn in an interactive way, or ways of treating three generations of their family.
Touring entertainment is big business right now. As Nicolas Renna, whose company Proactiv Entertainment has been in the sector for 35 years, says: “When I first went to ILMC maybe 15 or 16 years ago, promoters that worked with family entertainment were in the minority. Feld was there, and a few others, but that was about it. Now, although we’re not equal with the music promoters, this segment has become more and more interesting for people, even the rock and pop promoters.”
Indeed, rock and pop promoters have increasingly been getting in on the action. No longer content to promote shows such as Disney on Ice, companies are increasingly creating or acquiring their own touring product. DEAG-owned Kilimanjaro Group acquired musicals producer Flying Music in 2017 (the firm behind West End production Thriller – Live and The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas) and is opening an exhibitions space in London this year. Last year, CTS Eventim-owned FKP Scorpio announced it was starting a new business dedicated to theatre and family shows, called FKP Show Creations. As well as promoting shows across Europe, it’s launching an arena touring production of beloved opera Aida.
Denis Sullivan, vice president, international tours at Feld Entertainment, has spent years in this sector. He says: “This is an evergreen industry; people don’t take time off to make a record and can tour every month of every year.”
He says the growth in demand for what can loosely be called ‘family entertainment’ is illustrated by the fact that Feld – one of the biggest firms in the business with products such as Disney on Ice, Monster Jam, Marvel Universe Live! and Jurassic World Live Tour – has a rehearsal facility that can set up two full-size arena shows side-by-side, and they both are constantly in use. “There’s something going on in them every single time. The number of products we put out ourselves is significant, and we will continue to do [so] because the audience is there.”
“The sector is growing because there’s something for everybody in our shows”
With over 12 years’ experience in the events industry, Ticketmaster’s VP client development Alex Berti spearheaded the company’s Ticketmaster Attractions segment. “We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of immersive art events, as the digital mapping and projection technology that powered these events became more accessible and more portable,” he says. “This meant producers could secure rights to an amazing piece of content and tour it around the world. That’s been a key driver to growth in this sector. For us, it’s meant supporting producers in multiple markets across a product’s lifespan and ensuring the client and the customer get the same experience in every market.”
Creating a market
Often, family show producers are pioneers – the first to go into markets that are yet to fully open to the worldwide touring entertainment industry. For many young children, a Disney on Ice show or an interactive moving dinosaurs exhibition is their first experience of live entertainment. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that family show producers are helping create the concert-attendees of the future.
What these companies are doing is giving people their first taste of an experience that cannot be replicated online, on TV, or on any other platform. They’re showing the children who come to see shows that going to see something live, at a venue, is cool.
If there is such a thing as a positive to come out of the pandemic, it’s that the growth of the sector has been accelerated by the ending of lockdown restrictions. While the concert industry is reporting being busier than ever before with the sheer number of shows on sale, demand for entertainment as a family group has been accelerated by the fact that people were kept apart for so long.
“The sector is growing because there’s something for everybody in our shows,” says Sullivan. “The shows might be predominantly targeted towards kids but mums and dads are going to go and have a great time because there’s something in it for them, too. Every successful Disney movie, for example, has something for the whole family unit.”
“Covid was a creative catalyst in our industry, producing a rapidly changing environment, which led to new models of collaboration”
And that’s not restricted to the live entertainment sector. Touring exhibitions are also seeing a boom time, reports Manon Delaury of Touring Exhibitions Organisation (TEO). “The touring exhibitions business was growing significantly before Covid, but the pandemic accelerated that,” she says. “But we’ve also seen expectations change. For example, people are craving very social experiences – people want to experience things together as much as possible. The multi-generational aspect has also become very important. And, of course, social media is a key factor.”
The other upside of the enforced pause was that it enabled exhibition organisers time to reflect, collaborate, and share information. “That led to a boom of new productions being developed and announced, and new collaborations between the private and public sectors, between entertainment and educational. That’s generated new experiences with a multi-layered, enriched approach,” she says. “These have triggered new ideas for engaging with audiences, and there are new, interesting approaches for bringing generations together to have the social moments we’ve all been craving.
“I think Covid was a creative catalyst in our industry, producing a rapidly changing environment, which led to new models of collaboration.”
Christoph Scholz is director of SC Exhibitions – an arm of long-time German music promoter Semmel Concerts. He is calling for more data reporting for the sector. “We all feel the market has grown, but there’s no data. So we need to be careful with claims about the amount of growth we’re seeing. I urge the exhibition industry to stand up and to share data on things such as ticket sales and ticket prices, because it will benefit us all.”
Scholz says 2023 is shaping up to be SC Exhibitions’ busiest year to date, with a new exhibition Disney 100 just opened at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and a second unit at the Olympic Park in Munich, a new Marvel exhibit which will be revealed in July, plus SpiderMan: Beyond Amazing, and Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes.
“For this segment, we have to create the audience from scratch”
At ILMC’s dedicated strand to this sector this year, Scholz told a panel that exhibition revenues have grown from 2% to 10% of the company total.
But for anyone thinking this is easy money, Proactiv’s Renna sounds a note of caution. “This is very different to rock and pop. We create demand for shows people don’t know about; we create new audiences. If you have an artist such as Coldplay or Madonna, people know them and will come if they like the act. For this segment, we have to create the audience from scratch.”
And let’s not forget the enormous upfront costs required to get a production or exhibition on the road. Semmel Exhibitions, for instance, invested €3.5m in the Marvel: Universe of Superheroes exhibition experience before a single ticket had been sold. GAAP, an agency specialising in booking theatrical shows, spent recent years developing a new exhibition called Sensory Odyssey, which merges digital art, cinema, interactive technologies, sensorial techniques, and cognitive sciences. It raised €4m in private capital for the exhibition, which debuted in Paris.
FKP Show Creations was launched last year by the pan-European promoter. It’s spearheaded by CEO Jasper Barendregt. “In this market, it’s a bit like the Wild West at the moment,” he says. “There’s a lot of gold- digging happening. There’s a lot of content in the market, and there’s a lot of promoters jumping on it.”
It’s no wonder with such huge demand for experiences and ‘immersive’ exhibitions. “Something that changed throughout the pandemic was people were watching a lot of Netflix and Amazon Prime at home, and suddenly they’re able to see it and experience it in cities. The pandemic has accelerated demand for these products,” says Barendregt.
“Being entertained while learning, playing, and participating is the new normal”
To illustrate demand for family entertainment, he says FKP Scorpio was promoting a Paw Patrol tour before the pandemic and sold “a lot of tickets,” but it was halted by the lockdowns. Of course, by the time things opened up again, the children of the people who had bought tickets had out-grown Paw Patrol, so they had to sell the tour again to a new audience. “And we did. What we’ve done is we sold a Paw Patrol tour twice. There’s a huge amount of people who want more and larger shows for really young kids.”
And Liz Koravos, managing director of Kilimanjaro Group’s new UK exhibition and cultural venue The Arches at London Bridge, says: “There has been an obvious shift in the market, likely influenced by the immersive ‘unicorn’ experiences of Van Gogh and the likes of Secret Cinema, but this can be seen through all disciplines, as the lines between exhibition, film, show, performance continue to be blurred. Being entertained while learning, playing, and participating is the new normal. With thrilling new content and the recovery of tourism following Covid, we think there is a very healthy exhibition market, and the demographic is widening.”
Ups and downs
As with concerts, demand for family entertainment can go in waves. With over 20 years’ experience at one of the most established companies in this sector, Maria Maldonado, Feld’s vice president – Latin America & Mediterranean Europe, says there have been other boom moments before things returned to a more ‘normal’ level of business: “We’ve had peaks and valleys as leaders in this industry. So, we had years in the mid- 2000s where we got High School Musical and Disney Live! on the road, or more recently when we had Frozen or Encanto out, and they were huge. We’ve seen quite a bit over the decades, and this is a growth moment.”
Barendregt says: “In the next seven or ten years, I think the big brands are going to get bigger, and there will be more demand for them to be on the road. That’s a good way to go because the marketing money was spent on the television show, television series, and so on. So going on the roll with it is fantastic.People don’t want to stay in front of their televisions, they want to experience it in real life. Especially if it’s not too expensive – somewhere between €20-€35 is where most tickets are sold at the moment.
“That’s why experiences work fantastically, because a lot of people might not be able to go on holidays, so they think, ‘If I’m not going to go on holidays, I’m going to see Jurassic World or Monet’s Garden’. Because it’s affordable; it’s more expensive than cinema, but you also get a lot more than cinema – it’s a whole experience.”
“We’re also seeing a live music component brought into exhibitions, to give them an immersive environment for the visitors”
The current wave of experiences has been driven by a combination of creativity – partly inspired by technological advances, partly by demand from people to want to get closer to the action. But what does the future hold?
Proactiv’s Renna says the trend for more people producing their own content will continue. “There might be maybe less IP-driven content, because the IPs will be fewer but more powerful than before. However, events such as the Christmas Garden we do with DEAG will continue to do well. It’s about right venue, right partner, right promotion.
“Exhibitions are something we will continue to develop. It’s a large investment up front, but once you get started, it can run for many years, and it can go to many markets.”
Delaury is noticing an increasing interest in creating exhibitions dedicated to music and popular culture, such as exhibitions about the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and others. “There’s definitely a trend of bringing music experiences to travelling exhibitions, focusing on an artist, a trend, or a movement, but we’re also seeing a live music component brought into exhibitions, to give them an immersive environment for the visitors.”
It’s certainly a boom time for touring entertainment, and as more and more innovative concepts travel, it can only be
a good thing for this part of the business. Technology and creativity are working hand-in-hand to drive forward experiences that people will remember for years to come. It’s a risky business, often with huge upfront costs, but get it right and you can keep the show on the road for years without needing to take a break.
All that said, the most important thing, as Feld’s Sullivan says, is: “We want everyone happy at the end of the day and to send them home with a smile.”
A preview version of the Touring Entertainment Report 2023 is below.
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