Page last updated at 23:55 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Economy sounds warning for festivals

By Simon Atkinson
Business Reporter, BBC News

Bestival 2008
It looks set to be a sticky time for the festival industry

As one of the UK's top DJs and music festival promoters Rob Da Bank is more familiar with disco balls than crystal balls.

But when it comes to forecasting the outlook for next summer's festival scene, he is just one of several industry experts warning that many of the UK's 500 or so events face an uncertain future.

A looming recession, surging unemployment and lack of investors is likely to push many smaller and medium scale events out of business, the Bestival curator says.

Memories of soggy festivals - and others which were washed out completely - may also make for a "more compact" scene next summer, he adds.

'Tighter show'

Key industry figures are meeting this week in a series of talks ahead of the UK Festival Awards - designed to celebrate everything from most sensational line-up to the top toilets of the 2008 season.

And it is sobering that even Rob da Bank, who has seen Bestival and its spin-off Camp Bestival, listed among the industry's biggest successes, is saying he may have to make cutbacks - perhaps with fewer performers.

"Agents certainly aren't lowering artists' fees. Fuel prices, haulage and power are all going up, yet we can't really put our ticket prices up," he says.

"The bottom line is that the show needs to get even tighter and when you're trying to spend more money on green policies and the level of service that people expect at festivals these days that's a tricky line to walk."

In times of crisis people still party and as long as the sun shines for at least five minutes next summer and we all hold our nerve we'll be all the stronger for it
Rob da Bank
Bestival & Camp Bestival

However he is optimistic both his shows are strong and different enough to survive most of the difficulties unscathed.

"In times of crisis people still party and as long as the sun shines for at least five minutes next summer and we all hold our nerve we'll be all the stronger for it."

Glastonbury warning

Estimates suggest the UK festival industry was worth about 900m in 2008.

But during the summer 18 events - from the Isle of Skye Festival to the Portsmouth and Southsea Festival -were cancelled in the weeks and months before they were due to take place.

Reasons given by organisers varied from tickets not selling, to funding getting more difficult as the credit crunch began to bite.

Music is always much better in hard economic times, but next year is looking pretty scary so it would be foolish to rely on optimism
Steve Jenner
VirtualFestivals.com

Even the Glastonbury Festival - usually a sell-out months in advance - only sold its final few thousand tickets in the days before the event, which Rob Da Bank said was "an early warning sign" for promoters to work harder on their shows.

But demand is still growing, says Steve Jenner, founder of VirtualFestivals.com - a website for festival goers and organisers - with more festival tickets sold in 2008 than 2007.

He is another to predict that the financial downturn will "streamline" the scene, with the less financially secure events the first to go.

Glastonbury 2008
Glastonbury took longer than usual to sell out this year

"Many festivals are struggling to sell enough tickets, and competition for headline acts is brutal. The recession will restore balance," he says.

And he argues the sector may be less hard hit than, for example, tourism, if punters choose to go to a festival rather than take a holiday.

"Music is always much better in hard economic times, but next year is looking pretty scary so it would be foolish to rely on optimism," adds Mr Jenner.

Individual identity

Despite the tight economy, some festivals will continue to throw vast sums at artists to secure their services.

Glastonbury, the Isle of Wight Festival and Download have the heritage that can help secure major acts, Mr Jenner says, "where the artist's ego has a personal preference to tap into that legacy".

But he adds that new events or smaller independent ones which lack multi-million point budgets have to "tap into the niche lifestyle of their customer-base" if they are to survive.

"This requires having a strong individual identity that a critical mass is able to plug into and feel a communal sense of 'belonging'," he says, citing festivals such as Latitude, End of the Road, and Secret Garden Party for doing this.

Relationship-building

Some industry observers say certain festivals are better placed to outride the financial downturn because their target audience - such as students and younger people are arguably less exposed to recession - so long as they remain in employment.

Promoters need to consider the facilities and organisation as much as they do the bill
Geoff Elliott
DF Concerts

Scotland's T in The Park is one event that is always a sell-out, but there is no room for resting on laurels says Geoff Elliott of DF Concerts, the promoters behind the event.

"Music fans have more choice than ever before so it is important to ensure that your event has a point of difference and that it builds a relationship with its fans by responding to them and growing with them every year," he says.

"Promoters need to consider the facilities and organisation as much as they do the bill.

Latitude Festival 2008
Festivals such as Latitude have been praised for their sense of community

"I'd like to think that our events are successful because we do learn from every one that we produce and we constantly try to make improvements to all aspects of our festivals - whether that is with regards to ticketing, parking, toilets or the layout."

Competitive pricing

Responding to all your customers needs has always been important, says Peter Elliot, managing director of Primary Talent which books artists for festivals and counts Kylie Minogue and Oasis among the acts on its books.

Medium and small festivals don't really make any money, if they're in profit at all
Rob da Bank

And while there remains an "increasing appetite" amongst people to attend festivals he says it is unrealistic not to consider that festival goers will be facing financial pressures.

"As money gets tighter there needs to be an effort to make sure that the cost of the festival experience once on site is kept at a manageable level - that things such as food and alcohol are competitively priced."

Like other organisers, Rob da Bank is hard at work in planning for next year's Bestival and Camp Bestival, and is philosophical about the realities of the economics of running events for many people.

"I know, talking to many promoters each and every week, that the medium and small festivals don't really make any money - if they're in profit at all. The amount of work that goes in 365 days a year to put on a show for three days is so extreme that in most other industries you'd be deemed insane," he says.

"But we still do it because we love it."

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SEE ALSO
Glastonbury 2007 'generated 73m'
10 Apr 08 |  Business

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