A Talk With Ovesen

For many years, people have said the Middle East was on the verge of becoming an emerging market for live entertainment. Be it global turmoil or economic recession – something always held it back. Thomas Ovesen, CEO of 117Live, plans to change that once and for all.

But he needs the industry’s help. 117Live is part of Al Ahli Holding Group, a conglomerate that deals in mining, plastic manufacturing and construction.

“We [at 117Live] are just the tail trying to wag the dog,” Ovesen says. “It means we have some resources within the group, which is why we’re building our own venue in Dubai.”

The approximately $65 million project, which is likely to be completed in two years, will be the city’s first indoor live entertainment facility and hold 25,000 people. It will be a major factor in reviving the region’s live entertainment market. The new arena is now designed to have a roof, “which will allow us to extend the season into the months that are too hot for outdoor events.” Being able to do shows 12 months a year instead of just eight means a potential increase in business by 50 percent.

There are a couple reasons why the Middle East is still largely overlooked as a live entertainment destination.

“Artist fees in general are so premium that the margins are not really worth it,” Ovesen explains. The 10 percent government tax on each ticket sold doesn’t help.

“For us to keep doing business there and justify the venue we’re building, we have to first change the market. “Right now, at best, there’s around 10 concerts in Dubai per year, produced across four, five operators. We’ll produce 30 live events a year once the new venue is built. So we have to educate and teach people to go to events on a regular basis. That requires a lot of work, and it’ll take years.”

Another step will entail lowering ticket prices. Thus, all savings 117Live will benefit from by building the new venue through Al Ahli Group will be invested into lowering ticket prices. “It will allow us to expand the volume of events without it costing us more. Then, in three, four years’ time, we can hopefully start building other parts of the business: get a naming rights deal, sponsorships for events, that kind of thing.”

Perhaps it’s not so much about convincing agents and artists not to take the big money. Perhaps it’s more about building opportunities for new talent, acts that are too small to attract an audience on their own, the promoter muses

For three years his festival Redfest was the only place in the region where up-and-coming artists could play in Dubai.

“They were too young to get a club gig, too small to get a feature show or a gig at another festival. But now, because of that festival, others have begun to book that kind of talent,” he explains. “But instead of continuing to support a market for new talent, the same agents that benefitted from it over the last three years are now demanding the likes of $150,000 to $300,000 for talents that perform for $50,000 to $75,000 in other markets.

“It’s just the nature of our business, the short-term opportunism that drives the whole thing.”