One year after its completion, newly named Live Music Entertainment Chairman Irving Azoff says overall he is pleased with how the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger has progressed in just over a year.
"At this point last year we'd just completed the merger and our primary focus has been on integrating the operations, cutting our costs -- which we had to do and which you saw us do with our North American concerts [division] -- and driving our operating synergies," he told Billboard. "We're now a year later, [and] I think we're in a really good position to capitalize on what we set out to do and improve our performance."
Azoff added that he thinks people will be "surprised" by what his company is doing, particularly on the Ticketmaster side. "We're dramatically going to change the ticketing and the e-commerce experience and how we serve audiences," he says. "The business is converging around the online ticket and buying tickets online, and I think Ticketmaster and Live Nation are going to benefit from this. It's everything relative about the artist and the venue and the event on one site."
In terms of dealing with a still-struggling economy, "we know that consumers are still under pressure; there isn't great confidence to spend money anywhere, let alone on live shows," Azoff said. "It looks like the pipeline of content this year is amazing, and we're taking responsible steps to make sure the shows are packaged better, are more affordable and more accessible. Bringing the final piece of Front Line [billboard.biz Feb. 6] is the last piece we needed. We've always talked about that artist-to-fan pipe and us as the distribution system, so really that's the last step before we finish this tech build-out and e-commerce build-out of Ticketmaster to delivering what we said when we first talked about the merger."
Live Nation is reacting to a downturn in last year's concert business, Azoff stressed. "We know it's a mature concert business, we're going to run that business better, we're more disciplined on packaging and pricing because that's how we protect artists and the fan experience and how artists are going to maintain their careers," he said. "We're operating on a lower cost base, we cut our costs at Live Nation, and with our technology changes we're spending all this money on at Ticketmaster, it's going to lower our cost base at Ticketmaster over time, too. We will continue to put big money in the high-growth online platform because we will deliver better products for audiences, for buildings. And we have to drive more revenues for the entire industry around the ticket purchase in live events."
Azoff cited recent Ticketmaster moves into Spain and France, as well as a recently announced joint venture with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment in Toronto, as examples of how the company continues to build its global platform, and revenues from those ventures will be used to grow and evolve Ticketmaster.
"We have incredible growth opportunities overseas," he said. "We recently bought in Spain, we bought in France, we brought back the Washington D.C. franchise [from Monumental Sports & Entertainment], we announced the joint venture in Toronto. It doesn't get much notice, but those are really important ways that really drive our profitability and give us more money to pour back into all this stuff."
Asked if Ticketmaster might consider working with online discounting models like Groupon or Scorebig in solving the industry-wide problem of unsold inventory, Azoff didn't rule out the idea. "We're listening to everybody, talking to everybody," he said. "There's one I particularly like that I think will get done in the next couple of weeks, but we can't really talk about it yet."
Azoff says he has faith that great music and killer live shows will prevail, even as there seems to many to be a general disillusionment among concert fans about the overall music business and the concert business specifically.
"I think that music impacts people's lives more than ever, and we on the live side of the business have got to now translate that into getting people to see live shows," he said. "As you know, there's nothing more powerful than the live performance, and we've got to do a better job of selling that and getting people to shows. That was one reason for the [Ticketmaster/Live Nation] merger and we're working on our long term strategic planning to get that through."
Billboard.biz will have lots more from our conversation with Irving Azoff all week - and look for even more in our in-depth Q&A appearing in Billboard magazine on Friday! Check out our earlier arrticles, in which Azoff talks about Ticketmaster's competitors and his recent appointment as chairman of Live Nation.