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Viña del Mar Producer Daniel Merino Talks Staying Calm and Delivering Highest Ratings in a Decade

Billboard spoke with Daniel Merino, a promoter with Bizarro Entertainment, which faced a formidable challenge as anti-government protesters threatened to upend the annual, six-day Viña del Mar Music…

One of the latest casualties of the coronavirus are Lollapalooza Chile and Argentina, which today (March 12) announced they would be postponed until the second half of 2020. But earlier this month Daniel Merino, a promoter with Bizarro Entertainment, faced a possibly even more formidable challenge as anti-government protesters threatened to upend the annual, six-day Viña del Mar Music Festival, of which Merino is the general producer.

Merino, who is only 28 years-old, calmly kept the fest, which doubles as a live television show, running for roughly five hours per night. There were zero security or safety incidents reported inside the venerable Quinta Vergara venue, where the festival has taken place for 61 consecutive years.

With headlining performances by Ricky Martin, Ozuna, Mon Laferte, Pablo Alborán, Ana Gabriel and Maroon 5, Viña 2020 delivered its highest television ratings since 2011. We caught up with Merino on the eve of closing night and asked him how he did it.

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Billboard: You’ve been working on the 2020 edition of the festival since June, 2019. At what point did it become a challenge beyond the normal production issues?

Daniel Merino: We began to hire artists in June 2019 and to work on design, scenery, the normal stuff. But after October [Chile’s “social explosion” began with massive marches Oct. 18] things changed. We weren’t going to cancel. This festival has zero connection with the government. But we had to consider how we were going to coexist with the political movement around us.

When did you realize you could have a potential problem and how did you address it?

After the street protests and violence we saw [in 2019] we realized it was going to be a challenge and that we had to address it. Luckily, we produced other festivals before Viña, and they allowed us to put in place security measures that we finessed. We had to invest in many security measures. We never had security checkpoints in Chile before, for example. People would just come up with their ticket. We also had to rent security equipment, like drones. A normal festival has 140 security guards; we had 220. And there is no longer festival in Chile.

Did it affect ticket sales?

Of course. Last year Viña had five sell-outs. This year, we had two complete sell outs and the others were at 95%. I attribute that directly to security concerns from fans and the economic duress in the country.

But we weren’t going to cancel. This is the only giant festival we have in Latin America and the only one seen by 250 million people on television. It’s not something you can simply cancel. There are many people behind this, and culturally speaking, it would be a huge loss. This festival has no government affiliations. My mission is to care of our festival and our culture.

Why do you think ratings went up this year?

I think people wanted to see what was going to happen and, [given the political situation] they wanted to hear what artists had to say. Remember, we can’t control what they choose to say or not. Once you give an artist the microphone, he or she owns the stage. And they have a right to saw what they feel and think. We do not tell them what to say or not. All we ask is to avoid messages that incite violence and hate.

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You’re only 28. How did you manage to be the general producer of Latin America’s longest-running music festival at this age?

When I was 17 years old, I would watch the festival on TV in my house, like everyone else in Chile. And I would think: One day, I’m going to produce that festival. About two years later, I met my now boss, Alfredo Alonso, the entertainment director of Bizarro, at a concert by the Black Eyed Peas. He hired me to run Bizarro’s social media. I worked in every area of the company throughout the next nine years until I was eventually a producer and was given the job of general producer for Viña. Many people think a 28-year-old can’t do the job. The first time they introduced me to a team of 300 people, I was a little nervous. I had to fight for it, because there are people who’ve been working in this festival for 30 years. Over 5,000 people work on the festival.  It’s an event where you have to emotionally contain people. The hardest part is giving energy to people who have to spend two months away from home, doing a live show that runs for six hours, and sleeping four hours per day.

How does Viña compare with other festivals?

It’s the most complex television festival to execute in Latin America. First because you have less technical resources than they do in the U.S. or Europe. Each artist wants to have their own stage plot of and set design. And we have to co-exist with the competition.

The competition involves 12 contestants, vying for “Best song” awards in pop and folk categories. They all have to perform live. Considering you have headliners like Ozuna and Maroon 5, why have a competition component?

The competition is the spirit of the festival. It’s what differentiates us from other festivals in our region. We also bring in more than one artist, and also a stand up comedian. People pay to see several acts. Tickets range from $30,000 (roughly $35) to $240,000 (roughly $282).

The Festival’s audience is known as “El monstruo” (The monster) because they’re very vocal. They also demand that prizes be given, or not, to the performers, in the form of the silver or golden seagulls, or gaviotas. Tell us about this famous audience of yours?

They decide who gets the awards. We’ve had artists who walk away with nothing. What we do is install microphones inside the audience because I need the TV viewer to hear people screaming “gaviota, gaviota!” It’s very important to us that the people who are at home feel like they’re in the venue. When artists come to perform for the first time, we tell them how it works. We tell them to be calm, to play their hits, to know what their fan base likes to hear.