THE CHALLENGES OF EXPANDING MARKETS
Following an introduction by this year’s day host, Rod Laver Arena’s Meagan Walker, the 13th ILMC Production Meeting (IPM) got underway with a discussion about the challenges and opportunities involved in touring non-traditional, ‘expanding’ markets.
Ian Greenway of London-based production company LarMac Live, which works across the Middle East (including the UAE and, more recently, Saudi Arabia), emphasised that it’s essential western companies “don’t just turn up” to emerging markets, “put a zero on our quotes and run for the hills” – but rather lend their expertise and help put local crews on a solid footing for a sustainable future. “We need to make sure we leave these markets with a sense of self-esteem,” he explained.
Turning to the situation in the far east, panel chair Roger Barrett, of Star Events, drew a distinction between China and south-east Asia: In the former, he said, you can rent any of the equipment (largely local copies) you need for a major show, and nearly all production companies are staffed by full-time crew, with next to no freelancers available.
In south-east Asia, meanwhile – because of the limited number of major shows – “what we’re seeing now are a couple of companies based in Malaysia who have fairly well-trained crews who can turn their hand to pretty much anything,” Barrett explained, “and they’re travelling throughout south-east Asia. That’s a situation that’s really interesting and has only developed over the last 12 months or so.”
Production Pool’s Sanjin Corovic, a promoter-turned-production manager, described the unique situation in Serbia, which is surrounded by European Union countries but is itself outside the EU (drawing parallels with the post-Brexit UK), while Megaforce’s Brigitte Fuss and Bümo’s Schlanky Schilling, both based in Germany, spoke of their companies’ activities in eastern Europe.
Speaking from the audience, Jeff Burke from ES Global emphasised the opportunities in Japan, where ES is delivering part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games. “We’ve realised it really is the land of opportunity,” he explained. “They’re a contracting marketplace: the general population is getting older and there are no young people to work in the business we’re working in, so there’s a big gap. We identified that as an opportunity – and when the Olympics are done, we’re going to have a substantial business there.”
Often the most important thing when entering a new market is to make contact with the local consulate, said XD Motion’s Neil Levett, while ASM Global’s Tim Worton predicted India as the next land of opportunity: “They’re going to build a phenomenal number of venues,” he explained, “as it’s completely under-serviced” beyond cricket stadia and Bollywood-specific venues.
Returning to Greenway’s point about the importance of investing in local markets, Star Live’s Pete Holdich stressed the benefits for everyone of driving up standards globally. “If we leave a legacy of training local people, of bringing them up to the standards we’d expect to see, that’s only going to benefit us all,” he said.
IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME: STAGE PRODUCTION, DESIGN & DECOR
The second panel began with Coralie Berael, venue manager of Belgium’s Forest National, reflecting on the changing nature of stage production. As both venues and production get bigger, Berael posed the question: Where do we go from here?
From the design side, Mark Ager, managing director of the UK arm of Tait, explained that the main challenge is taking creative content and making it into a reality for touring, adding that it all works best when there is coordination between the artistic, technical and logistical processes.
Production manager Wob Roberts stressed the importance of having final designs as early as possible, to make the rehearsal period “an efficient machine” and bring down costs.
“The best circumstance is to have a clear idea what a show looks like before going on sale, but that’s idealistic,” said James Walker of the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), explaining that a venue’s role in the chain is not always as valued as it could be. “We need better links with production managers,” said Walker.
Roberts gave the example of a Genesis tour that went on sale before the design came in, leaving insufficient room for the stage. “We had to be really creative to fit into the capacity that had been sold,” said Roberts. “I learned to talk to management as much as possible to avoid similar situations in future.”
Does the audience really require all this production, if tours can sell out before the design has even been done, asked Berael. Roberts explained that the audience has certain levels of expectation for some stadium artists like U2 and Rolling Stones, but not so much for others. However, “the ego can kick in” on the artist’s side, with acts wanting as big a show as their counterparts, “and that’s when the problems start”.
Walker said it would be hard to draw audiences in for a second time without spectacular sets, while Ager stressed the importance of fan engagement, which is challenging in a stadium without big production. “Scale can sometimes outperform the the actors,” said Ager. “The more people you put in front of an artist, the more money they make, so our challenge is how to engage the maximum number of people.”
IPM day host Meagan Walker, general manager of Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena asked when is enough, enough? “The bigger we [venues] get, the bigger the show and production gets,” she said.
The panellists also broached the difficulties of loading into certain venues, with local councils imposing restrictions and buying up land around arenas in many city centres. “We need to work together and communicate very early on to avoid the stresses on the day itself,” said Berael.
Is there anything at the design level that can be changed to ease logistics? “We are always trying to minimise building time and think about loading,” said Ager. “But the artist is always going to want to push it further, and I’m not sure how to stop this.”
Ager stated it’s important to remember that venues are often a “tryout” for the shows themselves, but this is changing with many using places like Production Park to test production out.
“You’re actually touring a prototype – and that can go wrong,” reiterated Roberts, saying that it is key for venues to come and look at the production beforehand to pinpoint potential problems and discuss solutions with the production manager.
The issue of liability was also raised, with Roberts stating that it is difficult to get house riggers to sign off on the work they have done. Walker explained that there is a large amount of liability with venues anyway, so there is a degree of nervousness to accept more.
The panel ended with a talk on sustainability. Roberts said that, although he is “unsure whether you can call what we do sustainable”, the entertainment industry is a “great testing ground” for green initiatives.
SMALL VENUES: DOES SIZE REALLY MATTER
‘Does size really matter?’ was the question posed to IPM delegates at the day’s penultimate panel, which looked at the production challenges faced by venues with capacities from 25 to 5,000.
Serge Grimaux, from the 4,000-capacity Fórum Karlín in Prague, spoke on the pressures small venues without “anchor tenants” such as sports teams, face to fill their calendars. “As soon as you try to bring in other events – whether it’s a food festival, a smaller sporting fixture – you get into additional challenges to deliver them, and that’s where you need good production people to make things happen,” he said.
Unlike arenas and stadia, venues such as London’s Eventim Apollo (5,039-cap.) “have finite parameters,” said its production manager, Alice James. “Believe me, I’d love to make the stage bigger, move the back wall, give you three more truck bays… but our venue was built in the 30s and they didn’t think of things like lifts or getting big wardrobe cases into dressing rooms…”
To bridge any gap between artist and venue expectations, it’s important to “make sure our communication is strong – and early,” continued Luke Hinton, promotions manager at the 170-cap. Horn in St Albans, “because it can be that if additional equipment is required, for example, we could do things like reduce the saleable capacity of the show. But we have had occasions where we’ve only found that out after the show sold out, so it’s important to get that communication in early from both sides.”
“There has to be some compromise,” added Máté Horváth from Hunarian promoter DDW Music, “from both sides, such as making sure the management and the artist are understanding all the technical requirements. You have to work together and make it happen in the end.”
Unlike arenas, “people feel a love for their local grass-roots venue”, said chair Chris Jones, manager of Selby Town Hall in Yorkshire. “They often know the door staff, the sound engineer, in a way you don’t get in the bigger venues – where you go, you enjoy the experience and then you go home. They’re really a part of the local ecosystem in a way that bigger venues can’t be.”
That may be true, but the core challenges are the same – so Jones asked panellists to finish by reflecting on the similarities between production for shows in small and large venues.
Advancing, suggested James: “For example, [at the last minute] the band decide they want to film the show, which creates kills – but in a sold-out show there aren’t any seats to kill. I’ve talked to my colleagues at the O2 [Arena in London] and they’ve experienced the same thing.”
“You need great people” no matter the size of the venue, said Grimaux. “If I remember back to when I was working in a tiny venue, even if we were three people doing the job of ten or 15, you need to be dedicated and realise the role you have in that chain.”
“When you’re advancing a smaller venue, you have a more active role,” continued Horváth, “but what’s common is that all artists and touring personnel deserve to have best the possible show. This is something that has to apply equally for an arena and a 100-cap. room – no one should feel like they’re nothing special, just a band playing in a small room.”
“It’s not true that the bigger the venue, the bigger the problem,” Grimaux added. “The problems are the same. It’s the attitude that’s the most the important thing.”
DON’T STOP ME NOW: THE CONSEQUENCES OF SHOW CANCELLATIONS
Eps managing director Okan Tombulca introduced the session explaining that, although production-related cancellations were to form the bulk of the panel, the issues thrown up by the coronavirus (Covid-19) were now impossible to ignore.
Two of the panellists were forced to drop out for coronavirus-related reasons, as GMC Events’ Graham MacVoy was called to an emergency meeting and Benjamin Hetzer of FKP Scorpio joined by Skype due to a travel ban.
ASM Global’s Tim Worton said he was “blown away” by the number of reasons for event cancellations nowadays. Worton referred to the “fairly significant” bushfire crisis that gripped Australia until only a few weeks ago. Events including Lost Paradise, Day on the Green and Secret Sounds’ Fall Festival were cancelled due to poor air quality as a result of the fires.
Although not much can be done to prepare for this kind of natural disaster, said Worton, promoters and others have to be aware that cancelling may be the only option.
Hetzer spoke about different kinds of weather-related cancellations, referencing the storms that lead to the axing of Scorpio festival in 2016 and 2017. Hetzer stressed the importance of cooperation between organisers and the authorities in these situations to ensure the safe evacuation of any site.
In terms of deciding to call off an event, Martin Goebbels of Miller Insurance Services said insurers have to trust the judgement of production crews, promoters and local authorities. “I would always advise getting insurance as early as possible,” said Goebbels, emphasising that insurance should be used as a backstop, and not relied upon too much. “This is not an insurance panel, but an anti-insurance panel,” said Goebbels. “We want to work out how to sort things out before getting to that point.”
Worton said there is much more emphasis on verifying who goes in through the back door nowadays, as well as security and safety measures in general. “Productions are getting so big and complex, that the potential for problems increases exponentially,” he said.
Delegates from Eastern Europe discussed the variations with health and safety practices in different countries, with issues such as corruption, market size and local regulations affecting events of all sizes.
Talk then turned to coronavirus, which has caused recent show cancellations in Asia, as well as in France, Switzerland and Italy. Tombulca stated the virus is throwing up lots of questions but no answers at the moment.
“It’s such a nuanced subject,” said Worton, referring to the different restrictions on mass gatherings and cancellations of some shows. The on sales for a number of tours are being pushed back, said Worton, which “looks like it is going to be a recurring theme.”
Tour accountant Mike Donovan spoke from the floor saying that even losing a fraction of shows in a tour has a massive impact on profits. “It’s impossible to say what’s going to happen, but we will likely have a very serious downturn,” he said.
ITB agent Steve Zapp said it is very much about approaching the situation on a daily, or even hourly, basis at the moment.
Tombulca asked that if it came to a worst case scenario of shows being stopped for the next six months, who would be prepared? A resounding no came from the room, as different delegates explained that although board-level meetings, new procedures and hygiene standards were being put in place, uncertainty remained high.
“This is an unprecedented worldwide situation,” added Goebbels. Asked how the insurance industry is reacting to coronavirus, Goebbels explained that most UK insurers are excluding coronavirus from cancellation insurance cover from now on, saying that he imagined it would be the same for a lot of insurers elsewhere.
Tombulca added, “we need to prepare ourselves as much as possible for all potential scenarios, but at the end of the day, people need us and we are a very positive industry – we are working in the best industry in the world and make a lot of people happy every day.”