Date: April 27, 2005
Die-hard fans of independent festivals may bemoan Clear Channel's ever-growing dominance of the U.K. music festival market but the industry was generally not surprised by the recent announcement that the U.S. giant promoter looks close to buying a 34.9 percent stake in its main European rival, Mean Fiddler Group (MFG).
“It doesn't affect any of us,” said Harvey Goldsmith, a legendary concert promoter in the UK who owns Harvey Goldsmith Production and whose achievements include making London's Wembley Stadium a major destination for some of the world's top artists and running Live Band Aid with ex-Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof.
“If they keep them all [MFG festivals] going, I am not sure it makes such a difference to us,” Goldsmith said. “If anyone is affected, it's Clear Channel. They'll be competing against themselves.”
Certainly, if the estimated $26 million (U.S.) deal goes through, subject to MFG shareholders approval, Clear Channel will add a considerable arsenal to its already impressive U.K. list that includes ownership of the Hammersmith Apollo, the Manchester Apollo, half of the Point venue in Dublin and Milton Keynes Bowl and the management of summer pop concerts in Hyde Park.
MFG assets include the Carling Weekend held simultaneously in Leeds and Reading, a stake in the Glastonbury Festival and a number of live venues like the Astoria, the Garage, the Forum, the Jazz CafÃ© and the Mean Fiddler itself.
Neither Clear Channel nor MFG were allowed to comment on future plans for legal reasons until the deal is completed.
One industry insider who asked not to be named echoed Goldsmith's lack of surprise at the news of the potential deal, pointing out that “corporatization of the industry has been happening for the last six years and this is just another step in the process.”
He also added that while all the focus has been on Clear Channel's growing monopoly of the industry, more attention should be paid to Irish company MCD Productions owned by Denis Desmond, with whom Clear Channel formed a joint venture, Hamsard, to make the MFG deal. Desmond already has a 24.3 percent stake in MFG.
Desmond's MCD Productions is Ireland's leading talent buying and concert promotions company and develops, manages and promotes some of the biggest outdoor festivals in Europe, including Heineken Green Energy & Oxegen (Ireland), T In The Park (Scotland) and V Festival (England). The company also owns and operates a number of venues including The Olympia Theatre, The Gaiety Theatre, The Ambassador Theatre, Spirit and the SFX Theatre.
Some Glastonbury fans, discussing Clear Channel's intentions with MFG on Web discussion groups do make some comments about the dangers of a U.S. corporate-style culture taking over the independent festival such as: “They would gladly tarmac Worthy Farm if it meant better shareholder returns. They are not even vaguely in line with the essentially social [Methodist] view of Michael Eavis [owner of Glastonbury]. “
John Shearlaw, press officer at Glastonbury, dispelled any fears of a Clear Channel takeover of the festival, pointing out that the current contract with MFG is running out this year and next year the festival takes a break until 2007. In any case, “MFG's involvement with Glastonbury is specifically limited to infrastructure and licensing….there was no involvement with any of the artists or performances.”
Clear Channel's growing U.K. empire is being received in different ways in continental Europe. In small markets like Belgium or Holland, the existence of a monopoly is perfectly natural, explained Jacques Legeune, director of International Artists, an artists' agency that does business in Holland and Germany.
“Clear Channel already controls the Dutch music festival market and really there is no choice in a small country,” he said. “Clear Channel's [buying spree] in the U.K. is a logical step from their point of view. If they are taking the risks to promote the concerts they also want to reap the benefits. I can't blame them and everyone [in Holland] has accepted the situation.”
Interviewed for this story: John Shearlaw, 00 44 (0)1458 834 596; Harvey Goldsmith, 000 207 224 1992; Marek Lieberberg, 00 49 (0) 69 956 2020; Jacques Legeune, 00 31 486 475 545