Life After COVID-19: A Few Things To Be Optimistic About

Atmosphere during the Okeechobee Music Festival at Sunshine Grove in Okeechobee, Florida, March 7, 2020.
Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage
– Atmosphere during the Okeechobee Music Festival at Sunshine Grove in Okeechobee, Florida, March 7, 2020.
At this point, the virus was already reported on, but no government restrictions were yet in place.

Pollstar spoke with Blockparty CEO Vladislav Ginzburg, who shared his ideas on how this industry may make the best of the current crisis.
Ginzburg recalled a conversation he had with a popular EDM DJ the other day, who told him, “all of my dates for the summer, including festivals, are now postponed. My agent and manager are working overtime to figure out where and when I’m going to play. Literally all I have to do right now is sit and make music. There’s nothing else.”
And that holds true for every artist Ginzburg has spoken to recently: “They’re just completely on pause. Generally, when artists are sitting somewhere isolated and are pretty depressed, because they can’t make any money, they’re generally making great music. Hopefully, a year or two from now, we’ll look back on this as a time where a lot of great hits were made.”
The venue and promoters side is where it got “really interesting,” according to Ginzburg. While they were currently busy cancelling or rescheduling shows, and working out deals with managers and agents about deposits, and finding out whether this crisis constitutes force majeure, there was no doubt that a lot people would go bankrupt and lose their jobs. 
Vladislav Ginzburg
– Vladislav Ginzburg
CEO of blockchain-based ticketing and tech company Blockparty

“The concert industry is being absolutely rocked right now. Everybody’s losing their job, and everybody needs a job. So, suddenly, for the companies and venues that are able to survive, there’s actually a complete surplus of available, affordable super-talent,” he explained, adding, “there’s a marketing content person that I would absolutely kill to have on Blockparty’s staff, but that I thought I had on chance of getting until Blockparty becomes a $100 million company, who now has been laid off.”

Ginzburg recalled a conversation with a venue owner a couple of weeks ago, who was planning on opening a new venue in New York in May, in time for the summer season. “You’re obviously hurt that you can’t start making money for a few more months, but your debt is under control, you don’t really have any operating costs yet. So, this person was saying that you could sit back, and when things do open up, the quality of talent buyers, the quality of sound engineers, the quality of everybody that’s available for hire will have really improved.”
There’s a saying in the entrepreneurship world, never let a good crisis go to waste. Ginzburg believes, with an emphasis on compassion for the people that are suffering, that “some of the entrepreneurial promoters are thinking about it that way.”
He also sees opportunities for new players wanting to enter the crowded ticketing space: “A lot of ticketing companies are in a lot of pain, because they are not able to raise revenue from continuing events while having to pay out events that already happened. So, when events do come back, I wonder, if Blockparty would have the opportunity to come back into a more fractured ticketing environment that is otherwise hard to break into,” he said. 
Ginzburg said the many live streams launched by countless artists and companies in response to the curfews imposed on people have made a lot of tech start ups think about innovative ways of delivering streaming content to fans. 
Phish, for instance, who sell out Madison Square Garden every time they come through New York, and upload their concerts to minutes after they’re finished, invited their fans to something called “Dinner and a Movie,” during the lockdown. “They posted a recipe for a three-bean Chili, and invited their fans to get on with Zoom and stuff, and to cook together in their respective homes, and watch one of the band’s more famous concerts from 2012 together,” Ginzburg explained. 
“I think everybody, whether you’re a promoter or a venue, whatever level of the business you’re on, when the business does come back, virtually everyone is considering how they engage the virtual fan,” he continued, adding that his own company was doing so as well. 
“Technology has come far enough that companies like Blockparty and plenty of tech-minded startups that are coming into the events industry as a whole and thinking about how to make the experience of watching an event remotely really fun and engaging,” Ginzburg said, adding, “VR and AR are coming a long way right now. I think right now is an interesting time to think about what virtual fandom looks like in the future.”
Real life events are making plans as well, of course, “everyone I’ve spoken to is building their own plan, like taking people’s temperature as they walk in. Are you going to have to be able to prove [you’re not sick], I don’t know. Everybody is talking about their health plan,” said Ginzburg. 
Such measures pose the risk of alienating some festival goers by making the festival too sterile an experience. What is more, people entering festivals may be running hot for completely different reasons than an impending flu.
There’s still some practical hurdles to doing it right, but many promoters fear that fans will be afraid of going out at first, once the ban on public life lifts. Ginzburg believes Live Nation’s Okeechobee festival, which took place in the beginning of March, when fear of the virus was already spreading, but no governmental restrictions had been yet imposed, could serve as a model for other promoters. Amongst other things, attendees reportedly had access to hand sanitizers, messaging reminded them to wash their hands.
“It think the big players, the Live Nations, the AEGs, the mega promoters, you can be sure that the big boys in the board room will be telling the festival operators, ‘all experience aside, you’re enacting a health protocol’,” Ginzburg said. 
The only worry he had was that this virus could be seasonal, as some authorities, not just in the U.S., have been alluding too. “If this thing comes roaring back in October/November, I’m afraid the events industry will be taking a double hit. I don’t know about surviving a second hit like this for those surviving this first one. So, there’s fear there. However, I’m not as pessimistic about the economic side,” he said.
“A lot people are saying, that when this is over so many folks will have either lost their jobs, or at least some of their income, they may not want to spend money on a $300 festival ticket or a Spotify premium membership.” Ginzburg doesn’t believe so: “I came out of college when the 2008 crisis was hitting. If anything, live events are strengthened. It doesn’t matter if you can put that festival ticket on your credit card and not think about it twice, or if you have to save up for it by driving Uber for a couple of months.
“People still go, because even in the worst of times, even in times when they’re anxious and the economy went to shit, I think people still go and find comfort and relief at these events. The whole economy was in the toilet in 2009, but Ultra was selling out Bicentennial Park in Miami.”