Live and big-ticket

Best seats taken: NH7 Weekender began as a music fest in Pune in 2010 and quickly grew into a multi-city event with a mix of music, comedy, food and more

Vijay Nair, CEO and co-founder of Only Much Louder

Dig in British actor-comedian Russell Brand takes stage at Comedy Central Chuckle

Sabbas Joseph, director of Wizcraft International Entertainment

Big on Bollywood: Domestic gigs mostly rely on tinsel town for inspiration

BLink12_live_OML1.jpg

The organised events industry in India has grown to a staggering ₹4,258 crore in 2014-15, marked by heavy footfalls and an audience willing to shell out big bucks to be entertained

When American comedian trio Gabriel Iglesias, Paul Varghese and Eddie Ifft toured India during Comedy Central Chuckle in 2013, over 6,000 people turned up to laugh at their act, paying ₹2,000 per head. This year, British actor-comedian Russell Brand opened the second season of the festival, organised by Live Viacom18. The tickets were priced 75 per cent higher — ₹3,500 each — but the footfall only increased, to 15,000.

This was the refrain at NH7 Weekender as well, the festival organised by Only Much Louder (OML), which is growing by leaps and bounds with every edition. What began in 2010 as a music fest in Pune quickly grew into a multi-city event, with five cities playing host this year to its mix of music, comedy, food and more.

As more Indians tune in to international music and comedy, live events are turning money-spinners for organisers.

From ₹2,800 crore in 2011-12, the organised events industry in India has grown to a staggering ₹4,258 crore in 2014-15 — a 15 per cent rise. It is expected to touch ₹5,779 crore in 2016-17, according to a report by Ernst &Young. At the heart of this industry are music, theatre, comedy and dance shows, besides events centring on cartoon characters and Bollywood. This also includes event-related intellectual property — such as Sunburn, for instance — owned wholly or partly by the event management company concerned. Also in the mix are managed events, namely brand launches and concerts, and digital events, which connect audiences through a shared digital environment.

Jaideep Singh, Viacom18 Media’s senior vice-president and business head for integrated network solutions, points out that international live shows are outshining the growth of domestic ones. “In international, the size is larger and multiple genres have been added. The domestic events are still largely around Bollywood,” he says.

The rapid growth notwithstanding, India remains a nascent market for organised events. Sabbas Joseph, director of Wizcraft International Entertainment and president of Event & Entertainment Management Association (EEMA), says the market size in India pales in front of the nearly $12-billion live events economy in New York.

But it’s a market with potential. “We are a country where 60 per cent of the audience is young. They don’t necessarily migrate to TV or traditional media and are looking to experience live media every moment of the day,” Singh says.

Ten-year-old Aryav Menon would testify to this. A regular at live events built around cartoon characters, he says, “It is a kind of experience that can never be achieved through television or 3D movies. The characters come alive and are interactive. From Enid Blyton’s Noddy to Japanese robot Doraemon, the young Menon has “interacted” with them all at the many live events he has attended with his parents in Delhi.

Ready money

Joseph adds that young audiences today — comprising largely of executives, professionals and students — are earning a lot more than they did a decade ago.

“The only perfect, real opportunity for entertainment is live events,” he says. That explains the spurt in the number of festivals and concerts, and the spike in ticket prices.

The middle-income group has more disposable income today but its entertainment options have been limited to malls and movies, says Singh. The desire for more experiential entertainment is bound to shore up the fortunes of the live events industry.

Moreover, this trend is true of not just the top cities but also tier 2 and tier 3 centres, which have gradually warmed up to the idea of music events and gigs as the ultimate entertainment option. From Jaipur and Indore to Guwahati and Bhubaneswar, there are enough takers for tickets priced upwards of ₹1,000 for live shows.

“Quite a few tier 1 cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru are getting saturated with events and we are starting to see interest and response from other cities,” says Vijay Nair, CEO and co-founder of OML.

“The Indian consumer is very aspirational. The rising disposable income and willingness to spend have made live events bigger in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. While most of them are Bollywood-based, gradually many international events are also taking place there,” Singh adds.

In line with this trend, NH7 Weekender is travelling to Shillong (apart from Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru) this year while the India International Dance Festival is pitching tent in Bhubaneswar. “What becomes regular fare in tier 1 then migrates to tier 2 cities and, from there, to tier 3 cities… I can see a sea change,” says Joseph.

Alongside the rapid growth in demand, the live events industry is grappling with challenges of its own. The biggest is a lack of venues. “There are not enough venues for live events. We have to put up everything from scratch in open grounds,” rues Singh. Right from the backstage to parking lots, creating every manner of infrastructure and dealing with a multitude of vendors makes the entire process complex and time-consuming for the organisers.

Licence to thrill

Another big challenge is securing approvals from the fire safety department, police, municipality and other authorities. “Anywhere between six and 16 permissions are needed for each event, depending on the city and state. There is no single-window clearance and the process can take months,” says Joseph.

Nair knows this better than most. His company had to cancel the much-awaited Jerry Seinfeld show in Mumbai after the police refused to give licences for the weekend event at NSCI citing traffic issues. “Apart from licensing and infrastructure issues, this sector doesn’t have a huge appetite for risk, in general. This really needs to change and people should be willing to sample events for this industry to change and develop,” says Nair.

Yet another stumbling block is the requirement that organisers should pay entertainment tax before the tickets are sold. Ranging from 0-50 per cent, this tax makes it unviable to hold many events, says Joseph. That means, despite the rise in ticket sales, most events just about break even or remain loss-making propositions. “The pricing (of tickets) is not appropriate. They are not on the higher side. That is why a majority of the ticketed events tend to be loss-making,” says Joseph.

Viacom18’s Singh says sale of tickets has increased by 30-35 per cent in the last three years. Yet, it is important to have robust sponsors to ensure that an event brings in profits. For high-profile events, sponsorship brings in 50-60 per cent of the revenues, “and that is when you can make your event viable,” says Singh. Viacom18 is looking to break even now — in its third year — on the back of sponsorships.

Nair pegs sponsorship at 50-80 per cent of the earnings in the Indian live event sector. “Brands have realised that this is a great way to activate their products directly in front of consumers. For many brands, it is great for direct sampling and gaining immediate feedback on the product,” he adds. For organisers, it means a cut in costs.

Joseph points out, however, that the future of the industry depends not only on growing demand but also government support. “There is neglect towards the sector. Some kind of subsidy or support is needed,” he says.

A few governments have, in fact, recognised the potential of the sector and are actively looking for ways to minimise the challenges faced by organisers. Joseph points to the Delhi government’s single-window clearance for live events and the Maharashtra government’s efforts to engage with the live events industry to resolve bottlenecks.

In the meantime, it’s all sweat and toil backstage, as the live show must go on… enthralling millions of Indians.



Published on September 11, 2015

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