FestForums got together professionals from different segments of the festival industry on March 17 in the first of what will be many livestream discussions to share information and updates as COVID-19 continues to disrupt business worldwide.
The speakers, all attending via video conference, were Dough Richter of Meritage Entertainment; Kurt Miner of Allianz Risk Consulting; Steven Adelman of Adelman Law Group; Shawn Simms from KC Medical, Inc.; Steve Knopper of Billboard; and Stephen Villoria of MediaPOINTE. The discussion was moderated by FestForums co-founder Laurie Kirby.
The discussion touched on myriad subjects, but a common theme was that it is simply unknown at this time how long efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 will stop the live entertainment industry from functioning.
Adelman opened the discussion by sharing that he didn’t have a lot of positive news, and that events being canceled or postponed puts subcontractors who were to stage the show out of business and unsure if they have any recourse. He clarified the legal definition of “force majeure” and said that there is likely no way around the fact that independent contractors will suffer greatly from this disruption.
Miner said his company is dealing with lots of cancellations in the live business and in film and said the fallout of COVID-19 would likely reshape the entertainment industry permanently.
“I see this really changing our industry. … It will end, but it will shape how we run our festivals coming up. I will be looking at the whole new frontier of hand-washing stations, sanitizing stations. What are we doing to protect ourselves from this happening at our venues. We’re gonna be looking at those things with all the other things that we look at, and it may have substantial costs for the promoters.”
Knopper made the point that as the story evolves it is extremely important for people to get their information from reliable sources and learn to ignore messages coming from unreliable sources. He identified the CDC and WHO as excellent places to take advice from.
Simms said it is very important for everyone to be vigilant, and the number one thing for people to understand is that if they are sick, they need to stay home. He referenced studies indicating that frequent washing with soap and water is more effective than use of hand sanitizer in preventing the spread of the virus causing the disease.
Richter explained how his upcoming culinary festival, Harlem Eat Up, has been postponed and it has been crucial to stay on board with sponsors, as they are a key source of revenue, though it is obviously a difficult time to be calling to ask for money. He also mentioned he is scared as an independent agency about the disruption of income. “What can I do if everything that I [organize] is getting postponed and it’s all connected?” He said he is focusing on marketing and improving his website to make the most of the downtime.
Villoria said he relates streaming to toilet paper, in that people will thoughtlessly rush to streaming when their event is postponed, creating mediocre experiences. “What people are missing, is that the engagement of the audience is what the live performance is [all about]. I’m in the streaming business, I would love to stream all the artists’ concerts and have that fill our tank from a business revenue standpoint. But at the end of the day, the industry is going to transform, whether its temporary or permanently, to understanding that audience engagement is done one way online, it is done one way live.”
One takeaway from multiple speakers was that the entertainment industry is above average when it comes to different entities coordinating and working together, which will be necessary to overcome the challenges arising daily.
“What matters is our family, friends, community, and industry,” Kirby told Pollstar. “I know this industry will support its people and each other, of that I feel very confident.”
Kirby told Pollstar the reason she and co-founder Stuart MacNaught are organizing these calls was because they saw their colleagues in the festival business were scared, frightened, defensive and understandably upset.
“Our conference was borne out of a love of the concert industry and a desire to improve profitability and experience, having worked in it for years,” Kirby said. “This is a digital extension of what we do. Our first frontline is the live experience, but since we can’t do that, we're going to pivot to a digital platform.”
“Our collective community needs to be supportive. Our role at fest forums is to give as much information as possible.”
When the world isn't in the throes of a global pandemic, FestForums organizes interactive conferences and networking events, the next of which is to be held in Santa Barbara, Calif., in November.
When discussing the challenges that may lie on the horizon for the festival industry, Kirby acknowledged the concerns about a labor crunch brought up byIsaac Rothwell when discussing
organized by contractors and event specialists, saying calendars and coordination can help if we can be certain shows will go on, but it is going to be difficult to understand how to get past the COVID-19’s disruptive economic effects until we know how long they will last.
“The harsh reality is that people will be displaced economically,” Kirby said. “In the survey that we did, with the exception of one festival, all of them are being impacted economically.
“Those people who do not have a safety net, are going to be severely impacted by all this.”
The March 16 livestream was actually a rescheduled event, as the initial conversation originally supposed to be held March 11, but due to a local internet outage in Santa Barbara it was delayed.
Based on the response from participants and audience members, discussions will be held on a weekly basis on theFestForums Facebook page
, with the next one scheduled for Wednesday, March 25, at noon PST.