Newspapers & live events: There's money in affinity

Simon Jenkins went to four festivals this year: Glastonbury, The Hay Festival, the Welsh Eisteddfod and the CLA Game Fair.

(The CLA Game Fair? For metropolitan types among you, the CLA bit stands for Country Land & Business Association, and its Game Fair is a three-day festival of country pursuits.)

Last week, Jenkins found himself marvelling at the vast crowds that attended each of these events — vast crowds ‘being parted from considerable sums of money in the cause of affinity”.

Sensibly, Jenkins went on to argue that newspapers should emulate the music industry, which has ‘cast off its enslavement to recording studios and recast itself, almost in Victorian mode, as a mass movement for live audiences”.

At EMI, Guy Hands wouldn’t recognise this description of an industry ‘casting off enslavement”, but one thing’s for sure: if it doesn’t already, the music industry as a whole will soon generate more revenue from live performance than it does from the sale of CDs and MP3 files.

The increase in performance revenues is compensating for the decline in physical music sales. The lessons for publishers are obvious.

As our lives become more virtual, as the number of shared national moments on telly dwindles, we crave live experience more than ever. It’s partly a tribal thing: attending Glastonbury or Glyndebourne says a lot about who you are.

It’s also partly about the increasing importance of experiences as opposed to products. Not for nothing does an entire sub-sector of the marketing industry devote itself to experiential marketing. In an increasingly digital world, retailers need to find more ways of getting their products in front of us so that we can look at them, touch them, smell and taste them.

Broadcasters have been quicker than newspapers to satisfy this craving. Apparently, the public’s taste for Top Gear has been sufficient to sustain ‘a £20m world tour”, produced in associated with Clarion Events.

Like Top Gear, Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs started out as a reviews-based show, only to become a vehicle for all sorts of collectively-held aspirations. The original TV programme (produced by Fremantle Media and broadcast on Channel 4) has given birth into a huge exhibition (organised by Media 10).

Along the way, there’s been a massive expansion of focus. On telly, Grand Designs concerns itself with self-build homes. At the NEC, in October, it promises to interest ‘anyone who has an interest in design, build, interiors, shopping, home wares, gardens, kitchens & bathrooms, and innovation”.

Who’s to say that the Mail, the Guardian or the Times or the Telegraph can’t mobilise similar numbers of fans? Grand Designs is watched by around 5m viewers eight times a year, with repeats driving up reach. But the whitetops reach several million readers every day, and their brands have been around a lot longer.

Intrigued, I decided to look up the financial performance of the four festivals that Jenkins mentions in his column. The results were interesting:

Glastonbury: As the great-grandaddy of them all, Glasto is an exception to the rules in terms of size. But its size hasn’t restricted growth: even this well-established event is growing rapidly. In 2005, revenues were £16.3m. As you might recall, there was no event in 2006. But in 2007, revenue shot up to £22.3m. The numbers make me wonder whether Glastonbury broke through the £40m barrier this year.

The Hay Festival: Here, too, there’s significant growth. In 2005, Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts Limited generated £1.2m in revenues. Revenues grew by 22% in 2006, and by a further 26% in 2007. But 2008 was the breakthrough year, with revenue expanding by 53% to £2.9m – probably due to international expansion. Whatever the reason, the company behind The Hay Festival has more than doubled in size in the space of three years.

The National Eisteddfod Of Wales: The only registered charity on the list, and the only one that describes itself as ‘a process rather than an event”. Eisteddfod has reputedly been dogged by financial problems. But its topline looks healthy enough. In 2008, it generated revenues of £3.8m.

The CLA Game Fair: According to the most recent set of accounts at Companies House, the Game Fair generated revenues of £3.2m in 2006. The event was called off in 2007 ‘due to the appalling weather”. But in 2008, it generated £3.8m. Once again, the growth rate is impressive: 18%.

The story is consistent and obvious. Simon Jenkins is correct: there’s money in live events. Investing in them should be a no-brainer for newspapers.

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