A Look Back At 2009

Things sure can change in 12 months.

Our review led off a year ago with news that Live Nation and Ticketmaster were jockeying for position as they prepared to become intense competitors. Today, it’s still all about maneuvers but this time it’s to merge the two companies into one entertainment industry behemoth.

The early months of 2009 were about Live Nation Ticketing. Would a new ticketing company based on a German software system succeed as a competitor to the almighty Ticketmaster? The company’s first major ticket on-sale was for Phish, but was overshadowed by a wave of fan complaints. Within the week, sources fed the Wall Street Journal with rumors that Live Nation and Ticketmaster were going to make nice. The next major Live Nation tour to go on sale was quietly run through the TM system.

Ticket purchases at LiveNation.com began reverting to the Ticketmaster back-end for order processing.

The U.S. Department of Justice still hasn’t made a decision to let the merger go forward without at least some major concessions. But in the year’s waning weeks the U.K.’s Competition Commission reversed itself from a previous, tentative rejection and gave its go-ahead.

In February, independent promoters Jerry Mickelson of Jam Productions and Seth Hurwitz of I.M.P. joined Live Nation President/CEO Michael Rapino and Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff on the dais at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the proposed merger. Mickelson and Hurwitz were there not to praise the merger but to bury it. Global Spectrum’s Peter Luukko, on the other hand, went to Washington to give the merger a thumbs-up.

Rapino and Azoff spent the year trying to make the merger palatable to regulators and shareholders. Proxy statements and reports were mailed to Live Nation and Ticketmaster shareholders, with a vote on the issue scheduled to take place Jan. 8. The DOJ had not weighed in at press time but a decision on the government’s position was expected in Q1.

If it weren’t for the LN/TM marriage proposal, another merger might have been the top business story of 2009.

William Morris Agency and Endeavor announced in April their intention to combine, creating WME Entertainment and the fading away of the fabled William Morris name after 111 years.

WMA had the one thing Endeavor was lacking: the world’s largest music division. Endeavor already had hot film and television units; the amalgam created a full-service agency to rival Creative Artists Agency.

However, there were still some “redundancies” – as corporate human resources departments put it – and about 120 staff members got pink slips including WMA CEO Jim Wiatt.

Then there was the Day The Earth Stood Still. Michael Jackson died on the eve of the AEG promoted 50-concert “This Is It” residency at London’s O2 arena.

The death of the 50-year-old Jackson from a lethal mixture of sedatives created a Shakespearean drama yet to have its final scene.

As much as $30 million needed to be refunded to fans and AEG needed to find a way to balance out its production costs. AEG Live chief Randy Phillips briefly became a CNN staple, talking to Anderson Cooper and Larry King, as an eyewitness to Jackson’s last hours and as the spokesman for the future of “This Is It.”

AEG arranged for the Staples Center to serve as the location for a public memorial broadcast globally on July 7. In the meantime, AEG locked down more than 100 hours of “This Is It” rehearsal footage while attorneys for Jackson’s family and MJ’s creditors began lining up to stake claims and point fingers.

MJ’s father, Joe Jackson, made the talk show rounds with concert promoter Leonard Rowe, accusing AEG Live of “controlling” Michael and playing a role in his death. Dr. Conrad Murray, who administered the final, lethal dose of propofyl to Jackson June 24, dove for cover after Los Angeles police announced he was the target of a homicide investigation.

The rehearsal footage was edited into “This Is It,” which reportedly became the highest-grossing concert movie of all time. MJ’s catalog took over the upper reaches of album sales charts around the globe.

By the time the ball dropped in Times Square, it was believed that AEG Live had more than recouped its losses. That is, if one doesn’t include a possible judgment against AEG, Jackson manager Frank Dileo and others by AllGood Entertertainment, which filed suit in July claiming the O2 run represented a breach of contract with Michael Jackson for a reunion tour in 2010. The suit is still pending in a New York court.

Of course, some 2009 concert business news actually took place on stage.

U2 mounted a gargantuan tour that featured a 150-foot-high stage that was alternately referred to by the designers as “The Spaceship” and by fans as “The Claw.” Tour demands required three massive contraptions be built and it was estimated the production overhead was around $750,000 per day – show or no show.

The tour hit a high point with a sellout at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., that was webcast live worldwide, setting records for both endeavors.

And what of Taylor Swift? Her rising popularity spearheaded a moment that would change the world – and touring plans – for Kanye West and Lady Gaga.

Swift not only had a successful tour and this year’s best-selling album, the 19-year-old cleaned up at the American Music Awards, picked up eight Grammy nominations and a “Saturday Night Live” hosting spot.

But it was also the MTV Video Music Awards where Swift became the unwitting target of West’s immortal interruption of her “best female video” acceptance speech, that made Swift part of the lexicon of 2009. The fallout was so great that, for a while, West found a better hideout than Tiger Woods.

No real-life drama has demarcation points of Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, and that is certainly true of all of the above. Live Nation will merge with Ticketmaster or not, and the Jackson drama will some day go away. And the economy will soon rise or fall and you can bet Kanye West will return (in all caps).