LN To Head Further East?

Live Nation appears to be preparing to expand further into eastern and southern Europe and has already tried to establish a foothold in the Balkan states, sources say.

Local sources say that former Live Nation Finland chief Risto Juvonen, currently on sabbatical, will return to head the U.S. live entertainment giant’s push into the Baltic states and Russia.

If the sources are correct, it appears he would take up a new post as head of a newly created Eastern division, which would focus on regularly driving LN’s European tours beyond Scandinavia and on through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and then possibly to Russia.

Nina Castrén, who stepped up to chief exec at Live Nation Finland during Juvonen’s absence, would stay in that position. Scott Lavender would remain head promoter, another role effectively handled by Juvonen, and Johan Hollsten would continue looking after a division that handles family entertainment and special events.

LN International chief exec Alan Ridgeway wouldn’t “confirm or deny” that this is his company’s strategy for further expanding its European borders.

But Pollstar has learned that his company did make an effort to find out if Charmenko, the Istanbul-based agency specialising in booking acts for the increasing number of festivals springing up in the old Eastern bloc, might be for sale.

Charmenko chief Nick Hobbs, who has at times been critical of the way American entertainment giants have expanded into Europe, says he was “sounded out” about selling his company but the matter never went further than the initial approach.

Having a business bringing talent to Turkey and the surrounding region would clearly be useful for LN. In October 2006, its now newly merged partner Ticketmaster became the major ticket-seller in Turkey by buying market-leader Biletix for a reported $17 million.

An alternative LN target might be Pozitif Productions, the Istanbul-based promoter that’s just recruited former Charmenko talent buyer Baris Basaran to book its Turkish festivals. Pozitif also has a longstanding relationship with Biletix.

At ILMC 2004, LN chief Michael Rapino, then Clear Channel Entertainment’s chief exec for international music, began the company’s push east by beginning the negotiations that eventually led to the acquisition of Lazlo Hegedus’ Multimedia Concerts in Hungary, Serge Grimaux and Robert Porkert’s Interkoncerts in the Czech Republic, and Steven Todd and Hubert Stajniak’s Odyssey in Poland.

It also bought Multimedia International from Tim Dowdall, who reportedly made the approach to Hobbs.

During that 2004 conference, Rapino and then CCE chairman Brian Becker also talked to Nadia Solovieva’s Moscow-based SAV Entertainment, but they subsequently gauged the Russian market to be “too risky.”

It’s not known if LN has reopened talks with SAV, its regular working party in Russia, or whether it’s looking to set up its own office in the country.

It’s also not known if it would try to buy Peeter Rebane’s Baltic Development Group Music, its usual partner in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or set up its own office in the region.

Rebane sent Pollstar a statement saying there are “no active negotiations” about selling BDG Music to LN.

“We have been partners in the Baltics with Thomas [Johannson], Tor [Nielsen] and Risto for 11 years already, yielding a close and very positive cooperation,” it said. “Live Nation has played the most important role in developing the Baltic market, so it would be natural for us to take the next step one day.”

There would be doubts about the viability of Live Nation setting up its own shop in The Baltics. The three countries have a combined population of just 7 million, speaking one of four languages including Russian.

BDG Music, which is based in Estonia but also promotes in Latvia and Lithuania, would struggle to cover overheads if it relied on live shows.

Other parts of BDG have nightclubs, a major share in Tallinn’s recently opened Nokia Concert Hall and the surrounding shopping mall, and TV and film production interests. The Nokia Hall, which opened in the fall of 2009, already has more than 180 events in its 2011 diary.

Finnish and Baltic sources suggest LN may find it easier to set up its own office in St. Petersburg, which would avoid whatever problems it may encounter in Moscow and is also much closer to all the Baltic capitals.

By air it’s within easy commuting distance of Juvonen’s current base in Helsinki. The train journey takes only 3.5 hours.

Stories of LN expanding further into the old Communist countries are hardly a new thing.

Rapino has had his eyes on the former Soviet states for at least a decade.

As long ago as January 2001 he told Pollstar, “The old Eastern bloc countries are opening up much faster now and becoming viable concert destinations and transit routes, which will bring these emerging markets into an ever-growing European tour circuit.”

One of the latest – and apparently untrue – rumours about LN expansion in the region was in June 2008, when newspaper and radio reports from around The Balkans said the company offered euro 15 million for Exit Festival in Serbia.

“I heard about it on the news and it’s flattering to hear such a company as Live Nation is showing an interest. It shows our work to be of value – even if the reports are entirely speculative,” Exit co-founder Bojan Boskovic said at the time.

A year earlier, the Exit team worked with Live Nation to produce a one-day festival at Indjija, a small Serbian town about 30 miles outside of Belgrade on the road to Novi Sad, where Exit is staged.

It was headlined by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kasabian.