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AEG Presents France head on ‘patchy’ ticket sales

AEG Presents France head Arnaud Meersseman has told IQ he is hopeful of a strong summer ’22 for the touring business, despite warning of an “iffy” next few months.

As countries across Europe tighten limits on live shows amid an alarming rise in Covid cases, the French authorities went against the grain  last week by lifting capacity restrictions on standing at indoor concerts following a campaign by French live music association Prodiss.

Meersseman says a scheduled meeting of the government’s defence counsel on Wednesday (24 March) could lead to new measures being introduced, but does not expect the country to follow Austria’s lead and return to a full lockdown.

“We’ll see what comes out of it, but cases are rising,” he says. “I think the booster campaign needs to get into gear. Plus, if we get some nice weather from March, April onwards, then summer feels OK. The start of spring feels a bit iffy. Between the booster shot campaign and fair weather returning, it’s going to be iffy from now until March, basically.

“You can see that the weather definitely has an impact. If you look at Spain, Italy and Portugal; on top of having extremely high vaccination rates, they’re having very nice weather and their cases aren’t rising. It’s as soon as you get people back inside, basically, that the cases are rising again.”

Some shows are doing very well, some are doing slow. It’s hard to get a read on the market

The Paris-based promoter says the domestic live circuit has been hard to get a handle on up to this point due to “patchy” ticket sales across the board.

“Some shows are doing very well, some are doing slow,” he says. “It’s hard to get a read on the market. You get weeks where you get huge bumps and you have no idea what it’s due to.”

Meersseman jokes: “I’ll always tell agents, it’s due to my amazing marketing, but it’s really weird. It’s not understandable.”

AEG Presents opened Paris office in 2018, expanding into what it referred to as “one of Europe’s most important and vibrant markets for live music”, and hired Meersseman, formerly of Nous Productions and Fimalac/Miala, as general manager and VP.

Speaking as part of IQ‘s recent feature investigating the impact of the latest Covid surge on the European live business, Meersseman said it was worrying that countries with a similar vaccination rate to France were battling new coronavirus waves. Demonstrations and violence broke out in Belgium and the Netherlands over the weekend in protest at fresh restrictions.

“There is some worry, there is some anxiety,” he said. “We were at 12,000 cases a day a week ago, and now we’re at 20,000. So it’s getting to that point where it trickles and then suddenly, boom, it becomes exponential.

“I don’t think we’ll go back into full lockdown. But in terms of our business, well, there’s not much going on anyway – even for domestic acts – in November and December. I think there could be some impact there, we’ll see. But I’m not very positive about it and I’m not feeling super positive about January/February either.

“Domestic tours, maybe they go ahead in February/March. But for international tours, it feels highly unlikely that anything happens between January and March because you start losing territories like Holland and Germany and suddenly your tour isn’t viable economically anymore.”

 


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Austrian live biz upbeat despite new lockdown

Goodlive Artists Austria (GAA) co-MD Silvio Huber says the domestic live business has cause for optimism despite the country being plunged back into lockdown.

As Covid cases hit another record high, a nationwide lockdown will come into effect on Monday in a bid to avoid a fifth wave of the virus, with people told to work from home and non-essential shops to close. The measures, announced by chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, will last a maximum of 20 days.

Industry veteran Huber, who anticipated the course of action, describes the tightened restrictions as “like Groundhog Day”.

“It’s a tiring process for sure,” he tells IQ. “We have to move or cancel shows and uncertainty comes back just at the point when people were in the mood for buying tickets and attending shows again.”

We’re still looking positive into 2022

Having previously imposed a lockdown on unvaccinated residents, Austria is also set to become the first European country to make Covid vaccinations compulsory (its current 65% vaccination rate is the lowest in Western Europe) – news of which was welcomed by Huber.

“Today’s announcement of the vaccination mandate for all starting on 1 February is great news for our industry,” he says. “I wish we had that in place already but who would have guessed that some people prefer deworming medicine to vaccination? So we may need some gentle ‘pressure’ to get out of this cycle.”

As a result, Huber, who was head of booking for Arcadia Live before switching to Vienna-based GAA earlier this year, believes the signs for the next 12 months are a lot more promising.

“We’re still looking positive into 2022,” he says, adding: “Let’s get through this bloody winter.”

Prior to today’s announcement, Huber was one of a handful of leading promoters to speak to IQ about the impact the latest Covid spike is having on the European live music business.

 


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Netherlands concerts postponed amid new lockdown

Scores of concerts in the Netherlands have been postponed after the Dutch government imposed a new partial lockdown in the wake of rising Covid-19 infections.

A capacity limit of 1,250 has been imposed on venues, while sports events will be played behind closed doors.

Restrictions will last at least three weeks until 4 December, with the situation to be reassessed by the government on 3 December. Covid entry passes are already required to attend concerts in the country.

“If we succeed in reversing the current trend in the weeks ahead and the number of positive cases falls, the government believes it will be possible to reopen society as fully and as safely as possible,” it says in a statement. “We will then be able to roll out the coronavirus entry pass system more widely.”

High-profile postponements include shows by Burna Boy, Simply Red and Nightwish at Amsterdam’s 17,000-cap Ziggo Dome, while Burna Boy’s performance at the 16,426-cap Rotterdam Ahoy on 20 November and Nicky Jam on 21 November will also be moved.

Amsterdam’s 1,500-cap Paradiso, meanwhile, has postponed events by acts including Mykki Blanco, Oh Wonder and Spector.

The government says financial support will be available for businesses “directly affected” by the new restrictions. However, the Netherlands’ Alliance of Event Builders and the EventPlatform have declared themselves “deeply disappointed” at the measures, which they claim are not backed up by the scientific data.

Once again, many event builders… suddenly find themselves in a new reality, with mountains of uncertainty

“Professional events with corona ticket control have not or hardly turned out to be a source of contamination, according to the Source and Contact Survey,” says a statement. “They have hardly appeared in the figures of the RIVM since the restart in August, and no significant contamination clusters have arisen at events, while they have been visited by millions of people.”

The statement continues: “Once again, many event builders who were busy with their work today and tomorrow, events that the public longs for, suddenly find themselves in a new reality, with mountains of uncertainty.

“The cabinet still seems to have no answers to the essential questions and continues to make ad hoc and arbitrary adjustments. They mainly react in the short term instead of anticipating.

“The Alliance of Event Builders and the EventPlatform are not only concerned about the short term, but also very concerned about the period after the announced lockdown. There is again no road map, no plan, no end goal. The Alliance and the EventPlatform therefore call on politicians to opt for an approach that is based on facts, figures and clear insights and that provides a dot on the horizon.”

Prior to the announcement, the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals (VNPF) also said that cancelling concerts was “not a solution to the problem of increased infections”.

“The cancellation of these programmes again is symbolic politics,” it said. “Lockdowns and other restrictive measures are creating new programming uncertainty and the already very shaky finances in the pop sector.”

 


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Dutch trade body hits out at lockdown plans

The Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals (VNPF) has hit out at plans to impose a partial lockdown in the Netherlands.

With Covid restrictions on the cusp of being tightened in several European countries, Dutch media have reported that strict new measures will be introduced from Saturday (13 November) in a bid to combat record numbers of new Covid-19 infections in the country.

The restrictions, due to be announced this evening by prime minister Mark Rutte, are expected to last at least three weeks, sources have told public broadcaster NOS.

However, the VNPF claims that cancelling live events would merely be “symbolic politics”, pointing to figures showing infections are occurring mainly in family circles and schools, rather than at concerts.

“It is clear that the increase in infections is not caused by organisations affiliated with VNPF,” says the organisation. “The concerts and events are professionally organised and the corona [pass]/QR code is strictly checked everywhere.

“Cancelling concerts and other events is therefore not a solution to the problem of increased infections. The cancellation of these programmes again is symbolic politics. Lockdowns and other restrictive measures are creating new programming uncertainty and the already very shaky finances in the pop sector.

“Moreover, such a measure erodes support for the policy of the corona admission ticket and its compliance, which is now working very well.”

Buying a ticket for a concert or event almost becomes a false promise

The body recently published its new Pop Stages and Festivals in Figures 2020 report, based on data from 101 Dutch music venues and festivals, which reported that revenue from ticket sales and catering at domestic shows plummeted from €121.7 million in 2019 to €29.7m last year as a result of the pandemic.

Events in the country have been restricted to 75% capacity and are required to close between 00:00 and 06:00 CET. Insisting the new measures “must be effective and appropriate”, the VNPF warns repeated postponements could have lasting consequences.

“Buying a ticket for a concert or event almost becomes a false promise,” it says. “So much programme has been shifted, so often, so the pop sector is confronted with a relatively large audience that does not show up. In a sector where the ticket proceeds go to the artist and the other public income, including catering, is for the organiser, this is very threatening.

“New restrictions are not necessary within the pop sector and, once again, cause programming and financial hopelessness for pop artists, pop venues, event organisers, producers and pop festivals.”

In its latest weekly report, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) revealed the number of new cases among EU/EEA countries increased 19% week-on-week.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s disease control centre the Robert Koch Institute has called for large events to be cancelled after the country’s infection rate hit a new high, while Austria is mulling introducing a lockdown for unvaccinated people.

 


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Brussels venue to reopen regardless of restrictions

Brussels venue Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS) plans to open its doors on 26 April, defying current restrictions, in a bid to increase pressure on the Belgian government to reopen the cultural sector.

The country’s strict lockdown measures are set to ease on 25 April but venues may not be permitted to welcome audiences until 1 May at the earliest, after the government withdrew its decision to allow outside performances of up to 50 people during April.

The venue’s operators want to demonstrate that it is possible to organise events safely and plans to host 50 people in a 500-capacity room on five consecutive nights for a theatre performance.

According to organisers, the performance will take place under strict precautions concerning ventilation, measuring CO2, guiding and controlling public flows, registering visitors, keeping a safe distance, mandatory mouth mask and disinfection gel.

“This is a signal to the government to finally take our industry and our efforts seriously,” KVS says in a statement on the venue’s website.

“This is a signal to the government to finally take our industry and our efforts seriously”

In the statement, KVS refers to crowded parks, squares and trains: “It is revengeful: after a year of pandemic, we as a society have still not succeeded in organizing what can be organized safely. Culture can be part of the solution. And there are indeed alternatives. And there is indeed a great social need for safe encounters and culture.

“To prevent public support from completely eroding, to prevent dangerous, badly organised gatherings from occurring too often, there is a need for safe ways to enjoy culture.”

Opposition party Groen has called on the minister of culture Jan Jambon to turn the performances into a test event, according to De Tidj.

“By turning KVS’s plans into a test event, people are not forced to take the risk of prosecution just because they want to do their job in complete safety. It is also a constructive signal to the cultural sector and we can use the information later. This could well be a win-win,” says Groen MP Elisabeth Meuleman.

Jonathan will play from 26–30 April at 8 pm in KVS. Tickets, which are priced at €25, have sold out for all five nights.

 


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French Covid expert: ‘Cultural places are lower risk’

The head of infectious diseases at France’s largest hospital says that the risks of Covid-19 contamination in cultural places are “much lower than in the family, professional or school environment”, provided restrictions are observed.

Appearing on French cable channel BFMTV, Eric Caumes from the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris said that even in cultural places where there are lots of people – such as theatres, stadiums and museums – the risks of Covid-19 contamination is low if social distancing measures are adhered to and masks are worn.

Caumes’ comments are in line with multiple clinical trials which have found little risk of an infected person transmitting Covid-19 in an indoor concert venue, including Spain’s Primacov and two German trials – Restart-19 and Konzerthaus Dortmund. France has announced test concerts of its own, scheduled for the spring.

The infectious diseases chief went on to say that the reopening of culture is essential to avoid a mental health crisis in France and stop citizens from “turning into zombies” – adding the government must consider the “global dimension of health”.

The infectious diseases chief said that the reopening of culture is essential to avoid a mental health crisis in France

“The limit [for hospitals] is not very far, we are so close to the level that we are afraid of…but I am not sure that confinement would improve the psychic parameters which are rather worrying,” he said.

French culture minister, Roselyne Bachelot, has said that museums and monuments will be the first to reopen when there is a drop in the number Covid-19 cases but cinemas, concert halls and theatres are to remain closed until further notice.

Bachelot recently met with the organisers of major French festivals as concern mounts over the impact of France’s ongoing health state of emergency, though the participants say it did not result in any concrete guarantees regarding the festival summer.

The culture minister will hold another meeting with the festival sector on 15 February, by which time she will need to have concrete answers and solutions for festival organisers, says live music association, Prodiss.

Meanwhile, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, is under pressure from his scientific counsel to impose a third lockdown, warning the leader the country’s curfew and other restrictions are not enough to curb the virus.

 


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French festivals reschedule as new lockdown looms

French president Emmanuel Macron is set to make a decision this weekend on whether to place France into a third national lockdown, in a move that could be a death knell for the country’s festival summer.

According to local media, Macron is leaning towards a so-called adapted lockdown (confinement adapté), rather than the strict stay-at-home measures seen in March in November, with recent polling suggesting a majority of French now oppose a third ‘hard’ lockdown. The last lockdown was eased just before the Christmas holidays as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital fell; under two months later, however, and hospitals are now again at a nearly “100% occupancy rate” in some regions, health minister Olivier Véran warned yesterday (28 January) .

While the confinement adapté would allow some businesses and organisations to stay open – particularly schools, reports Le Monde – the move towards more stringent rules dampens France’s prospects for a more normal summer, particularly when it comes to live entertainment.

Several French music festivals, particularly those catering to local acts, have already postponed to later this year – among them early summer event Festival Papillons de Nuit (20,000-cap.) in Saint-Laurent-de-Cuves, which has moved to the end of August, and the multi-venue Bordeux Rock, which optimistically rescheduled from January to April – and it is feared that further restrictions, particularly the extension of France’s health state of emergency, will put further pressure on the live music sector.

Several French music festivals have already postponed to later this year

The French Senate voted yesterday to extend the Health Emergency Law, which grants the government special powers, including restricting freedom of movement or assembly, until 3 May (revised from 1 June).

More concerning, however, is the bill’s provision to postpone the end of the state of emergency’s “exit regime” (régime de sortie) – a vaguely defined transitional period designed to be a halfway house between the emergency and relative normality – until 30 September: well after France’s major music festivals and summer shows would have taken place.

Just 15% of France’s music festivals took place as planned in 2020, according to Quentin Thomé, who runs French festival site Tous Les Festivals, meaning operators are more determined than ever to go ahead in some this summer.

Sharing the site’s latest research on the health of the French music festival sector with Les Echos, Thomé revealed 95% of festival operators are counting on staging an event in summer 2021, despite the slower-than-expected vaccine roll-out in France.

“Cultural businesses are still awaiting decisions from the authorities”

The Tous Les Festivals survey additionally reveals that even some of the country’s biggest open-air music events, including the 65,000-capacity Vieilles Charrues, are prepared to go seated-only, with social distancing, if it means they can go ahead – while others, including Printemps de Bourges, have already reduced their capacities.

“Cultural businesses are still awaiting the decisions of the authorities on the resumption of live shows, capacities, health measures, social distancing, masks… so many elements that have still not been [addressed],” said a spokesperson for Papillons de Nuit, announcing its postponement earlier this week. “By organising the festival in August, we at least have the possibility we can do it in good conditions.”

It is hoped France’s festival promoters will have more clarity on what will be possible this summer after a meeting today (29 January) with culture minister Roselyne Bachelot. Among those attending the meeting are representatives for Au Foin de la Rue (2–3 July) and Hellfest (18–20 June), the latter of which wrote to Bachelot earlier this month begging her to “put an end to this unbearable waiting situation”.

The 2021 festival season will come under the microscope at the ILMC panel Festival Focus: Reboot & Reset on 5 March. Tickets for ILMC 33 are available at the discounted winter rate of £119/£139 until 14 February.

 


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Dutch test shows postponed, lockdown extended

The Dutch government has postponed four of the ‘Back to Live’ test shows that were scheduled to take place this month, after extending the country’s lockdown by three weeks.

The postponed test shows include a cabaret performance by Guido Weijers at the Beatrix Theater in Utrecht, a business conference at the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht and two football matches at the home grounds of NEC and Almere City FC.

The ‘Back to Live’ test shows are being organised by FieldLab Events (a joint initiative with Event Platform, the Alliance of Event Builders and the government) with the aim of determining how events with an increased visitor capacity can take place safely and responsibly during the pandemic.

Minister for health, Hugo de Jonge, announced during a press conference on Tuesday (12 January) evening that the cabinet will determine next week when the events get the green light.

“In this context, while we still do not know so much. Where primary schools cannot even open, it is not smart to hold events that involve 100 people together. We want to know a little more about the British variant, in the context of the Dutch measures,” he says.

“In this context, where primary schools cannot even open, it is not smart to hold events that involve 100 people together”

Fieldlab spokesman Riemer Rijpkema told Nu.nl: “We still believe that our field studies take place in a safe environment, even with the UK variant that has now surfaced. But we understand that people want to investigate the impact of this variant further.”

The Alliance of Event Builders has added: “The disappointment is mainly because researchers have indicated that despite the British variant of the virus there is no reason to postpone the Fieldlabs and that this perspective is urgently needed. With the postponement of the Fieldlabs, the opportunity to gain insights by scientists, as has recently been done in Barcelona, ​​Leipzig and other cities, has again been made impossible in our country.”

The ‘Back to Live’ test series, which was approved in December, also includes a concert and a dance event at Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam and two open-air festivals at the Lowlands and Defqon Biddinghuizen festival site, all of which will be organised by Mojo and ID&T. Details are yet to be announced.

The Netherlands will remain in lockdown until 9 February, with a newly introduced curfew, and venues will stay shuttered.

 


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Portugal’s culture sector to stage national protest

A number of Portugal’s cultural organisations are organising a national protest to call attention to the government’s perceived lack of action on ‘the devastating consequences of the pandemic’ for people working in the sector.

Culture workers are calling for ‘effective social protection, due to the total or partial loss of their income due to the pandemic,’ adding that they want social protection to ‘be above the poverty line’.

The protest will take place this Friday (30 January), in a format yet to be determined, under the banner ‘On the Street for the Future of Culture’ (‘Na Rua Pelo Futuro da Cultura’).

 

The demonstration has been organised by a number of organisations including Cooperative Action; the Union of Show Workers, Audiovisual and Musicians (CENA-STE); Plateia – Association of Performing Arts Professionals; the Portuguese Association of Film Directors (APR); the Union of Archaeology Workers (STARQ) and Network – Association of Contemporary Dance Structures.

“We have been brutally suffering for ten months the consequences of job insecurity and the lack of rights and social protection, aggravated by the devastating consequences of the pandemic, which lead us, with no alternative, to economic deprivation, situations of indebtedness and informality,” said Teresa Coutinho of Cooperative Action at an online news conference.

“We’ve been brutally suffering for ten months the consequences of job insecurity and the lack of rights and social protection”

Rui Galveias, head of CENA-STE, added: “It is very important that the Portuguese government understand the strength of culture, because they have not fully understood it. We continue to experience many difficulties in understanding the dimension of these workers and of all the areas they involve.”

According to Amarilis Felizes, of Plateia, the protest is “in response to the non-response” that the organisations received from the ministry of culture at their meeting with officials in December. “We think that being on the street is important to attract attention and we want concrete answers.”

The groups said that they were outraged by the fact that, “as of January 2021, support for those who work as freelancers will be even less and access will be more constrained [with means testing] than those that existed in 2020.”

The demonstration comes as Portugal prepares for a new month-long lockdown, commencing tomorrow (14 January).

Today (13 January), the country has hit the highest number of deaths per day so far (156), the highest number of cases registered in 24 hours (10,556) and the highest daily number of admissions into hospital (197).

 


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Many venues remain closed under new England tier system

Hundreds of venues in England will be forced remain closed when the current lockdown ends on 2 December, the UK government announced today (26 November).

The lockdown is being replaced by a tiered system, in which the regions of England are placed into either tiers one, two or three.

Under tier three – the strictest measures – all indoor entertainment venues must close, according to the BBC. Areas in tier three include vast swathes or the north-east, north-west, Yorkshire and the Humber, the south-west and the East and West Midlands, as well parts of Kent and the south-east.

Tier two, which comprises the majority of the rest of England, prohibits socialising indoors with anyone outside one’s household, allowing only for limited outdoor gatherings. Pubs, meanwhile, may only reopen if they serve food with alcohol.

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, says the announcement “of regional tier levels by health secretary Matt Hancock has brought about a stark reality to the night-time economy and hospitality businesses, diminishing hopes of trading through the key festive period for many, with a long winter ahead fighting to survive.

“We are bearing the burden so that other sectors are able to open during the festive period”

“[It is] devastating news, particularly for the Midlands and north of England, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle, which have been hardest hit with the implementation of tier three, with the majority of regions being placed in tier two and very limited areas in tier one.

“Industry and business leaders are speaking up, highlighting the immense impact of restrictions to their sector, individual companies releasing huge redundancy figures, business owners suffering from mental health, and suicide rates within the sector steadily increasing.”

He adds “The government must compensate these businesses for the period of time they have been closed, and the loss of business suffered due to restrictions through the festive period. The sector has suffered horrendously since the start of the pandemic and is bearing the burden so that other sectors are able to open during the festive period.”

Society of London Theatre (Solt) chief executive Julian Bird says the announcement was “a relief for theatres in tier one and two areas, including London’s West End, but equally devastating for tier three theatres yet again forced to postpone or cancel shows – especially pantos, usually an annual highlight for families and a vital source of income for theatres around the country.

“This risks the survival of many venues and leaves thousands of theatre professionals struggling over the Christmas period, particularly freelancers who cannot rely on government support.”

 


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