FestForums Webcast Surveys Industry Amidst COVID-19 Shutdown

Continuing to provide a space for live industry professionals to share information and encouragement while navigating the effective shutdown brought on by COVID-19, FestForums held its second livestream discussion March 24 on its Facebook page
The speakers on the webcast were Ray Waddell, President of Media and Conferences at Oak View Group (Pollstar’s parent company); Nancy Kennedy, director of partnerships for Seattle International Film Festival; Gordon Oldham, director of Rock Medicine; William Litvack, CEO of SquadUP; and Andrew Vandepopulier of Haas & Wilkerson Insurance.
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The speakers were introduced by Stephen Villoria of Backstage Pass and the discussion was moderated by Stuart MacNaught, co-founder of FestForums.
Waddell opened the discussion by sharing that there is still a lot of uncertainty about how long the live entertainment business will be shut down, saying shows are officially being postponed in the short term, but the next developments in the next few weeks will be pivotal in determining whether operations can begin by July and August, or whether the earliest reasonable date to hope for could be September.
“I’ve had some promoters and event producers tell me they are considering the year almost a wash. Others are ready to go,” Waddell said.
He said a big challenge on the horizon is figuring out when the avails will be and managing the strain on resources. 
“There are a limited number of days in a year. There are is a limited number of vendors, equipment, people to work these shows, and there’s going to be a limited amount of discretionary income,” Waddell said. 
Waddell went on to say one thing the industry is good at is raising money, citing the example of the Rolling Stones’ “Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto” concert to raise money after the SARS outbreak devastated the local economy, and Bandcamp’s recent raising of $4.3 million.
Waddell also said the impact of the outbreak would be seen in the way venues are designed and operate, as many more venues will likely move towards touch-free technology and experiences to limit the number of hands potentially exchanging germs. 
Kennedy described the effect the shutdown has had on the creative community and cinema businesses in Seattle, sharing the film festival was canceled for the year and that she has been laid off. 
Oldham shared that, as a contractor, communication right now is critical so that companies like his can make sure they are at as many events as possible. He said he expects there to be a big impact on the way food service operates at venues moving forward.  
Litvack, speaking as an independent primary ticketing company, talked about small and mid-market ticketing companies either going bankrupt or selling for “pennies on the dollar” if the shutdown extends long enough that they are unable to cover their operating expenses. 
“This is a double ‘Black Swan’ event for ticketing companies because we’re effectively dealing with two crises at once,” Litvack said. “The first is that our total addressable market has basically become zero for the next for our five months, effectively overnight. We’ve seen our daily revenue decrease by 98 percent during this period. 
“And then simultaneously, the mechanics behind cancellations and postponements are really complicated. We’ve had more than 4,000 event cancellations going out through July now, and all of these cancellations have different permutations and combinations that apply to them.  Some offer credits for future shows/festivals, some are doing full refunds, some are reimbursing credit card fees, some are not, some are on their own payment gateway, some are on our payment gateway, some have pre-settled funds. The actual mechanics of dealing with cancellations has been extremely challenging.”
He shared that SquadUP had to do a round of layoffs, but said his company is prepared to withstand any length of shutdown. 
Vandepopulier took the opportunity to answer many of the common insurance questions that are continuously being brought to him. The question he has asked 1,000 times is about cancellation insurance, and the answer is that there is currently no cancellation policy available in the market, period. If you purchased your policy before March 1, chances are there was nothing to exclude cancellation for anything related to COVID-19, but nothing like that is available anymore. The other question he is getting relates to business income insurance, and he said with most carriers you have to sustain a property loss before business income insurance starts paying out. He said he has had 15 clients cancel, from events with 1 million attendees to 15, but good agents will maintain an open dialogue.
The speakers generally seemed to agree it was very important at this time to be safe and follow guidance from the CDC while the U.S. operates in a preventative mode and that, though we don’t know when, the industry would be back, hopefully with the same strength and vigor that had previously led it into what Waddell described as a “golden age” of live. 
FestForums co-founder Laurie Kirby offered closing remarks, saying: “Looking at the feedback, I know some of you are very concerned that the news is grim, but let’s take the longer view. Festivals are one of the oldest collective human experiences and they are going to come back, they’re not going to be away forever. We are a generous group and we do take care of each other. 
“And I think this has been a powerful teaching moment, and the teaching moment is that we are all in this together. There is no us and them in this world, we are all part of the same, global, human experience. I think that is something we have to keep in mind and make sure we don’t lose sight of our human-ness and know each one of us is going through our own struggle, regardless of where we stand in the human experience.”
The next livestream will be held Wednesday, April 1, at noon PST on the FestForums Facebook page.