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.
Decent expo-sure: How exhibitions kept the lights on during Covid
Traditionally, IQ’s annual touring exhibitions reports have found a sector thriving in concert with, but somewhat overshadowed by, an equally ebullient live music market. But as venues shut down, borders closed and social distancing became the norm, the relative strengths of the exhibition format were thrown into stark relief – and for many producers, promoters and venues, Covid-secure exhibitions have been one of the only success stories of the past 17 months.
Manu Braff from MB Productions/MB Presents says he “I got caught with my pants down” (like nearly everyone else in the industry) in March 2020, with a Cirque du Soleil show ready to go in Antwerp just as “sanitary restrictions hit us and I had to close the show down before it could open.” Thankfully, touring exhibitions have helped partially keep MB and others open.
London- and Rotterdam-based World Touring Exhibitions (Travelling Bricks, 3D Doubt Your Eyes, Living Dinosaurs) continued working throughout much of the pandemic, opening or extending shows in the US, Germany and Bulgaria, although the “levels are absolutely tiny compared to what we did before,” says founder Corrado Canonici, who adds that the downtime has, however, provided an opportunity to think about the future and acquire a number of new shows, which will be announced in the near future.
After a few months, “I saw I had to be creative,” continues Braff. “So, the first thing I did is that I imagined a new forest walkthrough experience, Lanterna Magica, with my partners with whom I do a light festival here in Belgium,” he explains. “We sold a lot of tickets, but we weren’t allowed to do it. So that was my first trial. And then we started looking at museums, which for some reason were allowed to stay open.” Braff says he was helped by the fact that, in Belgium, the museums reopened in mid-2020, when other venues were still closed. “So, we got the authorisation to do exhibitions in museums,” he explains, “and once that started it hasn’t stopped since. We’ve done five exhibitions since September 2020.”
Also playing into exhibition organisers’ hands last year is the fact that venues that would normally be fully booked were available because of the lack of concert touring. “I even did an exhibition for the first time ever at the Sportpaleis [arena] in Antwerp,” continues Braff. “Together with the Sportpaleis, we are co-promoting Imagine Exhibitions’ Real Bodies exhibition in their VIP arena, and we’ve been doing that since December 2020 quite successfully. It was a way of creatively occupying empty spaces.” Other recent projects for MB include photography exhibition The World of Steve McCurry (Antwerp), Dino World (Brussels and Madrid) and a sand sculpture experience on the Middelkerke seafront.
Leading expo producer Imagine Exhibitions (Jurassic World: The Exhibition, The Hunger Games: The Exhibition, Angry Birds: The Art & Science Behind a Global Phenomenon) is gearing up for its next major launch, Harry Potter: The Exhibition, which will premiere in Philadelphia in 2022, and it’s the wizarding world that kept up morale in the darkest days of spring 2020, says president and CEO Tom Zaller. “We all had this hope because we were working towards trying to get the licence for Harry Potter, so there was a sort of light at the end of the tunnel, even when the tunnel was pitch black with Covid,” he says. “We all had this burning desire that we could get this thing and make it happen, and you need that: to be working for something.”
“Planning the installation of an exhibition outside of Europe during a global pandemic is not for the faint of heart”
Though the lockdowns in the US were less severe, and shorter-lived, than in many parts of Europe, Imagine also adapted some of its exhibitions to work around 2020’s ‘new normal.’ “We converted several of our dinosaur shows into outside drive-through shows, so that was a big financial bonus for us also,” Zaller says. “It was good for team morale, but it also helped financially to have some income coming in when everything else had dried up.”
Against their better judgment, the team at Germany’s SC Exhibitions (recently rebranded Semmel Exhibitions) have spent the best part of this year moving their exhibitions across the globe, with operations manager Anna Lenhof overseeing the relocation of Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes across Michigan, from Dearborn to Chicago, and Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures from Zurich to Seoul.
While “risky” projects, “everyone was so motivated because we all wanted to work again and have a project that can actually take place and welcome visitors,” she recalls. For the move to Chicago, “normally we would work with our German technical crew, but at that time German people were not allowed to enter America, so we had to additionally hire an American crew, which caused a lot of extra costs, but we didn’t want to risk not having anyone there to install and open the exhibition,” Lenhof continues. (Ultimately, “we somehow convinced the embassy that our [German] crew was essential and they allowed us in,” she adds.)
Tutankhamun presented even more difficulties, with Lenhof and team contending with visa issues, multiple cancelled flights, and the global freight disruption caused by container ship Ever Given’s blocking of the Suez Canal to get the exhibition to Korea. “Planning the installation of an exhibition outside of Europe during a global pandemic is not for the faint of heart!” she says.
As full-capacity shows return in much of the world, Canonici says promoters, battered by the economic impact of the pandemic, are looking for “simpler, easier, popular” exhibitions to ease them back into ‘normal’ business. “They want shows that are easier logistically, and based on a popular subject… Basically, everybody wants less risk and more certainty that they’re going to sell the ticket,” he explains. “Which is understandable.”
Fortunately, the same is true for fans, he continues: “During the Covid-19 lockdowns, the only thing many people could do was share photos with each other. I received so many pictures from my friends and family on [instant messaging app] WhatsApp; they were doing pretty much nothing at home, but they were still sending messages about anything, just for something to do. So, I think that social media is now even more important. Because of Covid, something that is simple, entertaining and appealing on social media – whether it’s an exhibition or another form of entertainment – that’s what people want.”
For Pascal Bernardin, founder and president of promoter Encore Productions (Titanic: The Exhibition, Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition, Imagine Van Gogh, Imagine Picasso), consumers’ increased reliance on social media is a double-edged sword, with the desire to document their experience getting fans through the door – but also contributing to a proliferation or poor-quality events that exist solely to provide an ‘Instagram moment.’
“Now that the world is opening up again, and people are hungry for experiences, I think the industry is ready to show the visitor something new”
“Some of these [substandard] events have a place where it’s good to take a photo to send to your friends or put on Instagram and Facebook. I think that is the only way they get so popular,” he explains. But a single Instagrammable feature isn’t enough to sustain interest, and create word of mouth, if the show is below par: “When you are in the premises, you need that quality,” he adds.
According to Braff, “People who have never done exhibitions before are getting into it” after seeing the popularity – and viability – of the format during the on-off lockdowns of 2020–21, providing competition for the established players. “I think there are going to be a lot of amateurs trying to do things, and it’s going to give a bad reputation for those of us who are doing better work,” he says. Bernardin predicts that the “exhibition market is going to go wild” in the years ahead as the coronavirus pandemic recedes, with “immersive exhibitions” such as Imagine Van Gogh – where, like a “rock show […] you are totally immersed in the art” – set to continue their popularity.
Music-themed exhibitions, though, are “not so easy,” he adds: “The best one I’ve seen was the Pink Floyd exhibition [Their Mortal Remains] at the V&A in London, but it died everywhere else it went, from Germany to Paris. It was a great exhibition, but for some strange reason it didn’t work. Rock’n’roll exhibitions are not an easy thing to do.”
“From my perspective, I see a bit of a renaissance in museums and science centres,” Lenhof’s colleague Christoph Scholz, director of international projects and exhibitions for Semmel Concerts, says. “In 2020, when the world shuttered the doors on exhibition spaces, there was a quiet behind-the-scenes revolution of thought. Industry insiders wondered: Was it time to retire the ‘white box’ museum? Should exhibition spaces become multi-layered, interactive, transformative spaces that reflect and work with the community around them? Why not create a mashup: mix up a traditional museum event with a superior food experience in an extraordinary setting? Now that the world is opening up again, and people are hungry for experiences, I think the industry is ready to show the visitor something new.”
“I think there’ll be a lot of immersive video shows in the next couple of years, because the Van Goghs in America have exploded and everybody wanted to get that ticket,” adds Zaller, “and so their sales have exploded. It’ll be very interesting to watch that space to see how many other immersive digital-projection experiences come around, and if it sticks as a new format.”
“We need to deliver a holistic experience to today’s audience. They need to come to a resonant, memorable place,” continues Scholz. “That can be a museum with a celebrity chef’s restaurant; a concept like the one of Hauser & Wirth, a global leader in the arts world, who brings the classic contemporary art gallery to a farm in beautiful Somerset, England, or a historic military hospital on a tiny Spanish island, or a carefully renovated factory building in Downtown LA. It can be an immersive projection show, such as what L’Atelier des Lumières does in a World War II U-boat wharf in Bordeaux.”
Scholz recommends IQ readers “travel to Las Vegas to visit the new epicentre of the experience economy, a complex called Area 15. Here you can see the future of immersive attractions, new forms of exhibitions, and nostalgic reminiscences of entertainment from yesteryear, such as a roller disco. Just a few weeks ago I went to Miami where Superblue combines the latest things in immersive and experiential art with the structure of a classic white-cube gallery. Go to Universal Studios or anything Disney does; check an open-air art gallery and park like the High Line, or the experiential park Little Island in New York City.
“We can’t just go straight back to full price straight away, like nothing has happened”
“Cultural tourism was strong prior to the pandemic and will be strong again when travelling is safe again. We live in vibrant times. The exhibition arts sector is super productive, and the creative minds behind new exhibition spaces are excited to show next year’s visitors something new.”
In recognition of cash-strapped promoters’ caution to commit to new exhibitions, Canonici says World Touring Exhibitions is still offering “friendly discounted prices” to its partners, providing a boost to the market. “We understand that we need to help promoters,” he says. “We can’t just go straight back to full price straightaway, like nothing has happened.”
World Touring Exhibitions’ newest offering is The Long Walk to Freedom, which features “nearly 100 bronze statues, life-sized, of all the people who dedicated their lives to ending Apartheid in South Africa,” Canonici explains. “Their struggle for justice is something that’s very much in line with what’s happening in the world at the moment,” he continues, “so I think it’s going to be very popular, and an exhibition that will resonate with people.”
For Semmel, “I think our priority is to learn as much as possible from the last two years, because what happened to our business, and other businesses in our society, will also shape the industry in the future,” says Lenhof. “For example, for productions like Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes and Tutankhamun we need to take into account that travelling from one country or one continent to another might not be as easy as it was before. We’re also facing the challenge that many freelancers might have changed professions when we start again.”
Another challenge will be securing venue availabilities once concerts return, Braff says. “Venues are becoming less and less available for the foreseeable future, because everybody wants to go back to what they were doing before,” he comments. “I think I’m going to continue doing exhibitions – the ones I’ve done already, the big brands like Tutankhamun and Harry Potter and Titanic and the big touring exhibitions, are people pleasers – but it’s still a risk. I think the risk is going to become greater again within the next year or two than it was [in 2020] when we were the only ones around.”
Audience expectations, meanwhile, will continue to rise, says Zaller, compared to when fans were prepared to accept lower-quality experiences given the restrictions on events. Referring to the drive-through dinosaur exhibitions, he adds: “People really wanted to be entertained, so I think they were willing to look past the parking lot – I mean, to a five-year-old, it doesn’t matter: those dinosaurs are real. But for me, it was difficult to not be able to deliver a fully immersive experience because we were literally working in an empty parking lot, and I like to hold myself to a certain standard, so doing them was hard at times. But in the end people loved them.”
SC, meanwhile, is pondering more practical considerations ahead of the premiere of its latest exhibition, which celebrates 100 years of the Walt Disney Company, in 2023. “We are currently working on concepts that make visiting our exhibitions even more safe when it comes to interactivity, for example,” says Lenhof. “We’re aiming to use less touchscreen technology – and queuing could also still be an issue, even when we will celebrate the premiere. So, we need to plan ahead and think about those challenges.
“We don’t know if in 2023 everything will be like it was in 2019. It could be that people are still more cautious when it comes to hygiene and touching things, and maybe they’ll still want to keep their distance from other people they don’t know. That’s why we are facing those problems now to avoid as many issues nearer the time.”
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
ILMC speaker spotlight: Christoph Scholz, Semmel Concerts
The International Live Music Conference (ILMC) is now less than a month away and, as more and more chairs and panellists are announced, IQ catches up with some key speakers to hear what they hope to get out of this year’s conference.
First up is Christoph Scholz of SC Exhibitions, a division of German promoter Semmel Concerts and the company behind Los Angeles conference the Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) – formerly the Touring Exhibitions Meeting.
Scholz will appear alongside Kilimanjaro Live’s Lucy Levitt to co-chair ILMC’s Touring Entertainment: Game For a Show panel – which this year moves to a bigger room to satisfy demand – to discuss why family shows, touring exhibitions and other kinds of immersive, alternative content are piquing the interest of promoters and fans alike.
Joining the chairs are Harlem Globetrotters’ Arnold Bernard, Secret Cinema’s Amy Farrant, Hartshorn-Hook Enterprises/Immersive Everywhere’s Brian Hook, Nicolás Renna from Proactiv and Alex Homfray of Alex Homfray Cultural Destinations.
IQ: What do you expect to be the main talking points at your panel?
CS: My co-chair, Lucy Levitt, and I are expecting some exciting guests this year. We will ask Arnold Bernard from Harlem Globetrotters how they have managed to keep such an iconic sports entertainment troupe relevant for so many years.
Amy Farrant, the marketing director of [immersive cinema experience specialist] Secret Cinema, is also joining the panel. Secret Cinema has just signed a deal with Disney and is expanding globally – this will deliver us plenty of talking points. Brian Hook from [theatre experience company] Immersive Everywhere also be there to will tell us everything about the forthcoming Doctor Who Experience in London.
“Our aim is to explore the key developments across touring exhibitions, pop culture and family shows”
You’ve moved up to a bigger room for 2020. How do you expect the session to compare to previous years?
We are hosting a special double-panel event this spring, which provides a great opportunity for our colleagues in the experience and live entertainment fields.
The first will be at ILMC on 5 March in London. Then, on the first weekend of May, we will also have a panel at The Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) in Los Angeles. The second panel will pick up on the themes discussed in London, creating a fantastic intercontinental partnership of ILMC in London and TEEM Los Angeles.
Our aim with both panels is to explore the key developments and brightest new spectacles across touring exhibitions, pop culture and family shows.
“Touring exhibitions are benefiting from globalisation much in the same way as live touring is”
What are some of the biggest trends you’re seeing coming through in the family/touring/alternative entertainment world?
Looking at the classic staples in this non-traditional touring sector – which includes everything that is not rock, pop or another musical genre – touring exhibitions, family shows and events such as comic conventions are benefiting from globalisation much in the same way as live touring is.
There are more venues, more markets opening up and more opportunities. I am personally fascinated by the likes of The Haus of Gaga in Las Vegas or The Zone: Britney Spears in Los Angeles.
Are we seeing new forms of fan worlds here?
To find out the answer to this question and more, come along to ILMC’s Touring Entertainment panel at 5 p.m. on Thursday 5 March.
Touring exhibitions report: The rise of Insta-gratification
It’s been an interesting 12 months in the world of touring exhibitions. While blockbuster productions still dominate and the sector as a whole continues to grow, albeit slowly, there are those who caution against complacency and overconfidence, keen to avoid some of the missteps that have befallen other parts of the industry.
Such issues were to the fore at the recent Touring Exhibitions Meeting (TEM) in Berlin, the biennial gathering of promoters, producers, museum curators and creative professionals. Alongside upcoming projects, the next evolution of such touring exhibitions, and trends in the context of the so-called “experience economy” – the latter proving somewhat controversial – there were two particularly hot topics, according to Christoph Scholz of SC Exhibitions, a division of Semmel Concerts, one of the leading German live entertainment promoters and the company behind TEM.
“Firstly, where do we go?” he asks. “This was a very pertinent question this year because there is only so much talent, and content, available. And secondly: What’s the next thing? We discussed new forms of exhibitions, or what you might call ‘experiences.’”
For Scholz, huge European successes such as Harry Potter: The Exhibition (“Adolfo Galli promoted it in Milan and got over 400,000 visitors,” he says), Titanic: The Exhibition and Star Wars Identities are all well and good, but keeping one eye on the future is just as important for those with a vested interest in continued growth and building sustainable businesses.
“Overall, I have a very positive outlook,” says Scholz of the sector’s health. It’s a sentiment echoed by almost everyone IQ quizzed for this annual appraisal; far from being fearful of stagnation or saturation, many promoters and producers are excited about new markets and technologies, and presenting beloved brands in innovative ways.
“Customers are becoming much more savvy when it comes to experiences”
As ever, though, quality is key, as is being attuned to precisely what consumers demand from such exhibitions in the ever more crowded entertainment sphere.
While the last year has seen a continued focus on major licensed IP such as Hunger Games, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition and Hamilton: The Musical, producers are also now acutely aware of the visitor experience and how important a factor that is to commercial success.
“Customers are becoming much more savvy when it comes to experiences,” says Abigail Bysshe, vice-president of experiences and business development at the Franklin Institute, one of America’s most celebrated museums. “They expect to be immersed in a story and entertained, so the content has to really engage the visitor and make them feel part of the experience.”
Tom Zaller, president and CEO of US-based Imagine Exhibitions, agrees; for him, it’s clear that the general public are looking for immersive, story-driven narratives. “Exhibitions are another form of entertainment,” he says, “so whether you have objects or projections, something scenic or static, I always find that the one constant is a well-told story to drive the whole experience.”
Such a belief lies at the heart of his company’s 35 unique exhibitions currently on tour, with the worldwide success of the likes of Angry Birds Universe, the Discovery of King Tut and Real Bodies testament to the effectiveness of designing such events from the visitor viewpoint up.
So what is being done to improve this? In short: technology. “Virtual and augmented reality will become more and more a part of events in general,” according to Corrado Canonici of World Touring Exhibitions, the company behind Travelling Bricks and Interactive Science.
“More than 50% of venues who book such exhibits are seeking tactile, hands-on ‘interactives’ as part of the experience”
Rafael Giménez of Sold Out, one of Spain’s biggest producers and promoters, notes that more and more AV equipment is now required for shows, and that such developments “will bring new ways of seeing things.”
For Zaller, though, technology goes beyond what he calls “creative execution”. Imagine Exhibitions are already looking at the power of data-driven decision-making and audience insight in order to help venues “deliver content that is timely and relevant – both scientifically and socially – to their audience.”
And, he adds, the new technology behind interactive elements is important not just to make things enjoyable – it is essential for learning. “More than 50% of venues who book such exhibits are seeking tactile, hands-on ‘interactives’ as part of the experience. They are the perfect vehicles for us to achieve our goal to educate, entertain, and enlighten.”
But one aspect of technology, and the modern world, is proving controversial. As Scholz noted in IQ 78, more and more exhibitions – such as San Francisco’s Museum of Ice Cream – are serving as ‘Instagram environments’, and are being specifically designed to provide shareable and social media-friendly backdrops and moments. Does this ‘Instagramisation’ detract from the actual content?
“It does, and it is a problem,” says Scholz, a thought echoed by Bysshe.