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Family entertainment in focus

While the live entertainment industry ponders when casual ticket buyers will regain the confidence to return to events, the family entertainment sector is confident the demand among its customers is stronger than ever. Gordon Masson reports.

Like other sectors in the live industry, the world of family entertainment has been hit hard over the past couple of years, removing a vital part of the overall jigsaw given that family shows often introduce children to their first taste of live events.

One major casualty of Covid-19 was Cirque du Soleil, which had been one of the world’s most successful live entertainment enterprises since it launched in 1984. But when the pandemic struck, the company had to suspend all 44 of its active shows around the world and temporarily lay off more than 4,600 staff. With debts of more than $1 billion (€0.9bn), it was forced to file for bankruptcy protection before a consortium including former MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren and Canadian investment group Catalyst Capital bought the business in November 2020.

Manu Braff of Belgium-based MB Presents has his own Cirque story. “When the first lockdown happened we were all set-up and ready for the opening night of Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo in Antwerp. The decision basically pulled the plug on everything from one day to another. Then, reality hit and the lockdown weeks turned into months… and years. However, slowly but surely we turned the business around. As museums were allowed to stay open, we promoted and produced six exhibitions over 18 months in Belgium and abroad.”

With markets gradually reopening, producers of family entertainment shows may have a slight advantage over their live music touring peers, as their ability to drop into markets for short periods, such as school holidays, allows them to take advantage of reopened venues, whereas the music side is still relying on multiple markets to lift restrictions to facilitate tour routings.

“During the pandemic, the family entertainment worked best of all – with seated family audiences this was the ‘safest’ way to enjoy entertainment even during these challenging times,” says Georg Leitner of Austria-based Georg Leitner Productions (GLP). “For instance, in December and February we had a sold-out three-week run with Cirque de Glace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.”

“Family entertainment is partially exempt from corona measures because there are very good concepts”

It’s a benefit that GLP’s new head of show acts and family entertainment, Birger Gaetjens, is looking to fully exploit. “The family entertainment sector has a clear advantage and will continue to do so in the coming months because it is scalable and can comply with country-specific corona rules,” he notes.

Steven Armstrong, vice president EMEA for Feld Entertainment, agrees, “Our Disney On Ice shows have been out there in the US since probably October or November of 2020, so pretty much all through Covid,” he tells IQ. “We started internationally back in September of 2021 when we visited Abu Dhabi, and since we’ve gone through the UK and parts of Europe.”

Nonetheless, there are challenges. While children have been the demographic least at risk from coronavirus, their grandparents (who often pay for tickets and accompany them to live events) remain among the highest risk members of society for Covid, presenting just another obstacle among the myriad that producers, and the promoters who hire their shows, are currently facing.

GLP’s Gaetjens opines, “Although children and young adults are least affected, the infection rate is highest in [that demographic]. What we notice is that children’s shows work better in some countries because the corona policy works better. Family entertainment is partially exempt from corona measures because there are very good concepts. What organisers should know is that during the pandemic and beyond, our concepts are safe, scalable, have a corona concept, and are still profitable.”

Kenneth Svoldgaard, co-CEO of Denmark -based CSB Entertainment, tells IQ, “I’m not worried about the family business at all. I have three kids of my own – aged 5, 11 and 14 – and none of them have been very ill. So I don’t really think that we have need to worry.”

However, he recognises that there are issues at the other end of the age range. “We are representing a couple of offers for the Christmas market where we have an older demographic, and that’s a little more problematic because they’re the most vulnerable in society,” he says.

And Svoldgaard has first-hand experience of dealing with the concerns of the older generations. “They’re the people who have asked the most questions, and that’s why we have had to have more staff at venues when the event is for an older demographic, to make sure people keep socially distanced, clean their hands, get to the seats, and all these kinds of things.”

“There’s definitely demand for product to come out”

Feld’s experience with the higher age groups of customers has been fascinating.

Looking at the grandparent segment of Feld’s patrons, he says, “Originally, they were a bit more cautious than the 20 year olds who wanted to go to a concert, but over time we’ve seen parents and grandparents come at the same rate, if not even more than they would have come pre-Covid. We were in Sheffield when it looked like the UK was going to shut down and the week of shows actually went really well, compared to pre-Covid times – it was almost the feeling of ‘this might be our last chance to do this for a while, so let’s go out and do it now.’

“But the silver lining is that there’s definitely demand for product to come out.”

That’s also been the experience of MB Presents. “We combined the extra time we suddenly had available with the creativity of our team and created new productions and exhibitions,” says Braff, naming Expo Dino World, the Middelkerke Sand Sculpture Festival, and Lanterna Magica among the company’s pandemic successes.

“We felt lucky that we could actually work and at the same time offer our clients a moment of distraction from all the negative stuff happening around them,” says Braff.

High demand

Despite the pandemic shutting down family shows around the world, the producer community has remained buoyant about the prospects of getting back to business because, like Armstrong, it can see that the demand is there.

Arnold Bernard, director of international booking for the Harlem Globetrotters, sums up the optimism. “One of the key indicators for us was the number of people who held on to their tickets from all the shows we had to postpone. We were one week into a four-month tour of Europe when we had to shut down in March of 2020. Two years later, we still have over 85% of those tickets out. This really is a testament to the strength of our brand.”

Corrado Canonici of World Touring Exhibitions tells IQ that demand remains high. “When Covid started, the few guys who decided to continue touring our exhibitions found a few difficulties because some people were worried and you had less audience. But then, when we brought our 3D exhibition to Germany in April or May last year, people were just assaulting the venue because they just couldn’t stay home anymore.”

But Canonici believes a new seasonal pattern has emerged during the pandemic years. “When we got to November last year, everything slowed down until February and then we will restart in March/April, so the general feeling is that we are all going towards a kind of a seasonal activity from March to October,” he says.

“We are all more open to understanding the promoters’ point of view. You can’t expect them to risk everything while you just behave like nothing has happened”

The Exhibitionist

Having made the decision to concentrate only on touring exhibitions a number of years ago, Canonici says that bold step paid dividends when the rest of the touring world ground to a halt in March 2020.

“Exhibitions started to work much earlier for obvious reasons,” he notes. “You can go to an exhibition with a mask; you can go to an exhibition while maintaining social distancing; you don’t need a 5,000-seater arena, you can do it in an exhibition space. So exhibitions never really completely stopped working during the pandemic.”

He adds, “The company has been concentrating on just exhibitions for a few years now be- cause we just found it more civilised, easier, nicer. Being independent in the exhibition world is still possible, so I like the idea that we can still have crazy ideas, pursue our ideas, finance our ideas, and all of this can be done. But with music, nobody would ever give me the new Adele. No way.”

And while the rest of the live entertainment business is scrambling to find venues for artists and shows, Canonici has none of that hassle. “Our venues are usually not really music venues. Arenas are just too busy anyway with concerts, so they would never ever give an exhibition two months of their time because they make far more money [with] 30 concerts in two months. So our venues are conference centres, exhibition centres, museums, malls. We know that there are many places you can go, which are usually not music places. So we don’t feel the pinch of that too much.”

“We used the downtime to really evaluate what we did, the why and the how”

Future Planning

Like many organisations crippled by the pandemic, the Harlem Globetrotters used the enforced pause to reinvigorate their strategy. “We used the downtime to really evaluate what we did, the why and the how,” says international booking director Bernard. “In the family entertainment world, we tour every month of every year. We don’t normally get to take some time out to reimagine our brand. To be able to get that time was refreshing and inspiring.”

Canonici also used the opportunity to expand the remit for World Touring Exhibitions. “When we saw that there were a few months of less work, we opened up to not just producing our own stuff but producing for people who want to have permanent exhibitions,” he reveals. “So now we also consult for the creation of, or directly produce, exhibitions for venues or institutions who want a permanent exhibition. So that’s been something positive coming from Covid, in the sense that we opened up to that which we wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

GLP’s Gaetjens believes that one of the biggest challenges facing the sector is to identify and develop new show formats that promoters can rely on, even while the pandemic continues. “Most organisers and countries have opted for safe formats,” he says. “We go one step further and will not only present new formats and projects but also go ‘corona-conform’ because that is safe and a guaranteed source of income for our customers. We still have to wait until ‘Freedom Day’ in some countries, and if the omicron and delta variants go together, we are prepared.”

Bernard says that there are two principle challenges facing organisations like the Harlem Globetrotters when it comes to getting back to business. “First, there are US State Department warnings recommending not to travel overseas, which affects our ability to travel,” he reports. “The second, is capacity limitations or vaccine requirements to enter public venues. This is a real challenge for families with young kids.”

That’s an aspect that’s not lost on Armstrong. “Only 6-8 months ago, no kids were really getting Covid, they weren’t getting tested, and they weren’t getting vaccinated. But all of a sudden, if the requirements are that everyone has to be vaccinated to go to events, what happens?” he asks.

“Luckily, so far, it hasn’t been mandated that kids who are under a certain age need to be vaccinated, so we’ve managed to be able to have shows. But if that changes going forward, we could run into problems.”

MB Presents boss Braff believes confidence will be key in reinvigorating the market. “Re-building the trust of people in small and large in- door events [is a major challenge],” he says. “People are weary of new measures and postpone buying tickets to events to the last minute. This makes it extremely difficult for event producers and promoters to plan ahead.”

“Deals need to be more flexible than before. We are all more open to understanding the promoters’ point of view”

The Year Ahead

Gaetjens believes the future is rosy for the family entertainment sector, albeit with a few challenging months ahead. “In 2022, many organisers will still be cautious, which is nonsense,” he states. “From April, everything will loosen up, and we are already noticing that.”

Continuing with a pitch, Gaetjens says, “We will be launching with new formats for 2022 and 2023 globally, expanding our roster, and giving all existing and new partners the opportunity to get what they want and are looking for.”

Canonici comments, “When in November [2021] Covid started to appear again and people started to postpone, we thought the worst. But, all of a sudden, around January, emails and phone calls started again because everybody wants to do everything from March. I have the feeling it’s going to be a lot of work from March to probably November. It really feels like it’s going to be a bit more seasonal than it was before.”

With the pandemic fostering unprecedented cooperation through the live entertainment business globally, Canonici believes the rule book is being rewritten for agreements in the family sector, too.

“Deals need to be a bit more flexible than before,” he says. “We all are more open to understanding the promoters’ point of view. You can’t expect them to risk everything while you just behave like nothing has happened. So we all have to be more flexible.”

Svoldgaard highlights the main issue that is hindering the entire live touring economy. “Many of the things that we do depend on what’s happening in the rest of the world or at least Europe, with the touring business. In principle, in Denmark, it’s not been so bad. Our sales have been pretty good, but when we talk about the tour business where we are going outside of Denmark, then we’re getting into problems as lockdown and restrictions have been harder elsewhere, and selling tickets is a huge challenge. We already had some tours that were supposed to start in February get postponed – and most of them for a whole year. So with many projects, we’re already looking into spring 2023.”

“I don’t think people are afraid of getting infected; they’re just sick and tired of having bought a ticket and then things keep getting postponed”

He adds, “It’s difficult to find availability in the venues on a shorter scale and also booking the artists on a shorter scale. So it’s been necessary to move things by a whole year in a number of instances.”

Looking at Feld’s bookings, Armstrong says, “We’ve been doing Monster Jam in the US and we’ve started to look at that internationally, too. We’ve got Ringling Brothers relaunching in 2023 in the US. And we’ll probably get Marvel Universe Live up and running in 2023. So we’re starting to get everything back. We’re not quite at the same scale – we had nine ice shows travelling around the world prior to Covid; we’ve got four or five out, as of now, but going into next season, we’ll probably get back to six, seven or eight. So it’s looking good.”

Citing CSB’s Whitney Houston tribute show, The Greatest Love of All, Svoldgaard sums up some of the frustrations that could hold back growth in the months to come. “The tour starts at the end of March and we have nearly 50 shows in eight countries across Europe,” he explains. “We start in Copenhagen, and the sales in Denmark are actually quite good for the most part, but the other countries are lacking.”

Indeed, because of the uncertainty that has been a significant Covid side effect, Svoldgaard confirms that consumers are leaving it till the 11th hour to buy tickets. “I don’t think people are afraid of getting infected; they’re just sick and tired of having bought a ticket and then things keep getting postponed.”

Nonetheless, he reports that longer term, confidence is building. “We have a lot of shows on sale for autumn this year, and sales have been incredible. So I think people expect that things will be back to normal for shows in September, October, November.”

In addition to tribute acts for the likes of Queen and Dire Straits, CSB has Lord of the Dance on sale for its 25th anniversary tour, among many other shows. “We are very optimistic looking forward,” says Svoldgaard. “I think people are, in general, excited about coming out to see shows again. The issue we have right now is shows that we have this  spring.”

Looking at his order book, Canonici reports, “We had Monsters of the Sea, which toured Ukraine for over a year. That’s now going to Russia for a year and probably more, fingers crossed. Our 3D exhibition is doing very well. Elsewhere, we have Dinosaurs in Belgium now; Science is going to go to Lithuania; and Lego always does very well.

He adds, “It’s all moving nicely, but it’s not the same. You can’t have the same sold-out shows you had before. It’s very difficult to get back to the 100,000 visitors in three months. But it’s still turning over decent numbers.”

“We have currently productions planned and presented in six new international markets”

New Productions?

While excitement among family ents producers and promoters is building, any expectations for new spectaculars might have to be put on the backburner for a year or so.

Canonici reveals, “At the time of Covid, we were supposed to go out with a new exhibition: The Art of Interactive Digital. We’d developed about 85% of this production when Covid arrived, so we just pulled back. Considering the ongoing situation, we think we’ll maybe delay another year going out with that one.”

Braff comments, “We still see a lot of tours being postponed to 2023. Luckily some tours are also restarting, like Corteo, which will finally happen in June 2022, two years after it was originally planned. We will continue to further develop our own productions and family entertainment brands, with eyes on the international markets. We have currently productions planned and presented in six new international markets, so we are positive.”

Armstrong surmises the situation well. “It’s very risky to launch a new product, especially one that doesn’t have a big brand behind it, because of the level of investment it takes to get them up and running,” he says.

“I would say it’s going to be the latter end of 2022 before we’re going to start seeing some of the bigger productions start touring again. But for newer brands, it’s a big risk. For us, the re-launch of Ringling Brothers is a calculated risk because it’s a brand that’s played for hundreds of years in the US. Whereas if you’re bringing out something that, perhaps, has been on TV for a couple of years but not really toured, I think that they’re going to hold off until 2023, at least.”

Ongoing challenges

The success of the family entertainment business getting back to work before other industry sectors has been an impressive achievement. But there is a bag full of spanners waiting to be thrown into the engine…

Svoldgaard, for example, says CSB is experiencing availability issues. “A lot of promoters are holding dates but not necessarily confirming venues. But it’s tricky to say ‘Okay, we are now ready to sign a contract and maybe even pay a deposit,’ especially when you have multiple artists and shows that have been moved four or five times.”

And underlining one massive dilemma that is becoming apparent throughout the touring world, he says the pandemic’s impact on crew and other essential personnel has been devastating.

“It’s a very big worry,” says Svoldgaard. “We have a tribute to Tina Turner coming in May, and I was hoping and expecting we could bring everything from the UK because I prefer to have the original production of it. But the UK producer cannot find a [crew] who can commit to being away for a couple of weeks. So we’re looking to source it locally, but it’s not easy – I’ve already had two production companies turn it down because it’s at the time of the year when the summer festivals start, so they don’t have enough equipment or manpower. I have found another production company in Denmark who can do it, but I’m a little bit worried about the pricing.”

“Even if the country itself is open, it doesn’t mean that infrastructure and the supply chain is ready”

“Challenges?” says Armstrong, citing a list. “There are weeks where you can’t make it work due to local legislation or state legislation or countries just shutting down before you can get there. And then there are the challenges of travelling people around with Covid tests, PCR, immigration, Brexit, transportation, and all that stuff.

“Even if the country itself is open, it doesn’t mean that infrastructure and the supply chain is ready. Take Australia, which hasn’t had events for a long time. Although you can get into Australia now, and you can potentially do the event and book the venue, are all your suppliers going to be ready? A lot of those suppliers have let people go, and they’re not rehiring people until events restart. If you’re one of those first events, you’re going to struggle. We know that casual staff at venues is an issue – we’ve ordered 30 vendors for our merchandise but only 12 would show up. But it’s all just part of slowly getting that big machine rolling again.”

Armstrong continues, “If you look back, there was a lot of hope this time last year. Now, it feels like there’s more than just hope: things are being put in place to enable us to move forward. So I think ‘22 will be better than ‘21. But I don’t think it’ll be fully back until mid-2023.”

“Slowly, the world will return to normal,” concurs Harlem Globetrotters’ exec Bernard. “We’re seeing it now, but it won’t be a full reopening overnight. There will be setbacks along the way but the setbacks will be shorter and less severe each time. We will get there.”


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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.

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TEEM: Highlights from the conference’s ILMC debut

The Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM), the world’s only conference dedicated entirely to touring exhibitions and the experience economy, has joined forces with ILMC for 2021. The first TEEM (formerly the Touring Exhibitions Meeting) as part of ILMC took place today (4 March) with some of the world’s leading touring exhibition professionals, including expo producers, promoters, venue bookers and suppliers.

Tickets for ILMC 33 – which include all panels, including TEEM sessions, available to watch back until 5 April 2021 – are still available. Click here for more information.

TEEM concluded with The TEEM x ILMC Flea Market, which gave delegates representing touring exhibitions and producers just three minutes to present their shows to the promoters and venues in the room.

Chaired by Christoph Scholz of Semmel Concerts’ SC Exhibitions and Debbie Donohue of Imagine Exhibitions, the Flea Market featured presentations from Corrado Canonici of World Touring Exhibitions; Amy Bornkamp of IMG Events; Glenn Blackman of Global Touring & Promotion; Teo’s Manon Delaury; Pierre Morand of GAAP Bookings; Zuppar’s Nick Zuppar; Charles Reed of Blooloop; Alex Susanna of Expona; Giorgio Castagnera of Herelab; Semmel Concerts’ Anna Lenhof; and Jole Martinenghi of Contemporanea Progetti.

Exhibitions and attractions presented included King TutPompeii, Travelling Bricks (Lego), Kid Koala, the Walt Disney 100th anniversary exhibition and the Monster, an inflatable playground for adults.

Teem’s second panel of the day, Taking Exhibitions Further, led by Abigail Bysshe, Franklin Institute (US) and Christoph Scholz, Semmel Concerts (DE), explored the post-Covid future of the experience economy.

Serge Grimaux, Fórum Karlín (CZ), said he believes the exhibition world will experience a post-Covid boom: “I think we have an incredible opportunity with a clean slate in front of us. We have a lot of people who have been very hungry for entertainment, live entertainment and edutainment.

“I think that the technology that is now available, and becomes more available every month, can provide an environment that will be incredible for everybody and at the same time, affordable. Because as soon as we get out of this Covid war and the economy will start, affordability will be important, and exhibitions will definitely be a very sought after product.”

While Lāth Carlson, The Museum of the Future (AE), believes that the future of exhibitions lies in immersive experiences: “Our core is in immersive experiences and we’re sticking with that. I think the real power of museums is the experience that you can have physically in the space and socially in the space as well. So that is an absolute core part of what we’re offering our museum.”

“I think the real power of museums is the experience that you can have physically in the space and socially in the space as well”

While Paola Cappitelli, 24 ORE Cultura, pointed out that tech should play an important role in making exhibitions appealing to the younger generations: “We have a new generation [to cater to] so we know that we have to provide them with technology, experiences and multimedia in museums but also have other people who are older coming to the museum so we have to to find a way to appeal to all demographics.”

Arnold van de Water, Factorr (NL), added that it’s important for curators and designers to find new ways of telling the same stories.

“The thing we always keep in mind is storyline. Though technology is more accessible, telling a good story again is still the basis. We see so many dinosaur exhibitions, so many Van Gogh exhibitions and so many of the same topics so curation and content is really the thing we should be focussing on,” he said.


The Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) kicked off with What’s Next in the World for Experience Exhibitions?, led by Christoph Scholz, Semmel Concerts (DE) and Charles Read, Blooloop (UK).

The panel’s central focus was how to enhance the user experience of exhibitions – from design, production and cross-culture standpoints.

Speaking from a designer’s perspective, Tobias Kunz, Studio TK (DE), said: “The perfect exhibition is the right balance of information, emotion and attraction. It has to be a multi-sensorial experience with different layers: the classic museum layer with great objects; a walkable stage where you can bring objects to life and make them talk; an interactive layer with headphone stations for lively presentations; a media layer; and a very important sound and music layer.”

Manon Delaury, Teo (FR), added: “Immersion is becoming super important. When I talk about immersion I mean some sort of environment that really surrounds people, as well as providing a sensory reality. We see more and more experiences that integrate smell, sound, touch and really surrounding people so they can have a proper immersive experience.

“Another key trend, which will emerge is transformative experiences that are truly social. The idea is that once you’ve been through the experience you feel a little bit different. You’ve learned and you’ve grown.”

“The perfect exhibition is the right balance of information, emotion and attraction”

Winston Fisher and Michael Beneville – the pair behind Area15, an immersive art, event and entertainment complex just off the Las Vegas Strip – says the key to their success with the project was putting together the perfect team.

“Execution is critical to success.  The ability to understand how a dream can actually become a reality is so important. It’s not just creativity that brings things to life, it’s a team that has all skill sets. It was important for us to get best-in-class experts and build a team that actually had breadth and depth that could take something radical and different and make it a reality,” they said.

Bart Dohmen, TDAC int. BV (NL), elaborated on that point, adding that the perfect team also needs to be resolute on the identity of an exhibition.

“You can say that your exhibition is something but you need to embed it into your development by having a clear team statement which tells everyone what the identity is. Once you have that, have the guts to make a decision to throw something away if it doesn’t fit the statement. Don’t do anything that could hurt your identity. That sounds very easy but it’s a very delicate and difficult process,” Dohmen said.

“The ability to understand how a dream can actually become a reality is so important”

Coming from a live music point of view, Marc Saunders, the O2 (UK), said that while the venue is best known for its music programming, the exhibition areas add a lot of value to a customer’s experience.

“When people think of the O2, they think instantly of the arena and the events and artists that we host. But the fact is that the O2 has become so much more since it was purchased by AEG from the original Millennium Dome, and reopened in 2007.

“The exhibition space is currently being used for Mamma Mia: The Party but in the past has had various exhibitions, including the British Music Experience, an Elvis exhibition, and the Star Wars Identities exhibition,” he testifies.

Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, department of culture and tourism, Abu Dhabi (UAE), agreed, adding that his market was looking at enhancing the live music fan’s broader experience.

“It’s easy today to bring an event or a touring concert to any destination but it’s very hard to create an experience that encompasses the full journey from end to end. Today, in Abu Dhabi, we are trying to build that unique experience by blending [the capital’s] landscapes with a rich calendar of events around the city and verticals that go from shopping to entertainment to music to culinary,” he said.


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Reopening success for reduced-cap. Van Gogh Alive

Zurich’s Maag Halle reopened the touring Van Gogh Alive exhibition earlier this month, with strong consumer demand spelling success for the exhibition, despite operating at 50% of usual capacity.

Under the second phase of Switzerland’s reopening (since 11 May), museums can restart business provided that ten square metres is maintained between each visitor.

Since reopening on 12 May, the Maag Halle has reduced the number of tickets sold per visiting slot by half, to 112, adding a few extra slots in the morning.

Disinfection stations, a one-way system, masks for staff and open doors to limit touchpoints are other measures in place at the Maag Halle to keep visitors safe. A waiting zone has also been established to hold people back if the museum is reaching capacity.

Although consumer confidence was a worry prior to reopening, Darko Soolfrank of promoter Maag Music and Arts AG tells IQ, tickets for all slots have been selling out, even during the week.

The museum is currently seeing footfall of 700 a day on average, around half of what daily intake was prior to the coronavirus outbreak due to capacity limits

The museum is currently seeing footfall of 700 a day on average, around half of what daily intake was prior to the coronavirus outbreak due to capacity limits.

Running with minimal staff, Soolfrank states the exhibition is doable from a commercial point of view and also acts as good motivation for the team.

The reliance on a completely domestic audience – half of the exhibition’s visitors were made up of tourists when it first opened in Zurich in February – has also created new opportunities for the museum to connect with its home market.

Van Gogh Alive is currently installed in museums in Mexico City and Taipei, with another in Pamplona, Spain, preparing to reopen at a third of its usual capacity from 8 June.

The viability of social distancing in venues has proved a hot topic within the events industry recently, with many stating it is impossible to restart business under strict capacity restrictions.


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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.

Visiting rights
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.


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 84, or subscribe to the magazine here


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Van Gogh Museum presents Meet Vincent Van Gogh

Meet Vincent van Gogh is the official touring experience of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Meet Vincent Van Gogh offers local promoters an award-winning blockbuster exhibition based on one of the world’s most recognised artists and strongest museum brands. Interactive installations, high quality setworks and an intriguing narrative let visitors explore the world of Vincent van Gogh as never before.

Both entertaining and educational, the experience is perfect for families, schools, and beginners and experts alike.

For more information about the experience, visit or talk to one of our delegates during ILMC 30.


Want to promote your business or service with a sponsored news story/banner package? Contact Archie Carmichael on +44 203 743 3288 or [email protected] for more information.

Exhibition control: Trends in touring expos

After a scheduled detour in 2016 (spurred in part by the runaway success of the Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism) to focus solely on music expos, normal service is resumed this year, with IQ quizzing the innovators behind some of the world’s leading family, film, sports and – yes – music exhibitions for our annual health check of the global market for touring expos.

Our latest examination of the sector comes as blockbuster shows such as Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, Star Wars Identities and Harry Potter: The Exhibition continue to pull huge audiences worldwide… and as rival producers plan to emulate their success with new exhibitions drawing on hitherto untapped IP, such as recently announced events based on HBO’s Game of Thrones and ITV’s Downton Abbey. But what does it take to be successful in a sector where shows run for months, not hours – and how are those on the front line making sure their exhibitions stand out amid a swell in both demand and supply?

Participation prize
A large part of the boom in the popularity of touring expos is down to the shows becoming increasingly more immersive, suggests Sophie Desbiens of Canada’s X3 Productions, with technological innovation rapidly obliterating the stereotype of museum exhibitions as reserved affairs attended by people standing in silence and looking politely at the collections.

“People want and expect highly immersive and innovative entertainment experiences”

Montreal-based X3 focuses on major, blockbuster-style exhibitions – specifically those licensed from Lucasfilm/ Disney – which Desbiens says appeal to a “broader audience than traditional exhibits”. The result, then, is that the “visiting public is changing”, with exhibitions such as X3’s Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology and Star Wars Identities “starting to interest people who wouldn’t normally go to a museum” by building interactivity into their design.

“Technology now delivers interactive experiences, so the days of exhibitions being mainly about artefacts and inanimate objects are no longer the main offering,” agrees Geoff Jones, CEO of Australian live entertainment giant TEG. “People want and expect highly immersive and innovative entertainment experiences, which also opens up new, younger audiences who might not have previously been seen dead in an exhibition.”


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World Touring Exhibitions turns 15

London-based World Touring Exhibitions this year celebrated its 15th year in business.

Formerly known as World Concert Artists, the company has since rebranded after successfully turning its attention to the touring exhibitions world. “We initially only represented exhibitions,” says founder Corrado Canonici, “but felt we had our own ideas as well, so going into producing our own was the natural next step.”

The company’s 15th anniversary year has been a successful one: Travelling Bricks (made of Lego bricks) has sold 40,000 tickets in its first month, while the brand-new Interactive Science exhibition recently opened with an encouraging presale of over 10,000 tickets. A 3D exhibition, meanwhile, is currently in production.


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