The show must go on – hope for the Festival Season 2021

If you are wondering whether you’ll be able to sport your wellies for next year’s festival season, you’ll be pleased to hear that the government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) Committee announced last week that it will hold an inquiry into the future of UK music festivals. The inquiry will consider government policy to “support music festivals due to take place in 2021”, exploring how it can help to “safeguard the future of festivals” in the wake of the current pressures faced by the sector.

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Music Festival
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The UK’s vibrant festival sector

The inquiry will also consider the “economic and cultural contribution that music festivals make to the UK”. The UK’s “legendary” festival sector – comprising major events such as Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds, and Wireless Festival, as well as a myriad of independent festivals – undoubtedly forms a significant part of the UK’s cultural landscape and attracts worldwide attention.

In 2018, 4.9 million people attended a festival in the UK, and in 2019, festival attendance was at its highest level in four years. As well as contributing billions to the UK economy, festivals provide a significant bolster to local economies, as festivalgoers spend significant sums in the communities surrounding event sites (estimated to be £34.7 million in 2017).

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic

However, this year, tents and sleeping bags remained firmly stowed away as Covid-19 restrictions resulted in the cancellation of the majority of festivals, with revenues down by 90%.

The worldwide lockdown has precipitated a boom for at home media services across many industries. The music industry has seen a number of streaming platforms, from established players such as YouTube and Twitch, to newer entities such as DIUO, move to fill the void left when physical venues shut their doors. This has included certain festivals moving online, with events such as Notting Hill Carnival and Creamfields running such events over summer. Some of these events have been successful and it appears that online events of this kind could form a more significant part of the media mix. However, it is difficult to replicate the full festival experience at home, both in terms of fan experience and economic impact.

Pursuant to the relevant legislation, festivals can continue to take place if they are Covid-19 secure. However, general uncertainty, public health concerns and social distancing requirements challenge the economic and logistical viability of delivering such events. This is particularly concerning for smaller, independent festivals – key players in the showcasing and growth of talent – whose existence may be threatened by the writing off of a year’s worth of revenue.

Independent festivals such as NASS, Lost Village, and Bluedot (members of the Association of Independent Festivals) have received grants from of the government’s Culture Recovery Fund; with the hope that this will enable them to weather the Covid-19 storm.

Looking to next year

It is difficult to imagine what the UK festival scene will look like in 2021, although the recent news of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines raise hopes that live music will be able to return next summer, providing a much needed boost to this cornerstone of the music industry.

Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis has suggested that “there could be massive testing arrangements” and similarly, Reading & Leeds boss Melvin Benn has spoken of mass testing “everybody” before entry into the festival’s venues. Whether this is logistically possible, whether audiences will respond positively, and whether festivals will be able to resume in a commercially viable way in 2021 are the questions on the minds of organisers, artists, promoters, ticket distributors, and festivalgoers across the nation.

Hopefully the inquiry will go some way to ensuring that next year we once again will sing along to our favourite artists in muddy fields across the country.

The DCMS Committee is inviting written submissions to be submitted by Wednesday 9 December.

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