U.K. Indie Festivals Call for Government Action Over Live Nation Dominance: 'It Should Ring Alarm Bells'

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A festival goer cheers at the Isle of Wight Festival. 

Live Nation's Deal for the Isle of Wight Festival is currently being investigated by regulators.

U.K. industry body the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), representing over 60 festival owners and operators, is calling for the British government to investigate Live Nation's growing dominance of the U.K. live music sector.

According to research carried out by AIF, Live Nation currently controls around 23 percent of the U.K. festival market for events with a capacity of 5,000-plus.

Included among the 20-plus U.K. festivals owned, co-owned or operated by Live Nation are Download, Parklife, Creamfields, Latitude, Wireless, Lovebox and the dual site V Festival and Reading/Leeds events.

Live Nation's nearest competitor in the U.K. festival market is Global, which AIF says controls an 8 percent share. The remainder of the market is largely made up of independently owned festivals such as Bestival or Glastonbury, while AEG claims under 2 percent of the market through their London-based British Summer Time Hyde Park showcase event, according to AIF research.

Earlier this year, Live Nation announced that it had it become the majority shareholder in the Isle of Wight Festival, partnering with the festival's modern day founder John Giddings and his Solo Music Agency to lead the event.

That acquisition is currently being investigated by U.K. regulatory body the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) over concerns that the deal would lead to a "substantial lessening of competition." A first phase decision is due Sept. 14.  

If approved, AIF says Live Nation's control of the sector will tip towards 25 percent and is now calling for the CMA to widen its investigation beyond the Isle of Wight deal.

"It's vital that the festival and live music scene remains open and competitive as a market," AIF general manager Paul Reed tells Billboard. "There is genuine and fundamental concern amongst our membership and, dare I say it, the wider music industry about Live Nation's position."

"As they increase their network and tentacles across all areas of the business they make an environment in which it is far easier for them to acquire independent festivals or push them out of the market entirely. That's not a healthy or diverse market and it should ring alarm bells within the CMA that we have a single corporation heading towards a wide spread dominance within the market that increasingly has a stranglehold on talent."

Reed says that Live Nation's growing hold over the U.K. festival business and wider live music scene "has serious consequences for everybody in the business," and points to its vertical integration across ticketing, artist management, sponsorship, event security and venue ownership, as evidence of the company's ever-expanding influence.

One of the key concerns for AIF members surrounds the growth in exclusivity deals tied to Live Nation events, not just for headline acts or big name artists, but increasingly also for lower level and upcoming acts, says Reed.

"We're hearing a growing level of complaints regarding this," he states, quoting an anonymous British promoter, who AIF say approached over 40 acts to play an independent festival this year, only to be told by booking agents that they were locked into ‘unofficial' Live Nation exclusivity deals.

"An as independent music festival under 10,000 capacity, we come up against huge challenges as a result of the exclusivity clauses put in place by Live Nation," said the promoter in a statement provided by AIF.

"The majority of artists booked by Live Nation for their festivals are on some sort of exclusivity clause," the promoter went on to claim, adding that such clauses have "a detrimental effect on up and coming artists and independent festivals alike."

Another promoter, who also wished to remain anonymous, told AIF the problem was not just limited to the U.K.

"We have repeatedly come up against problems where artistes and their agents have been told that if they want to play Live Nation's festivals X and Y, then they need to play Live Nation's festival Z in our territory and not us," AIF quotes them saying.

"Live Nation are careful not to put this in contracts and thus they avoid giving hostages to fortune; agents are frightened to pass on verbal evidence of such verbal strong-arming, but frequently do so as they find it very restrictive," the promoter went on to say claiming that because of Live Nation's "extensive and ever expanding network of festivals in the U.K. and abroad … no agent or artiste can afford to fall out with them."

"Clearly this has a knock on effect on up and coming artists who want to play as diverse a range of events as possible. Festivals are a great incubator for emerging talent, but if you have one company locking them down to exclusivity deals, at increasingly lower levels of artist and fee, then that's very worrying and restricting," says Reed, who has submitted AIF's findings to the CMA.

Live Nation declined to comment when contacted by Billboard. The Competition & Markets Authority would only confirm that it was investigating Live Nation's deal with the Isle of Wight Festival and that its inquiry was ongoing.