An Industry on Fire: Event Companies Fight for Survival

An Industry on Fire: Event Companies Fight for Survival

Credit: satis&fy

For the event industry teetering on the point of no return, the past months brought protests, demonstrations, and continuous fight for support from governments. Here is what has happened recently in Belgium, Portugal, Brazil, the USA, and Germany!

The well known expression “20/20 vision” has so far provided the world with very little clarity, but nine months into the year that many wish never was, one thing is crystal clear: if governments don’t act now and take the necessary actions, soon there will be no saving of the event industry. Once one of the most prosperous, ever-evolving sectors with limitless possibilities, supplying hundreds of millions of people with entertainment, escape, joy, connections, and a lifetime of memories, the event business is now a fragile, forgotten, and rapidly shrinking industry thanks to the alarming trend of liquidations, bankruptcies, unemployment, and a lack of action from politicians and decision makers.

With a new wave of lockdowns the event cancellations and postponements not only for this year but also for 2021 are on the rise again, and in many countries the situation of event professionals – from event planners and organizers to AV technicians, stage managers, from caterers to artists – has become unbearable.

The event industry is all fired up

The past three months have seen a massive wave of protests and campaigns from the event industry all over the world. From demanding fair governmental support through peaceful marches and social media activities to the various forms of the Red Alert campaign that swept across many countries already, and more are to join soon in the silent protest. Let’s take a look at what has been happening over the summer in different parts of the world!

Belgium

On June 17 all major players of the Belgian event industry, including our AV Alliance member AVP took to the streets of Brussels to protest against the lack of support from the government. The demonstration, which saw nearly 1,500 road cases placed in front of the currently closed exhibition center Palais 5 as a sombre reminder of the present state of the music scene, aimed to break the government’s silence on the lack of concrete actions and financial aid for the event industry that has been suffering more than others due to Covid-19.

The consensus within the sector was that, much like in many other countries, the event industry had been forgotten by politicians and decision makers, even though just in Belgium there are approximately 3,200 event companies and 80,000 jobs that are under threat by the current situation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: CHAUVET Professional

Since then the government collaborated with the local event industry on developing a online Event Risk Model (ERM) tool, which helps organizers, technology suppliers, and venue operators to evaluate and potential health and safety risks at any live event, calculate the capacity of venues while adhering to the guidelines.

Seeing how last Sunday, September 6 saw another, 1,200-strong demonstration from the culture and event sector – representing “discotheques, cinemas, events, circus, culture and catering”– at Brussels’ Mont des Arts, there are still discussions to be had about the importance of the industry – and the 5% of Belgian GDP it represents – to achieve a meaningful solution from the government.

Brazil

In Brazil, one of the countries that are most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the boiling point for the event industry came on August 2 in São Paulo, where over 1,000 event professionals – technicians, backstage workers – marched with their road cases in what was aptly named the Passeata com Cases (which literally means “walk with cases).

Just like in many other places, the Brazilian event sector is in a desperate situation. As our friends at AV Alliance member Maxi Audio, who also participated in the peaceful demonstration, say: while they are the professionals that nobody sees behind the scenes,

“without our work, no artist takes the stage, no brand presents their product, no applause will be heard”.

While we are yet to see what effect this show of unity has had on governmental decision-making, the sector is anxiously waiting for the safe return to work and to live events.

Portugal

On August 11 a peaceful protest took place in Lisbon by hundreds of event professionals, including our AV Alliance members Crossview Audiovisuals and Smart Choice, who placed their socially-distanced road cases in the Portuguese capital’s main squares and projected their key messages onto historical buildings to urge the government to take action and at last start a dialogue with the event industry to ensure its survival.

Since their demands fell on deaf ears and there has been no reaction from the government’s side, another large-scale demonstration took place on September 8, this time in Porto. According to APSTE, the Portuguese Association for Event Technology Services, “the sector has long struggled to win government support”*, and the approximately 30 million euros allocated by the cabinet to the industry is insufficient, as the majority of event companies are struggling to survive, with some seeing a drastic 80% drop in their revenues for 2020 due to Covid-19.

Credit: Crossview Audiovisuals

USA

The Red Alert campaign already took a number of countries by storm: starting off in Germany as the Night of Light 2020, followed suit by Light It In Red in the UK that later morphed into WeMakeEvents by August, and LightSAred in South Africa, last week it finally arrived in the USA. The evening of September 1 saw over 2,000 venues light up in bright red in 50 cities for three hours, and in addition to this show of unity, more than 8,000 letters were sent to Congress by event companies in support of the RESTART Act.

The RedAlertRESTART initiative aimed to raise awareness and support for the 77% of live event professionals in the US* who have lost their income as a direct result of Covid-19, and to urge Congress to pass the RESTART Act and to extend PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ) and FPUC (Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation) for the event industry. Only in the United States, live events – 95% of which have been canceled due to COVID-19 – employ over 12 million people and contribute over $1 trillion annually to the economy.

The initiative was backed by a host of world-famous entertainers and artists, and according to the organizers it had nearly 10,000 people* involved in lighting up venues and landmarks– including the Empire State Building in New York City, and the Space Needle in Seattle – in red.

Many of our US-based AV Alliance members also took part in the WeMakeEvents USA campaign, as well as our Platinum sponsors Elation Professional and d&b audiotechnik:

Credit: LMG, Stage Right Inc., AVFX, Elation Professional, d&b audiotechnik

Germany

With what started out as the Night of Light on June 22 and was hailed by the global event industry as an exemplary show of unity, the German event sector has continued its relentless fight for meaningful governmental action throughout the summer. The initiative continued under the name Alarmstufe Rot, and after having engaged in a number of discussions with the German federal and state governments, it geared up for a major event that took place earlier this week in Berlin. Our AV Alliance members Neumann&Müller and satis&fy, and CEOs Alexander Ostermaier and Nico Ubenauf respectively, actively took part in the organization, negotiation, and execution phases from the very beginning of the initiative.

For a month prior to the “Großdemonstration” event professionals regularly took to the streets every Wednesday in state capitals to march for rescue actions for the industry. According to the organizers of the Alarmstufe Rot initiative, even though €24.6 billion have been made available as government aid, only one percent (€248 million), was paid out by August 31*, the reason being that the criteria for applying for the aid is too restrictive and many ailing event companies do not even qualify for it. The situation that Germany’s sixth largest industry is struggling with has become unbearable to the point that on September 9 the demonstration for government aid has become another symbolic unity for all players of the sector not just locally, but around the world.

The demo in Berlin on September 9 saw a staggering number of employees and representatives of the event industry – including our AV Alliance members *Neumann&Müllersatis&fy and Limelight, demanding financial aid from the federal government. The socially-distanced march had over 6,500 participants and a parade of more than 500 trucks, while the main event that took place in front of the Brandenburg Gate had 15,000 people in attendance. As a poignant symbol for the event sector that has already lost everything, each participating event company laid down their “last” branded shirt on the grass in front of the Reichstag building in the shape of a large T-shirt.

Credit: Neumann&Müller, satis&fy, Limelight

The Alarmstufe Rot campaign formulated six core demands of the event industry (including expanded loan programs, more flexible short-term working, etc.). The aim of these demands is for the government to put a half to the wave of liquidations and layoffs that have been plaguing the industry, from large to medium-sized companies, self-employed professionals, all of whom have seen their activities fall back by 80-100% in the last months.

The wave of Red Alert will soon spread to other countries, for example to Spain on September 17, as the situation becomes more dire, and the fact that these protests are taking place during a pandemic shows how desperate those who have been struggling for too long without an income are to get help from their governments. Because the only other option they have is to sit tight and wait – for a vaccine, for a turn of the tide, for 2021 that may or may not bring the surge in business that everyone is hoping for. The event industry is on fire, and all we can – and should – do is to stoke the flames rather than watch it burn out forever.

Next time we will cover how some of our members, including Special Effects International and satis&fy have been making headway in bringing back the concept of live events in a safe adaptive, and groundbreaking way.