Live Nation's Growing Market Share Putting 'Stranglehold' On Live Music, Warns U.K. Indie Festivals

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Quavo of Migos performs on the Main Stage during Wireless Festival 2018 at Finsbury Park on July 7, 2018 in London.

Association of Independent Festivals calls for Competition & Markets Authority to launch an investigation into U.S entertainment giant. 

Live Nation's growing hold over the U.K. festival market is having a detrimental impact on artist development and damaging the wider live music scene, according to the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF).

Research carried out by the London-based organization has found that Live Nation now owns or controls 21 U.K. festivals with a capacity of over 5,000, representing just over 25 percent of the total market. Its closest rival is Global, which controls eight percent of the market through promoter Broadwick Live, followed by AEG Presents, which represents five percent of British festivals.

Notable Live Nation festivals in the U.K. include Download, Wireless, Creamfields and the dual site Reading/Leeds events, which took place this weekend. In comparison, AIF's members account for 20 percent of the market, comprising of 65 festivals owned or operated by 37 individual companies. The remainder is made up of independently owned festivals such as Glastonbury that are not AIF members.

"The stranglehold that Live Nation has on talent now is having a real knock-on effect and we don't think these issues have been given the scrutiny they deserve," AIF chief executive Paul Reed tells Billboard. He says that the size and scale of Live Nation's festival business means that it is able to lock artists into increasingly restrictive exclusivity deals that are no longer limited to just headliners or big-name acts.

"I'm hearing alleged accounts of exclusivity deals on acts who are receiving fees of less than £500 ($650), which is simply staggering that it's happening at the level. I know of 10,000-capacity festivals that have exclusivity deals on 40-plus artists, which goes beyond market forces and moves into restrictive behaviour," he explains. "We accept that exclusivity deals are part of the business and some of our own members use them for the big acts, but if it's true that it's happening at that low level it's a highly worrying development."

Reed goes on to say that "the potential for even emerging artists to feel under pressure to play within the Live Nation portfolio is growing," leading to less diverse festival line-ups and blocking new entrants to the festival market. "It's particularly bad for artists at the start of their careers, who want to play both major and independent festivals but are not able to," he says.

As a result, AIF is renewing calls for U.K. regulatory body the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) to launch an investigation into Live Nation's market dominance, which extends beyond the festival sector and also encompasses venue ownership, artist management and ticketing. AIF has additionally created an online "stamp" intended to help consumers identify independent events.

According to AIF research, Live Nation-owned Ticketmaster controls an estimated 46 percent of the top 61 venue box offices in the U.K. and sells 500 million tickets worldwide each year. The company additionally manages over 500 artists and promoted 30,000 concerts globally in 2017. In a recent Parliamentary debate, MP Richard Bacon called Live Nation's vertical integration across promotion, ticketing, artist management and venue ownership "a very obvious source of conflicts of interest."

Live Nation, which acquired controlling stakes in U.K. promoters Robomagic (led by Rob Hallett) in 2018, as well as Rock In Rio and New Zealand's Rhythm and Vines festival, declined to comment when contacted by Billboard.

"To allow a single global entity to dominate the festival and live sector in this way does reduce choice and value and stifles competition," believes Reed. He says that the power that Live Nation wields throughout "every part of the live music chain" means that AIF members will only speak out on condition of anonymity.

"They are such a powerful entity in the live music industry you can't afford to not play with them," he states. "Off the record, people will spell out the issues and talk about their experiences, but we appreciate that any investigation into this must be evidence driven and that may prove challenging to get people to go on the record and peel back the curtain further on the kinds of deals that are being done."

"If you look at Live Nation's global portfolio and the live music companies that they have acquired this year it just adds more leverage and increases their capability to squeeze independent players out of the market. We feel it's now reached the culmination point where it deserves more scrutiny and we'll continue ringing the alarm bells to make that happen."