Festival Forum: Franchises & new formats
Chair: Natasha Bent, Coda Agency (UK)
Steve Homer, AEG Live (UK)
Christof Huber, Open Air St. Gallen/Yourope (CH)
Jan Quiel, ICS Festival Service (DE)
Nuno Sousa Pinto, Rock in Rio (BR)
How can festivals stay relevant in an increasingly competitive environment? To discuss this question, host Natasha Bent (CODA) welcomed Steve Homer (AEG Live), Nuno Sousa Pinto (Rock in Rio), Jan Quiel (ICS Festival Service) and Christof Huber (WePromote/OpenAir St. Gallen) on stage.
Bent wanted to know what was more important: the headliners or the experience. “I think it’s the experience,“ answered Quiel. He talked about the failed experiment to take Wacken Festival out of the city of Wacken and do Wacken Rocks somewhere else. “You can’t do it in another city, let alone country.”
What worked well, on the other hand, at least for ICS, was creating new formats, such as the Full Metal Cruises – 2,000 metal fans on a one week-cruise – which sell-out in no time, or the winter event Full Metal Mountain.
Homer spoke about the Desert Trip premiere in 2016, which proved that people are willing to pay huge amounts of money for tickets if the experience they receive in return is unique. All of the veteran acts that played the event – the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Water, The Who – are still very much out there on tour. In that sense, “there wasn’t anything unique about any of the individual acts, it was just the combination of those artists” that had not been seen before, said Homer.
Huber said Switzerland had many festivals that worked because they built strong brands over many years, such as Paleo or OpenAir St. Gallen. He said that it wouldn’t work to simply announce a giant bill and expect a huge crowd in year one, at least not in his country.
Pinto took the audience through a brief history of Rock in Rio, an example of a festival that successfully built a brand-sponsored franchise. He explained how festivals reached out to many different people through a diverse line-up, which made them important to sponsors.
Bent wanted to know whether smaller festivals could still compete in the current environment. Homer said it was still about the offering, and if it was unique enough and was what the customer wanted, it would work. “The success in the last five years has been on the side of boutique festivals,” Homer said. People bought into the experience.
Huber said it was difficult: “We’re still independent, but the pressure is intense. Competing with a multinational is not easy. Most of us are crazy, as far as the risk we take is concerned. You cannot survive with two or three years of less sales.”
Huber said one had to go new ways. He brought up Feel Festival in Germany as an example of a relatively young festival that sold-out in no time without having a big bill, because “they tell the audience a story.”
Bent pointed out the balance that had to be struck between getting the fees that an artist demanded and maintaining a good relationship with promoters who helped build the act.
Pinto agreed: “There has to be a balance. The artists need the money and the promoters and festivals are now the main platforms for the artist to earn money. If you kill promoters you won’t have a platform.” Which is why he lamented the trend of artist fees increasing. “Be as fair as possible,” he said.
Winding up the panel, Bent asked each panelist for their top tips for up-and-coming promoters. Said Quiel: “Giving people a really good, special experience is the most important thing. And always think about new formats.”
For Huber the key thing was building “a real connection with the audience, so they love the brand. Communicate in an honest way. Sometimes there’ll be a shit storm, but honesty will be appreciated in the end.”
Homer emphasised that people expected more from events these days. “You have to listen to your audience.” And Pinot added: “It’s about evolution. Meet expectation, but also surprise them.”
So what’s next in terms of formats, Bent asked. To which Pinto replied: “Everybody’s looking for that.”