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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.

 


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India sees live events boom in 2019

The number of tickets sold for live events in India increased significantly in 2019, according to new data from ticketing platform BookMyShow.

The number of events listed on BookMyShow – valued at US$1 billion and “easily the dominant force in Indian ticketing”, according to the International Ticketing Yearbook 2019 – jumped 23% last year, to more than 17,500, with concerts the second-biggest attraction after ever-popular cricket.

Live events “wholly executed by” (ie sold only via) BookMyShow, meanwhile, increased 156% in 2019, reports India’s Moneycontrol.

Among the most popular live events were Sunburn festival U2’s first Indian show

Among the most popular live music events in India, a market of some 1.4bn people, last year were the 2019 edition of the Sunburn EDM festival in Goa, which was attended by 300,000 fans, and U2’s first-ever Indian show – of which more than a quarter of those who attended were first-time attendees to a live event in Mumbai (Bombay).

Elsewhere, the CEO of BookMyShow’s chief rival, Alibaba-backed Paytm, Shreyas Srinivasan, says it sold more than 7.5 million tickets in 2019, with a 25% increase in the number of events ticketed.

While live events contribute an estimated 50% of India’s online ticketing revenues, it remains films which are doing the biggest business: Avengers: Endgame was BookMyShow’s biggest event of 2019, according to the Eastern Mirror, with 8.6 million tickets sold.

 


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AEG backs $115m Sapphire sports/entertainment fund

Technology-focused venture-capital investor Sapphire Ventures has launched Sapphire Sport, a US$115 million fund which will invest in early-stage start-ups “at the intersection of sports, media and entertainment”.

According to California-based Sapphire, which manages more than $2.5 billion worth of assets, Sapphire Sport combines the firm’s investment experiences with “premier global sporting, media and lifestyle brands”, including Manchester City FC owner City Football Group, other US sports teams from the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) and investors such as AEG, the Bank of Montreal, Adidas and US television giant Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG).

Sapphire Sport launches with a portfolio of five start-ups: including Tonal, a digitally connected home fitness system; Mycujoo, a live football streaming platform; Overtime, a digital sports network; Fevo, a social commerce solution for live events; and Phoenix Labs, an independent gaming studio launched by the creators of Dauntless.

Sapphire Sport is be co-led by Doug Higgins, managing director and co-founder of Sapphire Ventures, and Michael Spirito, who joined Sapphire Ventures as managing director in September 2018 from 21st Century Fox.

“The opportunity we are addressing is vast and diverse”

“Venture capitalists need to continue to reinvent and innovate in order to stay relevant,” comments Higgins. “We created Sapphire Sport to serve as a preeminent investment vehicle in a nascent and dynamic sector where technology investment experience is in increasingly high demand. In partnership with some of the most innovative team owners and sporting brands in the world, we are bringing Sapphire Ventures’ investment experience to the global sport marketplace.”

Other Sapphire Ventures investments in the entertainment space include Ticketfly, now owned by Eventbrite, and India’s Paytm, the parent company of ticketing platform Insider.in.

Adds Spirito: “The opportunity we are addressing is vast and diverse. Sport is the one thing we can all agree on – even as we may disagree on our fan loyalties.

“I joined Sapphire Ventures because I believed that they had the best platform to build an investment firm of consequence in this industry. From a market perspective, sport includes all global sports media rights, distribution technologies, content creation, sponsorship, digital fitness, esports, betting, data and everything in between.”

 


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Paytm takes majority stake in OML’s Insider.in

Paytm, India’s biggest provider of digital payments, has taking a controlling stake in Insider.in, a ticketing platform backed by leading festival promoter Only Music Louder (NH7 Weekender, EDC India).

The deal, says Paytm, will focus on providing its 220 million customers with “access to events listed on Insider” and increasing the number of tickets sold online in India from the current 10%.

“Events discovery and ticket booking is a challenge for customers and organisers alike,” comments Paytm CFO and SVP Madhur Deora. “We are excited to partner with Insider to help our users discover and book tickets. We believe that digital discovery and events marketing expertise will increase supply of quality events in India.”

“We believe that digital discovery and events marketing expertise will increase supply of quality events in India”

Only Much Louder founder Vijay Nair adds: “From the first meeting with [Paytm founder] Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Madhur, we realised that Paytm was a perfect partner for Insider. We are excited to join forces with them and build out the best event discovery and ticketing experience in India.”

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, although India’s Economic Times estimates the deal to be worth more than ₹350 million (US$5.4m).

Many Indians, traditionally used to paying in cash, switched to digital ‘wallets’ such as Paytm around last December’s demonetisation crisis, which saw ticket sales drop an estimated 1,000–1,500 per day as a result of the shortage in cash. India’s live business grew 25% in 2016 (the most recently available data).

 


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