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MTS expands Russian venue stable

MTS Entertainment, the live music company owned by Russia’s biggest telecommunications company, MTS, has taken over the running of one of the biggest concert venues in the Ural region of eastern Europe.

MTS Entertainment, part of Mobile Telesystems (MTS), organises concerts, festivals and theatre performances in Russia. MTS also owns a number of music venues, as well as ticketing companies MTS Ticketland and MTS Live.

Its newest venue is MTS Live Hall in Yekaterinburg (Ekaterinburg), formerly the Congress Centre of Ekaterinburg Expo, one of the largest exhibition complexes in Russia. In addition to getting a new name, the 5,000-seat venue will be kitted out with a new ticketing system that connects it to the wider MTS ecosystem, which also includes the telco’s МТS Premium and МТS Cashback services.

Opened in 2019, Ekaterinburg Expo features spaces for events, exhibitions and conventions. The multifunctional MTS Live Hall is capable of hosting major concerts and shows from ten to 5,000 people, according to MTS. Equipped with modern lighting and sound technologies, it was named the best congress hall (seated theatre-style venue) in Russia in 2020 at the Russian Business Travel & MICE Awards.

MTS is also lending its name and technologies to the ASM Global-run MTS Live Arena in Moscow. Originally set to launch in 2020, it will now open its doors in the fourth quarter of 2021.

 


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Russian fest hit with last-minute ban loses millions

Wild Mint, one of Russia’s biggest festivals, is reportedly RUB 47 million (€539,000) in debt after local authorities cancelled the event at the eleventh hour.

The open-air festival was due to take place between 18-20 June in the Tula region, south of Moscow, but a mere seven hours before gates were due to open, local authorities issued a ban on public events due to a sharp increase in Covid-19 infections.

In a post on Facebook, producer of the Wild Mint festival, Andrei Klyukin, said the cancellation of the festival left the team in “complete despair”. He revealed that as of 2 July, the festival’s debt is RUB 47m but “90% of this amount is in tickets”.

The Association of Concert, Theatre and Ticketing Organisations (KTiBO) has called the local government’s last-minute ban “unacceptable” and is now proposing to introduce a system of regulations at the federal level in order to “completely exclude the possibility of sudden cancellations of cultural events”.  The association tells IQ the details of a possible system are currently under discussion.

“Cancellation of events is not a solution to problems”

“Cancellation of events is not a solution to problems, as it entails huge losses for organisers, job cuts, loss of public confidence in the authorities and the concert industry,” reads a post on the association’s website.

“Only transparent, predictable and trusting relationships between representatives of the concert industry and the state are the key to successfully overcoming the dire consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and restoring the normal functioning of the country’s cultural life.”

Klyukin says that the festival is not bankrupt and will return in 2022. “We have the strength and desire to continue our work,” he wrote, after outlining support from fans, artists, major media outlets, the festival’s sponsors and even the local government.

Wild Mint’s enforced last-minute cancellation, similar to that of Australia’s Bluesfest earlier this year, underscores the importance of government-backed insurance schemes.

In the last year, schemes have been announced in Germany (€2.5bn), Austria (€300m), the Netherlands (€300m), Belgium (€60m), Norway (€34m) Denmark (DKK 500m) and Estonia (€6m).

 


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Russian regions permit full capacity concerts

Russia is making a gradual return to live music, with the first handful of regions allowing events to take place at 100% capacity.

At the beginning of February, the governor of the Kemerovo region, in southwest Siberia, signed a decree permitting events to take place with 100% capacity.

While the governor of the Novosibirsk region, in Siberia, recently signed a decree to remove restrictions on the occupancy of venues. Both decrees have now come into force.

Russia’s live industry can now keep up to date with the capacity restrictions and mandatory format configurations in each region, thanks to a database published by a group of Russian organisations including the Association of Concert, Theatre and Ticket Organisations (KTiBO).

The Kemerovo region and the Novosibirsk region are the only areas operating at 100%

According to the database, which is updated as and when local authorities amend restrictions, the Kemerovo region and the Novosibirsk region are the only areas operating at 100%.

Regions including St. Petersburg, Moscow, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, Chelyabinsk, Orenburg and Leningrad are currently allowing venues and theatres to host concerts with up to 75% capacity.

In some regions such as Transbaikal, the Republic of Crimea, and the Republic of Mordovia the capacity limit is as low as 30%.

The KTiBO, together with the leaders of the industry of cultural and entertainment events, has been appealing with governors to raise the ceiling in line with the average capacity limit of 50%.

 


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New associations find common ground in 2020

Way back in April, Stuart Galbraith, CEO of UK promoter Kilimanjaro Live, told IQ that one of the small silver linings to come out of the giant corona-cloud that is 2020 was the spirit of increased cooperation among those who had just a month earlier been bitter rivals. “What has been very pleasant is that, with one or two exceptions, everyone’s been mucking in,” explained Galbraith, who is also vice-chairman of the UK’s Concert Promoters Association (CPA).

Another key takeaway from the then still-young coronavirus crisis, he said, was the importance of industry associations: “Government don’t want to talk to individual commercial organisations,” Galbraith explained, but officialdom will deal with representative bodies.

While there are no shortage of those in the UK, representing all aspects of the business – including new umbrella group LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment), whose members include the CPA, Entertainment Agents Association and Association of Independent Festivals, as well as One Industry One Voice, a similar body representing the broader events sector – elsewhere the Covid-19 pandemic has spawned the creation of a number of new associations, as industry professionals pool resources to ensure the business is properly represented in its discussions with the powers that be.

In Finland, Kati Kuusisto and Maria Sahlstedt have managed to unite not only the concert business, but the wider events sector, with Events Industries of Finland (Tapahtumateollisuus) – an achievement it took the coronavirus crisis to make possible, says director Kuusisto.

“We’d been thinking about setting up an association for the past two years, but it wasn’t until April 2020, when I saw an industry person on LinkedIn asking if anyone was interested in launching a union for the event industry, that it became reality,” she explains.

“It was important to start talking to each other, because the industry doesn’t exist in the eyes of the government otherwise”

“We started to call around all the different entities in the sector, and within two days we’d set up meetings with 60 different organisations, from sports clubs to concert organisers, theatres, venues, festivals, religious institutions, subcontractors, technical staff and more.”

What unites the diverse members of Event Industries of Finland is that they have fundamentally the same business model, despite differences in the content of what they organise, adds Kuusisto. “We have different formats, different content, but we are all fundamentally running business with same kind of problems and solutions.”

Quoting figures that will be familiar to event organisers across the world, Sahlstedt, the association’s director of communications, says those in government were surprised to learn of the extent of the event business’s losses, which are around 90% compared to 2020, according to Event Industries of Finland research.

“The chamber of commerce told us that restaurants and travel agents have suffered the worst [of any industry] this year because their losses are around 30%!” she comments. “So that was a moment of black humour for us…”

Over the border in Russia, Nadia Solovieva of SAV Entertainment, the country’s leading concert promoter, is the driving force behind the new Association of Concert, Theatre and Ticket Organisations (KTiBO), which largely picks up where the now-defunct Soyuz Concert left off in providing a representative association for the Russian live business.

“When the pandemic started, people started to realise that, believe it or not, we all have common interests,” explains Solovieva, “and there is a need to think about how we can help ourselves and the industry in general.”

“Within two days we’d set up meetings with 60 different organisations”

Unlike state-funded theatres and operate houses, which receive subsidies of up to 100%, private concert businesses have largely been left out in the cold when it comes to state support, Solovieva says, with payments worth employees’ minimum wage in May and June the extent of the help extended to SAV and businesses like it this year.

“It was important to start talking to each other, because the industry doesn’t exist in the eyes of the government otherwise, which is why it was so important to form some kind of organisation,” she continues. “I was the one going to all these government officials and asking for help, but it’s difficult when you don’t have an association – and you want to represent the whole industry, not just yourself and your friends.”

“It’s partly our fault, too,” she adds, “because we’ve tried to stay away from officials as much as possible, which means they don’t have any idea what we do – the economics, and how we survive. But in times like this, we need to be speaking to them and we need their help.”

In Portugal, a new association, Circuito, is fighting for grassroots venues, which have been particularly hard hit by the on-off lockdowns, curfews and states of emergency imposed since March.

The brainchild of three clubs, Lisbon’s Musicbox and LuxFrágil and Oporto’s Maus Hábitos, the association was formed earlier this year to address an “urgent need to secure the survival of grassroots music venues”, says Circuito director Gonçalo Riscado, by calling for “support measures and fight[ing] for the recognition of the circuit” by the Portuguese authorities.

“The timings and the conditions to do it never seemed right before”

“Even though the idea of creating a Portuguese network of music venues was envisaged previously, the timings and the conditions to do it never seemed right,” explains Riscado.

The new association recently organised its first major campaign, #AoVivoOuMorto (#LiveOrDead), to raise awareness of the difficulties facing venues and to encourage government to engage with the embattled grassroots sector.

Riscado describes 17 October’s #AoVivoOuMorto –which saw demonstrators queue outside shuttered venues in four Portuguese cities, forming lines up to five miles long – as a “a fruitful campaign” which led to important talks between Circuito and the government regarding a plan to protect small music venues.

“Being our first public demonstration, it was very important to build the foundations for our current and future work,” continues Riscado. “We had two simultaneous goals with it: to raise awareness for the importance and the value of  grassroots music venues, and call for immediate support measures. With that in mind, placing the grassroots venues circuit within the cultural map and highlighting its importance is the first visible result of this campaign.

“The way artists, the general audience and the media understood, adhered to and enhanced our position was fundamental for us to achieve this goal. In this sense, the ability to overcome this first stage in months, when usually it takes years, is definitely our first big achievement and is an effect of #AoVivoOuMorto.

“Furthermore, after the demonstration, Circuito had several meetings with the central government and city halls and important negotiations were started.”

“I’m glad that people understand that we have common interests”

Sahlstedt says she hopes the spirit of pan-industry cooperation in Finland can continue after the Covid-19 crisis passes, noting that – largely as a result of the work put in by Event Industries of Finland – the events sector is on its way to being officially recognised as an industry in its own right by the Finnish statistical office.

“It’s been a case of repeating the same thing over and over and people finally starting to hear us,” adds Kuusisto. “The whole idea of live events as an industry is totally new and will take some time to understand, but I have a feeling that we’ve finally started to find a framework for the future.”

“I’m glad that people understand that we have common interests,” adds Solovieva, who also says she “absolutely” hopes KTiBO will outlive coronavirus. “The industry needs representation, full stop,” she says. “It’s like a trade union – even in normal times, we need an organisation which can speak on behalf of the industry.”

Circuito, says Riscado, is a “real-life example of the visible strengthening of collaborative networks in the music industry” in 2020. “The sense of collectiveness and association gained renewed importance during the pandemic, given that there is a common need, goal and threat.”

“Keeping it alive when this is all over will be the main challenge,” he adds. “However, we believe many of these ties will not be lost after the pandemic.”

 


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Antyfest: Festivals stage virtual event for ants

Eleven music festivals, including Pohoda in Slovakia, Busan Rock Festival in South Korea and Russia’s Ural Music Night, have announced plans for Antyfest: a miniature online festival taking place before an audience of (you guessed) it ants.

The brainchild of Ural Music Night – a multi-genre, 80-venue festival which normally welcomes over 200,000 guests to the city of Yekaterinburg in June – Antyfest aims to showcase festivals which would have happened this summer but for Covid-19 “to insect audiences, in the absence of humans”, say organisers.

These concertgoing ants will enjoy music from artists who should have performed at the participating festivals, on to-scale replica stages based on the actual festival lay-outs, set designs and lighting.

Also taking part are Blue Bird (Austria), International Music Showcase Festival (Israel), Lagos International Jazz Festival (Nigeria), Le Guess Who? (Netherlands), Stereoleto (Russia), Summer Sound Festival (Latvia), Terminal Music and Arts Festival (Serbia) and V-Rox (Russia).

“We secured the site plans and line-ups for all these festivals and have recreated, in detail, scale replicas of the experience that would have taken place”

Antyfest kicks off this Sunday (30 August) at 2pm GMT with a five-hour live YouTube broadcast hosted by Ural Music Night (UMN). This live stream is followed by pre-recorded videos of other ant audiences at shows that would have taken place at the festivals this summer.

Artists performing include Courtney Barnett, Garish, Noga Erez, Ayalew Mesfin, Lola Marsh, Jungle, Ofenbach, Nadav Dagon, Sheep and Electrogorilla+.

Natalia Shmelkova, UMN’s executive director, comments: “Covid-19 has forced the world’s music festivals to cancel or postpone until further notice. Ural Music Night was no exception. Despite this, we had the idea to unite people, music and concerts with Antyfest, a macro-festival of festivals.

“We secured the site plans and line-ups for all these festivals and have recreated, in detail, scale replicas of the experience that would have taken place should these festivals have gone ahead. This will provide our viewers with a brand-new virtual and fully immersive experience in the company of ants.”

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Russia gives green light to drive-in shows

Russian promoters SAV Entertainment and Talent Concert International (TCI) have joined forces to launch a series of drive-in concerts at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, bringing the show format to another market worldwide.

The Live & Drive series, which is to feature Russian rock, pop and rap artists including Mashina Vremeni, Diana Arbenina, The Hatters and Splean, kicked off on Saturday (18 July), with a 600-carpacity show by Russian rapper Basta.

Two types of tickets are sold for the events, with options for a two- or four-person car. Food and drink is available to order online to be delivered to the vehicle.

“The whole project is a big experience for us,” comments SAV Entertainment CEO Nadya Solovieva. “We are having to work in very limited time frames, and we didn’t have time to popularise this format.

“I’m sure that more and more people will appreciate this new form of entertainment in the near future”

“A lot of people still think that drive-in concerts are unable to replace “ordinary” ones in any way. But Basta’s show proves that drive-in concerts can be as successful and “live” as the ones that we’re used to.

“The atmosphere was fantastic, everyone really enjoyed it and I’m sure that more and more people will appreciate this new form of entertainment in the near future”.

Drive-in concerts have brought the live experience back to music-deprived fans across the world in recent months, with the format making its debut in Latin America earlier this month, in the form of a Move Concerts Puerto Rico-promoted show. A number of drive-in concerts are taking place Mexico in the coming weeks.

Drive-in shows have also offered fans some relief from lockdown in Germany, Denmark, the US, Lithuania and the Netherlands, among other markets.

Tickets for Live & Drive shows are available here.

 


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Opening gambit: Chess & Jazz on why it’s game on for 2020

With all eyes currently on Exit Festival and its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the  festival season, it’s worth remembering that while the Serbian event is by far the largest European festival to confirm it will go ahead this summer, it’s not (quite) the only one.

In an addition to the raft of music festivals adapted into a digital format, a handful of events are still going ahead physically, including showcase events such as Tallinn Music Week (Estonia) and Reeperbahn Festival (Germany) and Russian music festival Chess & Jazz, originally scheduled for 24–25 July but now expected to be pushed back to September.

IQ caught up with Nick Babin, founder of Chess & Jazz, to discuss the festival’s ethos, preparations for 2020, and why the festival won’t be going online…

 


Give us a brief history of Chess & Jazz.
Chess & Jazz is international boutique festival which has been held in Moscow since 2018. The festival takes place in the iconic venue of the Hermitage Garden, in the historical centre of Moscow, where Soviet Jazz was born in the early 20th century.

Chess & Jazz has already featured performances from double Grammy award-winner Gregory Porter, the Manchester trio GoGo Penguin, American singer CeeLo Green, London-based band Kamaal Williams and the American soul star Christian Berishai, better known as JMSN, over the past few years.

The festival concept has also drawn attention from international markets, and we organised Chess & Jazz in Singapore and Kazakhstan in 2019.

Why combine chess and live music?
Russia has a significant chess legacy, and it’s probably for that reason that, from the outset, our festival made a large impact on the Russian cultural map.

I also run a booking agency, booking acts for several Russian festivals and private events. But I always wanted to create my own product and realise the ideas that come from my own experience – so, one day, being inspired by chess aesthetic and being a huge fan of jazz music, I did it.

What is your music booking philosophy?
We are a jazz festival. We try to present to our guests stars such as Gregory Porter, but we are not afraid to mix genres, because jazz is a baseline for all music. Our social and cultural mission is to present to our audience new names in the global jazz scene, while also spotlighting Russian jazz artists.

“I don’t believe in online festivals. … Festivals’ main strength is in the live atmosphere and human contact”

Who is the average Chess & Jazz fan?
Our audience is an intelligent, creative class of people from 25 to 40 who love comfort and unusual, interesting events. The first day of the festival is a grand opening with ‘jazz-tie’ dress code and more academic jazz. The second day is more about lifestyle, picnics, more mixed genres, and the best gastronomy Moscow has to offer.

The chess part of the festival is very significant; it has its own line-up with world-famous grandmasters. The opportunity to play chess matches with stars such as the youngest grandmaster in history, world champion in blitz and rapid chess, Sergey Karjakin, attracts a lot of people.

Chess & Jazz is not a mass product. Events like ours are good because they allow you to maintain your personality. At Coachella, for example, you are just one of 50,000 or 100,000 people. You are lost in a crowd. When the event is for a very specific audience, you are significant – you are a personality, not part of the mass.

What is the situation in Russia at the moment? Do you think you’ll be allowed to go ahead?
From April all public events are prohibited by authorities because of Covid-19, so it will be impossible to stage our festival in July. Nevertheless, we haven’t considered changing the format and going online. I don’t believe in online festivals. Offline events will remain offline, as their main strength is in the live atmosphere and human contact.

In the days ahead, we are going to announce new rescheduled dates in September. Our festival is not classified as a mass event, because the capacity is less than 5,000 people, but still we hope that we will be able to conduct our event without any danger to the audience’s health in September – this is our main priority.

Also, we would like to thank our artists and their agents for the support and cooperation in such turbulent period of time.

“We are confident that Chess & Jazz will commemorate the coming together of music fans once more”

Beyond coronavirus, are there any unique challenges involved in organising a festival in your part of the world?
Unfortunately, we have no support from the Russian authorities and no dialogue with the government. To be honest, it has always been like that.

Another challenge is partners. Partners for a niche event should be selected more carefully than for large festivals. In the case of our festival, chess and jazz should be organically presented in every detail. If the brand says it just wants to put up its stand, we’d say that this does not work. We take an individual approach to each partner so that the integration fits harmoniously with the rest of the event.

What are you most looking forward to at Chess & Jazz 2020?
I am just really looking forward to the festival! This year’s Chess & Jazz will be the most anticipated festival yet, as the other Russian festivals are canceled. Our headliners are British soul star Lianne La Havas and Australian musician Jordan Rakei, with the full line-up to be announced at a later date.

We are confident that Chess & Jazz will commemorate the coming together of music fans once more and mark a victory over this crisis.

 


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Tales from Covid: Nadia Solovieva, SAV Entertainment

Tales from Covid, IQ’s series of Q&As with locked-down industry leaders, sees leading lights of the concert business explain how they are weathering the coronavirus crisis and offer their predictions for the months ahead.

Following the fifth interview, with AEG Presents UK co-CEO Steve Homer, IQ catches up with Nadia Solovieva, co-founder and CEO of Moscow-based SAV Entertainment, to talk about her government lobbying, the future for artist fees and the resilience of live entertainment.

 


IQ: What is the current situation for SAV Entertainment?
NS: Most of our shows are being rescheduled to next year. A very few are also moving to the fall, but we are not sure whether they will go ahead.

Have you had any help from the government in Russia?
Our government hasn’t done anything yet to help the industry as such. They have introduced measures to help small- and medium-sized businesses in general in industries that they consider the most affected, but those measures don’t help us at all.

We are in discussions with the government, trying to reach an agreement that maintains that all tickets for rescheduled concerts are valid for the new dates, meaning we don’t have to issue refunds.

For those that are cancelled, we currently have 30 days to issue refunds, which is very difficult as we are still under quarantine and will remain so until 12 May. We are working to prolong this period, but nothing has been decided yet. It is proving to be a very long and painful process.

We have also introduced the idea of offering a voucher or certificate for fans to exchange for another show if they want. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether this will be put into legislation. The president has heard us and advised the ministry of culture to work something out, so I hope this will materialise, otherwise it will be a complete disaster. Ticket sales completely stopped after 15 March, when it was declared that there were to be no live events at all. Since then, of all my 16 or 18 shows, we have sold maybe 10 tickets.

Nothing at all is selling at the moment. This goes not only for rescheduled events but even for shows that were initially planned for the autumn. People have just stopped buying as there is so much uncertainty and fear now. Live entertainment is not their priority.

“Nobody can predict such a situation and having a body representing the industry is necessary”

When do you expect shows to restart again and how are you preparing for the recovery process?
If the situation stabilises and is good in summer, then we will see shows in the autumn. I am pretty sure the summer will be dead. I hope that by late autumn, they will allow shows. If not, then in March, as there is generally no business here anyway in January and February.

Personally, I am preparing by having discussions with the government about new legislation. This takes up all my time.

Nobody can predict such a situation and having a body representing the industry is necessary, so everyone with the same business interests can work towards common goals.

In Russia, the live entertainment industry is divided into two parts – government-run theatres, and the rest of us. These theatres – there are about 400 in Moscow alone – survive on government budgets and they get help. The rest of us must stick together.

What obstacles will the live industry in Russia face when it starts to reopen?
The situation is very difficult. For example, in Moscow, the mayor is very reluctant to reopen business for now and live events will be the last to be allowed.

Probably, when events do reopen, they will be only up to a certain number of people. Either way, the open-air season is over by the end of September, so we will miss that. There will be a clash with sporting events too in the autumn, as all venues are used for sports too, so we will have clashing dates to contend with as well for next year.

“What I am sure of is that live entertainment will never die”

Do you foresee any long-term changes for the live business?
Not just in Russia, but in general across the live industry, the situation as we know it will change. Over the last few years, we have seen a tremendous increase in artist fees, expenses and ticket prices. Everyone will have to reconsider, as people will not have the money for this. Along with unemployment, a lot of small- and medium-sized enterprises will go bankrupt and that’s going to affect young people especially – our main clientele. Some people will also be afraid to go to mass events. No-one expects a pandemic to come along in their lifetime.

It is going to be really difficult financially, but we have to find ways to continue. I started SAV in 1987, under the Soviet Union. Since then, we have survived so many crises, but this is by far the most difficult and unusual, and we are still figuring it out.

Never before has live entertainment been banned. In the past, we’ve had economic and political crises to contend with, but this is a health issue and it concerns every person. The oil crisis is another blow to the financial situation at the moment too. Plus there’s this terrible fear and uncertainty.

What I am sure of is that live entertainment will never die. We will survive, that’s for sure – how many promoters will survive is a big question mark. Those with some savings can probably survive, but for how long, we don’t know.

The strongest will survive. That’s not what I wish, but it’s the reality of life. I don’t think going online will help a lot, as it’s a totally different consumption type, but demand for that type of thing will be bigger.

We haven’t done anything on the livestreaming side yet, as there’s been a lot to reschedule and agreements to reach. We will think of something, though – now is a perfect time to invent something new.

 


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United in crisis: The view from Russia

Promoters in Russia view a fall in purchasing power and a reduction of disposable income as the main obstacles facing the reopening of the live business and have united with other sectors of the industry to form a new live entertainment industry association in an effort to safeguard their future.

In Russia, as in many markets worldwide, all concerts, tours and festivals have been officially banned for an indefinite period of time. Although many local summer festivals are still on sale, “nothing good is expected for summer 2020,” Sergey Podgorny, COO of majority CTS Eventim-owned promoter TCI, tells IQ. “It is obvious that large-scale events will be the last to return.”

Podgorny says TCI is “optimistic” about starting work again in September, but cautions that a “bad scenario”, which sees no live events for the remainder of the year, is a possibility.

Most of TCI’s local and international summer events – and even some autumn ones – have been postponed, with the company turning to “economy mode”, cutting costs amid a dearth of sales.

A similar tale is told by Maria Axenova, of Moscow-based promoter Melnitsa Concert Agency. The promoter is currently working to reschedule its July festivals, Moscow Park Live and Kiev UPark, which are set to feature acts  including My Chemical Romance, Deftones, the Killers and Sum 41, to 2021, along with tours and stand-alone concerts.

“The most frustrating thing about this pandemic is that it is so very bloody unknown,” says Axenova. “What is clear, however, is that all live events are doomed at least before the fall.”

Sergey Babich of Colisium International Music Forum, which represents promoters in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, agrees that events will most likely restart at the beginning of autumn in Russia, although this could differ across the country, as each region has the authority to select its own quarantine exit strategy.

“Both quarantine and the pandemic have revealed that we have a large industry, but we don’t have an authority that can negotiate with the government”

Of Colisium’s other represented markets, Kazakhstan offers the most cause for optimism, with venues planning to reopen in June and governmental support on offer such as tax breaks, rent holidays and unemployment benefits. Ticketing company Ticketon.kz is also allowing fans to buy tickets on credit, with the agreement of banks and credit card companies, in a bid to avoid complete stagnation of sales.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s lockdown is due to be lifted on 10 May but, according to Dmytro Feliksov of Concert.Ua, events will restart no earlier than July.

“As for Belarus,” says Babich, “the situation is more difficult.” With no official event ban or lockdown enforcements, the government is simply recommending the public avoid “crowds”. The authoritarian nature of the Belarussian government has led to a general acceptance of the advice.

“No one ventures out to organised events,” says Babich. “There are a few sales for autumn, but there are a lot of doubts about summertime.”

As for promoters the world over, the issue of ticket refunds remains the “main problem” for TCI. In view of the current situation, the government has extended the grace period for issuing refunds from 30 days to 90.

So far, however, TCI has received few refund requests, as fans approach the situation with “stoicism”. “I want to believe that fans will be waiting for their artists,” says Podgorny. TCI is also working with ticketing partners to develop a strategy regarding refunds and compensation for fans.

Unlike in other European countries, the Russian government has not yet provided any direct financial assistance for different sectors. “At the very least, the industry is counting on a tax cut and a delay in ticket refunds of 12 months,” says Podgorny, adding that the government is expected to announce a new package of measures in May.

“We are bringing together those who were separate, and working together for the best future of the entire industry”

In order to gain more lobbying power with the government, Colisium and other members of Russia’s professional music industry have joined forces to create an official live music industry association. Promoters in Russia including SAV Entertainment, PMI and NCA were previously represented by the no longer operational promoters’ association Soyuz Concert.

“Both quarantine and the pandemic have revealed that we have a large industry, but we don’t have an authority that can negotiate with the government,” Vladimir Zubitsky of SAV Entertainment and Russian Show Center, said in an interview about the formation of the association.

“The Association will include all major players, all active people from the distant regions of Russia, and everyone involved in the industry: technical companies, producer centers, artist management, security, insurers.

“We are bringing together those who were separate, and working together for the best future of the entire industry.”

The 20-plus co-founders of the association are currently preparing documents for the registration process, and plan to begin in full force in the summer although, the founding group has been working together de-facto since mid-March.

The industry association is a welcome addition to Russia’s live community, as promoters predict a rocky road ahead.

“The market will not be able to recover for a year or so,” says Michael Shurygin, head of National Concert Agency (NCA). Shurygin believes that the impact of the pandemic will change even fundamental elements of the business.

“These [postponed] events have been transferred from the world of flourishing business to the world of recessions”

“Free online shows, possible new restrictions on attending live shows, decrease in peoples’ incomes – all these things will inevitably affect the customer and it is very likely there will be a drop of the show attendance in 2021,” says Shurygin.

The economic fallout from the coronavirus shutdown is a worry on the minds of all promoters IQ approached for this article. The commodity-sensitive ruble has been weakened by the collapse in oil prices in the past months, as global stay-at-home measures have led to a precipitous drop in demand.

“The drop of the ruble’s rate will greatly affect the local economy and possibly lead to higher costs (of everything),” says TCI’s Podgorny. “Combined with the collapse of many businesses affected by the epidemic and falling incomes this could be a serious problem for ticket sales.

“We will need to be more careful when choosing events and estimations for the upcoming concert seasons.”

Caution and uncertainty surrounding future shows is also affecting the deals that are currently being re-negotiated between agents and promoters for postponed events.

“All these events have been transferred from the world of flourishing business to the world of recessions, falling incomes, increased expenses and losses from 2020. So, such “re-negotiating” will not exactly be easy,” says Podgorny.

For Axenova, the “colossal fall” of consumers’ spending capacity is the main issue, especially that of the youth – “the very bulwark of our industry”.

“We all look forward to the return of a live dialogue between the artist and the audience”

“With so many businesses collapsing, we cannot expect a prompt bounce back of the market,” adds Axenova. In the meantime, Melnitsa is working on new online projects to generate financial assistance for artists and provide emotional support for fans.

Colisium’s Babich also sees the value of regular online activities to bring “additional monetisation” to the industry and for charitable purposes.

“We are very proud that online projects exist in our countries to support the medical sector, for example online concerts with donation systems in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. All money collected from these concerts goes straight to support doctors.”

Online events are being supported by the largest media outlets in Russia, such as Yandex, Rambler, Mail.ru, Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki and MTS Mobile, with the opportunity for virtual reality (VR) and 360° video.

Although such virtual experiences offer a welcome respite from the tedium of lockdown life for many, the Russian live industry is raring to get back to the real thing.

“All online efforts are a good temporary substitute, but they definitely not replace a real live show, as a soccer game on TV will not replace a real vibe of a full stadium,” says Podgorny.

“We all look forward to the return of a live dialogue between the artist and the audience.”

 


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Let us offer credit for cancelled shows, say assocs

As the coronavirus crisis continues to exert financial pressure on the live sector, industry associations and businesses in Europe, Asia and North America are asking for changes in the way refunds are issued for cancelled events.

In Europe, research shows digital footfall to event ticket sales sites has collapsed in recent months, with only travel agencies harder hit by concerns over the virus. According to Comscore, visits to ticketing sites fell by 47% in France, 12% in Germany, 52% in Italy, 55% in Spain and 26% in the UK between 17–23 February and 9–5 March.

The figures come as associations in the the UK warn of a cashflow “crisis” amid widespread concert cancellations – with British artists and managers alone expected to lose more than £60 million should a ban on mass gatherings last for the next six months – and other sectors, including cinema and aviation, similarly grapple with an unprecedented drop-off in ticket sales.

In countries including Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, the UK, Russia and Kazakhstan, associations representing cash-strapped local operators are pushing for an extended refund grace period (up to 365 days), to be permitted to give vouchers in lieu of cash refunds, or a combination of the two.

“If you can afford it, you should consider whether it is really necessary to return your ticket for a refund,” reads a blog from Ticketmaster Germany, which is supporting the European Association of Event Centres (EVVC)’s #keepyourticket campaign. “Every ticket that is not returned helps organisers, venues and [sports] clubs, even after the coronavirus has passed, and enables them to be able to organise great events in future.”

The EVVC, which represents arenas and conference centres in central and southern Europe, is inviting its members to support the campaign by sharing text and visual materials calling for solidarity with promoters and venues. “For organisers, suppliers and cultural professionals, the corona pandemic is a threat to their existence,” says the association.

“If you can afford it, you should consider whether it is necessary to return your ticket for a refund”

Promoters’ association BDKV – which estimates its ~450 members will lose a combined €1.25 billion from March to May as a result of Germany’s event ban – is asking the German government to extend temporarily, to 365 days, the time within which a refund must be paid, as well as offer credit for tickets instead of cash refunds (a solution it says would especially benefit members sitting on large ticket inventories, such as theatres).

The former request (a grace period for refunds) is also believed to be the option preferred by Britain’s UK Music and Colisium, which represents promoters in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

In Spain, newly launched umbrella body Esmúsica (which includes the Association of Music Promoters) is also asking for a grace period, lasting until 31 December, for cancelled events. For postponed events, however, “given the exceptional situation”, the organisation says promoters must not be obliged to offer a refund, instead offering only a new ticket for rescheduled date(s).

“Several organisations and municipalities are cancelling events on a daily basis. Shows on sale for the end of the year and early 2021 are not selling. We have to work together on a reimbursement policy for postponed and cancelled shows that helps to minimise catastrophic losses,” says Portugal’s APEFE, which backs Esmúsica’s position on no refunds for postponed shows, suggesting that “purchased tickets must be valid for postponed shows without mandatory reimbursement”.

Both Esmúsica and APEFE (Association of Promoters of Shows, Festivals and Events) are also calling for a temporary reduction in VAT charged on tickets, among other relief measures.

In the Netherlands, meanwhile, the associations’ counterpart there, VVEM (Association of Event Producers), appears to be making headway with its campaign for ticket vouchers, with the Dutch cabinet discussing the issue this week.

“It is currently impossible for us to offer immediate cash refunds to all buyers”

Dutch culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven has previously asked ticketholders not to request cash refunds, while VVEM has also reportedly found a sympathetic ear in the form of economy minister Eric Wiebes, who has said the government will provide further “strong help” for the sector (though it remains to be seen in what form).

While European associations focus on lobbying their respective governments, US secondary ticketing giant StubHub has taken the matter into its own hands, announcing that – where legal – it will no longer provide refunds for cancelled events to its American and Canadian customers. Instead, ticketholders will receive a voucher worth 120% of the original value of the ticket.

The change in policy comes as StubHub, which is in the process of being acquired by European rival Viagogo, lays off as much as two thirds of its workforce, in what it calls a “difficult but sensible decision”.

Explaining the shift in its refund terms, a StubHub spokesperson says: “In normal times, we’ve made the decision to refund buyers before collecting money from the seller to offer buyers more convenience. And under normal circumstances, this works well, even with StubHub taking the risk of timing delays and some losses when we are unable to collect from the seller. With the coronavirus impacting 28,000+ events and the associated magnitude of challenge in recouping monies owed by sellers over the coming months, it is currently impossible for us to offer immediate cash refunds to all buyers.

“When the volume of cancellations accelerated a few weeks ago, we were the first in our industry to offer a coupon worth 120% of the ticket value. This will now be our default option in Canada and in the US. Outside of the US and Canada, fans are defaulted to a refund.”

 


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