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Live Nation summer revenues down 95%, but company talks of cautious optimism and being prepared

By | Published on Friday 6 November 2020

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Live Nation yesterday used an investor update to big up the enduring demand for live entertainment; talk about some plans, systems and technologies that will help get live music back up and running next year; and then – in a super reassuring tone – make some statements about liquidity and cost management. Though what most people would have taken away from the update is that the live giant’s quarter three revenues were down 95% year-on-year, resulting in losses of about $319 million.

Of course, those headline stats are in no way surprising, simply hammering home the impact of COVID-19 on live entertainment. As Live Nation boss Michael Rapino mused in his investor update: “There have been no major changes in our business conditions or outlook over the past three months, and while we see signs of promise around the world as some live events return, most regions we operate in continue to have various restrictions on live events”.

The quarter three figures were slightly less bad than quarter two, when revenues were down 98% with losses of $568 million. Though the slight improvements in quarter three probably aren’t really worth bragging about. And Live Nation didn’t. Instead, the stats Rapino was most keen to share related to how many music fans have chosen to keep hold of tickets for postponed shows and how well ticket sales were doing for the 2021 editions of the company’s music festivals.

Fan demand for live entertainment remained high, he said. “Our sales and survey data tell us fan demand will be there when the time is right. Our refund rate on rescheduled shows remains consistently low, with 83% of fans globally keeping their tickets. Our recent global survey indicates that 95% of fans are planning to return to live music events when restrictions are lifted, the highest point of confidence since the start of the pandemic”.

On the festivals front, he went on: “Festival on-sales for next year have been strong, with EDC Las Vegas 2021 sold out in less than 24 hours at a higher capacity than last year, and with ticket sales for Reading, Creamfields and Isle of Wight festivals in the UK all pacing ahead of last year at this time”.

He also shared some albeit cautious optimism about when live entertainment will be able to resume, despite the current second surge of COVID in many countries. “We are encouraged by progress on testing technology, treatments and vaccines, which helps us build our plans”, he said. “We still expect shows at scale next summer, but recognise that the exact timeline of this return will vary by region, and so we continue to focus on remaining flexible”.

That partly means getting ready to run shows with extra restrictions, for when COVID rules are sufficiently relaxed to allow commercially viable concerts, but some extra regulations are still in place. Rapino talked about the technology solutions being developed by Live Nation’s ticketing business Ticketmaster, and the ‘set of standards’ being honed by the company’s promoters and venues so that they are ready to go during that viable-but-still-restricted phase.

“We are collaborating with health experts to create show guidelines that put in place procedures which can adapt to various situations, across all regions”, he told investors. “From venue sanitation procedures to fan-friendly policies on ticket purchases and the latest testing options, we are setting standards that will give fans, crews and artists peace of mind before, during and after the show”.

So, the preparations have been made, the tech is ready to go. But now, like the entire live sector, Live Nation has to sit and wait, and tackle the uncertainty of when, exactly, things will start to return to something nearing normal, on both a country by country and global basis.