|TUESDAY 28 APRIL 2020||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The country of Saudi Arabia has bought approximately $500 million of stock in Live Nation giving the nation's Public Investment Fund a 5.7% stake in the live entertainment giant, making it the firm's third biggest shareholder overall... [READ MORE]|
Saudi Arabia buys 5% of Live Nation
Live Nation's share price has taken a hammering since it became clear in mid-February that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to result in major lockdowns all across the world. All of the company's core businesses - concert promotion, venue management and ticketing - have been majorly hit as the live entertainment sector has gone into full-on shutdown. And even the other areas where it operates - like merchandise, brand partnerships and artist management - have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Earlier this month Live Nation announced a series of measures to help it navigate those COVID-19 challenges, including an amendment to its existing credit agreement, the completion of a new revolving credit facility, and a cost reduction and cash management programme. The latter included hiring freezes, renegotiating rents where possible, utilising government schemes for furloughing staff and senior execs taking pay cuts.
However, CEO Michael Rapino - who will forego his salary entirely during the crisis - was keen to stress that the long-term future of the company remains bright. Despite the frustrating (if understandable) lack of clarity over how long the live entertainment sector will be in enforced shutdown, and the added uncertainty over how quickly audience members will return even once government-instigated restrictions are no longer in place.
He told investors: "The live entertainment industry has delivered incredible global growth for over 20 years, which speaks to the great passion and resilience of fan demand. With this additional liquidity, the flexibility in our debt covenants, and cost-cutting efforts, we believe that Live Nation has the financial strength to weather this difficult time. We will be ready to ramp back up quickly and once again connect audiences to artists at the concerts they are looking forward to".
While the impact of COVID-19 on live entertainment could run for much longer than originally thought, for those playing the long game Live Nation shares do still seem like a good bet. Not least because smaller and middle-level players in live entertainment and ticketing are much more likely to go under entirely as a result of COVID-19. Which means, ultimately, the pandemic could further extend Live Nation's already significant dominance over the live entertainment sector, and especially in markets like the US and the UK.
This is presumably why the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund has bought up so many Live Nation shares now. The number was sufficient enough that a filing about the purchase was legally required to be made with the US Securities & Exchange Commission.
The fund said last week that the entertainment sector was one of its current priorities. In the past, some in the entertainment industry have been nervous about accepting investment from Saudi Arabia because of the country's politics.
Those concerns were ramped up last year following the October 2018 murder of Saudi Arabian dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by agents of the Saudi government at the country's consulate in Istanbul. In the wake of that scandal, talent agency group Endeavor cancelled a $400 million investment in its business by the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
Those controversies, however, can't stop the fund from buying shares on the open market in publicly listed entertainment companies, as it has now done with Live Nation. Though, presumably aware of the ongoing concerns in parts of the music and entertainment community, the fund stressed that it sees its recent purchase as a passive stake in the Live Nation company and it won't seek to exert any control over the business.
Although now the third biggest Live Nation shareholder overall, in terms of stake and influence the Saudi Arabia PIF is still a long way behind the biggest stockholder of them all: that being American communications and entertainment giant Liberty Media, which controls 33% of the Live Nation company.
Last week, Liberty announced that it was reshuffling its investment portfolio so that its Live Nation shareholding would shift from its Formula One Group to its Liberty Sirius XM Group, which seems like a more logical place for its stake in the live entertainment giant to sit. Liberty Sirius XM also has a controlling stake in the US-based Sirius XM satellite radio company, which in turn owns American streaming service Pandora.
Although, perhaps more interestingly, the Liberty Sirius XM Group also has an albeit small shareholding - currently about 5% - in American radio giant iHeartMedia. It's been known for some time that Liberty would like to increase its stake in iHeart.
The main reason that is interesting is because iHeartMedia used to be known as Clear Channel and, at one point in its history, Clear Channel was also a major player in live entertainment. But the live entertainment side of Clear Channel was spun off as a standalone company in 2005 that became known as, well Live Nation.
South By Southwest sued over its no refunds policy
For many in the global music industry, it was the news that SXSW would not go ahead this year that made it really hit home that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to have a major impact on live entertainment worldwide.
Following the cancellation, the company that operates the Austin, Texas-based showcase festival and conference series announced that those who had a ticket for 2020 could now transfer it to 2021, or either of the two following editions of the event. However, cash refunds have not been offered to 2020 ticketholders.
Quite what happens in terms of refunds when events are cancelled or postponed depends on any one promoter's terms and conditions, and also what local consumer rights laws say about such things.
Policies are sometimes different for cancellations and postponements. And, of course, as with SXSW, there is sometimes a blurring of the lines between a cancellation and a postponement. SXSW organisers could say that their March 2020 event has simply been postponed to March 2021. Others might argue that the 2020 edition was cancelled.
Either way, SXSW isn't offering cash refunds and reckons that that is in line with the terms and conditions of its ticket sales. Which it almost certainly is. But in a new class action lawsuit filed with the courts in Austin, two SXSW ticketholders reckon that the event's strict no refunds policy is unlawful and therefore unenforceable.
Those ticketholders are Maria Bromley and Kleber Pauta. Noting that they have been offered tickets to SXSW 2021, 2022 or 2023 rather than a cash refund, they say in their lawsuit: "Plaintiffs and the class do not necessarily plan to attend future festivals, however, and even SXSW has acknowledged that future festivals may not occur".
They subsequently concede that the festival's terms and conditions do not technically obligate SXSW to offer them a refund. "The [terms] also include a 'refund and revocation policy'", the lawsuit goes on, "that provides that 'SXSW may, in its sole discretion and at any time determined by SXSW, cancel, revoke, or refuse [tickets purchased] through SXSW'".
"The refund and revocation policy also states that SXSW 'does not issue refunds under any circumstances' and that 'any and all payments made to SXSW are not refundable for any reason'", they add. "Through the refund and revocation policy SXSW purports to reserve the right to retain any and all monies paid for credentials and passes regardless of whether SXSW elects to put on the festival".
But that's just not right, the lawsuit reckons. "If enforced ... the refund and revocation policy would render the [terms and conditions] an unenforceable, illusory, unilateral option contract that allows SXSW to sell [tickets], cancel the festival for any or no reason whatsoever, and retain all customer payments while leaving plaintiffs and the class without a remedy. Accordingly, the SXSW refund and revocation policy is unlawful, unconscionable and unenforceable".
Based on all that, the class action accuses the SXSW company of both breach of contract and unjust enrichment, and then seeks refunds and damages for any American who bought a ticket to the 2020 edition of the festival.
In a statement to Law360, a spokesperson for SXSW insisted that the company was acting legally and in line with its published terms and conditions. They also added that the firm was only relying on the no refunds term in this way because of the unprecedented circumstances that it and the wider live industry current finds itself in.
"Due to the unique nature of SXSW's business, where we are reliant on one annual event, we incurred extensive amounts of non-recoupable costs well in advance of March", the spokesperson said. "These expenditures, and the loss of expected revenue, have resulted in a situation where we do not have the money to issue refunds".
"SXSW, like many small businesses across the country, is in a dire financial situation requiring that we rely on our contracts, which have a clearly stated no refunds policy. Though we wish we were able to do more, we are doing our best to reconcile the situation and offered a deferral package option to purchasers of 2020 registrations".
The American lawsuits in relation to COVID-19 cancellations and postponements are starting to mount up, of course. Both StubHub and Ticketmaster have already been sued over allegations they changed their refund policies after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
I Like Trains sign to newly founded Atlantic Curve label
"We've been away for a while, so it feels good to be coming back with fresh energy and to be here at the start of something new in the form of Atlantic Curve", says the band's frontman David Martin. "We're delighted to have a new home and look forward to seeing where this journey ... will take us".
Atlantic Curve boss Daryl Bamonte adds: "It's appropriate that I Like Trains is the first signing to Atlantic Curve. I've followed their career since the beginning and they've never been afraid to break new ground, while always growing their audience. With the sound of their new album, they are a perfect fit for our new label".
With that new album set for release later this year, the band will release a new single on 6 May.
PPL adds extra royalty payment date to help members meet COVID-19 cashflow challenges
The collecting society - which administers the recording royalties paid by broadcasters and public spaces where recorded music is played - usually passes on monies to its members four times a year. On that schedule, the next payment would be in June. But with many performers and labels facing cashflow challenges as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown, £23.9 million of royalties will be advanced to members on 30 Apr.
Confirming that plan, PPL boss Peter Leathem said: "PPL's collections are an important revenue stream to tens of thousands of performers and recording rightsholders, both in the UK and around the world. In these difficult times, it is important that PPL is paying members even more regularly than usual".
"In addition to our March distribution of £87.6 million and our recent financial pledges to industry hardship funds", he added, "bringing forward part of the annual June payment to the end of April will provide further meaningful support for those in need".
Explaining that organising the advance payment had "involved a large amount of additional work", he went on: "I want to thank PPL's staff for their tireless efforts in making this payment happen". Those efforts were worth it, he concluded, because "we felt it was entirely appropriate to take these steps given the importance of cashflow to our members at this time".
Latitude is the latest festival to cancel as a result of COVID-19
The announcement from Live Nation's Festival Republic comes as the music community increasingly accepts that the entire 2020 summer festival season is likely to be cancelled. In a number of European countries national or local government statements have already confirmed that large-scale events will not be allowed to return for at least several months, even as other elements of the COVID-19 lockdown are relaxed.
So many festivals have now been forced to cancel because of COVID-19, each new cancellation is no longer really newsworthy - even though for each cancelled event there is a team of people who have worked incredibly hard on shows that will no longer happen.
But Latitude - bringing together, as it does, the worlds of music, comedy, theatre and literature - is another of the landmark events in the British festival calendar, so its cancellation seems notable. Organisers said yesterday "we've been closely monitoring this unprecedented situation and it's become clear that it's just not possible for this year's festival to go ahead".
Adding that ticket agents would be in touch with ticket-holders offering refunds or the option to convert to a 2020 ticket to a 2021 ticket, the organisers' statement went on: "Our heart goes out to the fans, artists, suppliers, performers, volunteers - our entire Latitude family. Thank you, as ever, for your continued support".
Another July festival promoted by a Live Nation subsidiary, the Glasgow-based TRNSMT event from DF Concerts, confirmed its cancellation last week. Organisers of that event said: "We did not want to take this step but it is unavoidable. The health and safety of our fans, artists, staff and community will always be our top priority".
With the summer season pretty much written off, the next question is whether autumn events - including those early-year festivals that were rescheduled for later in the year when the first COVID-19 cancellations began occurring - will be able to go ahead. Meanwhile, the pessimists in the room are speculating what impact all things COVID could have on the 2021 festival season. Which is no fun at all.
Facebook to let artists charge for access to online gigs
The boom in live music streaming since the COVID-19 lockdown began has posed various questions around monetisation and copyright. Which is to say, how can artists make money from their virtual gigs? And if they are performing other people's songs or playing other people's recordings, how do those people get paid? Actually, technically, even if an artist performs their own songs, a licence from collecting society PRS (or its equivalent in other countries) is usually required.
Of course, live streaming isn't new, but it's as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown that live streamed music has really gone mainstream, which is why many questions about charging for access and sorting out copyright remain unanswered. The longer lockdown runs for - or if the increased interest in live streamed gigs can be maintained post-COVID-19 - the more important it is for monetisation and licensing to be properly cracked.
Facebook made a flurry of announcements last week about planned developments across its platforms - including Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram - most of it relating to the increased interest in video chat and live streaming as a result of lockdown.
In among those announcements, it stated that soon "you'll be able to mark Facebook Events as online only and, in the coming weeks, integrate Facebook Live so you can broadcast to your guests. To support creators and small businesses, we plan to add the ability for Pages to charge for access to events with Live videos on Facebook - anything from online performances to classes to professional conferences".
So, interesting developments. Although - as you see - without much detail so far. Of course, once big platforms like Facebook start allowing people to charge to access live streamed music events, the monetisation and licensing conversations merge.
If an artist charges a virtual ticket price for a virtual gig via Facebook, does the social network pass a small percentage of that money over to PRS for the song rights, as happens on a real world ticket for a real world gig?
Questions, questions. And what's the betting all those questions will be answered just as lockdown ends and - with everyone tiring of online gigs - the whole thing becomes irrelevant again?
Run The Jewels have released the video for recent single 'Ooh La La'. "We shot this video only a few weeks before the pandemic hit with no clue as to what the future held. The fact that we got the chance to do it is damn near miraculous in hindsight", say the duo.
The Pet Shop Boys have released the video for new single 'I Don't Wanna', taken from their recent album 'Hotspot'.
Kali Uchis has released the lyric video for 'I Want War (But I Need Peace)' from her new EP 'To Feel Alive'.
Maya Jane Coles has released her first new music for two years in the form of new single 'Run To You'.
Wesley Gonzalez has released new single 'Tried To Tell Me Something'. His new album, 'Appalling Human', is out through Moshi Moshi on 12 Jun.
The Keep has announced that he will release new EP 'Andra' through Houndstooth on 15 May. From it, this is 'Acqua Alta'.
Marika Takeuchi will release new EP 'Missing Piece' on 5 May. Here's the title track.
Plastic Sun have released new single 'Wait'.
Fran Lobo has released new single 'Brave'. Her new EP of the same name is out on 19 Jun. "With everything going on at the moment, I wanted to dedicate this track to key workers and those working hard to keep us safe", she says. "My dad works in a care home where there has been little PPE and going to work has felt like an everyday risk. To honour the brave people working in these conditions, I'm donating 50% of Bandcamp revenue to Age UK".
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Slipknot's Corey Taylor auctions off guitars for charity
All money raised in the sale will go to the charity Direct Relief, which is working to distribute personal protective equipment to healthcare workers around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the funds raised from bids on the guitars, eBay will also match the total raised by all of them up to $1 million.
Among the guitars on offer are two Gibson Memphis limited edition Dave Grohl custom models: one of only 400 produced in metallic gold and one of just 200 made in Pelham blue. Sure, Taylor had one of each. Why not? There are also various Gibson Les Pauls, a handful of acoustic guitars and a lone Ibanez bass guitar.
Each guitar will come with a case and a certificate of authenticity. Also, Taylor's written his name on all of them.