Q’s With MooTV’s Scott Scovill: Taking On An ‘Unseen Enemy” in COVID-19 (And Producing Garth!)

Scott Scovill
Jason Squires / Getty Images for Pollstar
– Scott Scovill
Scott Scovill accepts one of MooTV’s many Pollstar Awards, this time in 2015 at the Ryman Audito-rium in Nashville.

Scott Scovill, co-founder of venerable Nashville-based concert video production company MooTV, has been a pioneer in the touring production world, with MooTV a near-perennial winner at industry awards ceremonies including the Pollstar Awards, Parnellis and others for its work with longtime clients like Brad Paisley, rising stars like Chris Young and legends like the one and only Garth Brooks.

Scovill himself has seen ups and downs in the industry, such as the Nashville flood of 2010 that literally had his company underwater and the Route 91 Harvest shooting of 2017 which his crew was working. 

However, with COVID-19, “In this case, our enemy is unseen and, while it’s not necessarily evolving, the scope of the problem is evolving as it spreads,” Scovill says. “The rules are just changing, every time you turn around.” 

As the concert production world takes a huge blow from the coronavirus-related bans on gatherings, Scovill says he’s busier than ever, in a whole new way, as he talked to Pollstar while in the middle of taking on a somewhat unusual project for him – producing video for Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s CBS special that airs from their in-home Studio G this Wednesday. 

He’s also been working with the CMA to help gather information about the impact of the coronavirus on the concert business “so they can help the government better understand how great our need is.”
Pollstar: How does something like the Garth special come together so quickly? Is this a normal type of project for you?
Scott Scovill: Definitely not! Occasionally I’ll do something like this. What happens is an artist will develop a comfort and trust in me, and a weird one will come up and they’ll say “Let’s have Scott do it.” The artist texted us last night, ‘What do you think?’  I said yeah, I want to help in any way I can. Management called, said they want to do it, and ‘I’d like to conference you in with the head of the network in five minutes’ (laughs).

I’m not charging Garth to produce his show. It’s something I can do to help entertain America, we are the entertainment business and I am proud to be able to do something this month to help people through this time.

What’s your work day like right now?
Actually I’ve found I’m busier than I’ve ever been. We have zero income now, so, when trying to do projections for how long we can survive, we go by what we know.  So, OK, if it’s two months of no business and we have this much in the bank, how long will we survive? That equation is very difficult to run. By the time my business managers finished running that and we made a plan and emailed all our people, things started changing. Then you started to see two months probably isn’t it. That was a big change. 
As a company we welcome our responsibility to our staff. How do we help get everybody through it? That’s what’s been so hard, it’s an unprecedented, historical event. The rules are just changing, every time you turn around. 
OK we’ve got a line of credit and are able to extend that line of credit. We own some real estate. Can we mortgage it? The bank says it’s going to be a while, with everyone trying to refinance at once right now. All of those things have given me a lot to do.
My business managers and I have never talked more.It’s been over an hour a day, where it used to be more like an hour per week.  I’m the owner or part owner of four companies, with 160 employees across all four. 
The timing wasn’t great on this thing, either.
We were just ramping up. It’s important to note it happened at the worst time it could. We just finished buying gear for all the majors tours that we think needed something. They’re not going out now. Like surely most production companies, we just spent our war chest getting ready for the 2020 touring season. With all that money spent, we don’t have a buffer to fall back on. If this happened in October it’d be a very different animal, we’d have millions more in the bank. Those millions now look like a bunch of shiny LED, some still in China that we will pay the rest for, because we said we would. 
What can you or are you doing in the meantime to help get through the current situation?
I sit on the CMA board of directors. The CMA is doing an informational gathering to have some statistics to present to the politicians and legislators so they have some real idea of the economic impact of this on our business. Almost every company is marking itself as 100% affected. You might have employees still working but with reduced pay, too.
As a business owner, or as a parent I’d suspect, you develop a certain level of thoughtfulness and awareness where, pre-parent, you might have seemed a little paranoid. As a business owner, any time I’d see anything in the news about a bird flu, terrorism, or something else, a cracked economy, anything like that, I’d think, ‘What if that happened?’ and kind of run the scenario. I’ve actually in a weird way been a little mindful and tried to keep our debt load down in case of a catastrophe. I worked really hard to keep MooTV’s debt load at a minimum, and we have virtually none and I’m very proud of that. 
That’s allowing us to kind of take care of employees, although sometimes the best thing is to let some go, in order to keep the business alive. I’ve parted with some, but done it in a way to let them collect unemployment but we can still pay their health insurance. We’re doing that with our touring employees, and gave a severance on the way out that will help pay expenses. 
We’re all in this together. Globally, every economy is dealing with this together, every economy needs to find ways for its citizens to survive.
The other thing I’ve done is decided to call all my employees, just checking everyone off the list, just calling everyone in the company and checking in on them, telling them we’re thinking about them, that we think it’s going to be OK and here’s the steps we’re taking. I think that sort of thing is really important when people are afraid. 

Is there anything anyone can do to help get through this?
We as Americans, as citizens of the world, the best thing we can do is be mentally tough enough to isolate ourselves. That’s the best thing we can do for society. To use the buzz word, flatten the curve. It’s very real. The hospitals are getting overrun and in other parts of the world doctors are having to decide who to treat or not to treat. We don’t want to break the spirit of the healthcare system, we want to do everything we can. Be mentally tough enough to just stay home. Slow this spread
How does COVID-19 compare to other challenges you and the business have faced?
The first big one was when my business partner was killed in a carjacking. That was just fine-point agony followed by, we have a problem but know what the problem is and we’re going to work through it. I had three months of mourning where i really wasn’t myself, but I put on my big boy pants, and said everyone was counting on us and here’s what we’re going to do. We knew what we had to do, and the goal didn’t move.
The flood wiped us out. All the bad stuff happened in 12 hours, then we started recovering. Half of our equipment is gone. How do we survive and get through this? But the goal, the problem, didn’t evolve. The event happened, it was time to figure it out. There were months of digging through actual mud and recovery, but we got through it.
Now my emails to employees, just checking in, say, ‘Here’s what we think right now, and here’s why we think that.” Certainly they all understand and have seen that god only knows what the next news conference will be, but whatever happens next, we have to be agile in our thinking and movement. We’re ready for whatever they throw at us next.