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The Concert Industry In The Age Of COVID-19

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(CelebrityAccess) — Last week, the Centers For Disease Control reported the first suspected domestic case of communal spread — the transmission of infection without a known source — of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in the US, and in just 7 days, confirmed cases have cropped up in virtually all parts of the nation.

To date, most of the cases in the U.S. have been detected on the west coast, particularly in Washington and California, where as of the publication of this article, there were at least 50 confirmed cases.

That’s a potentially ominous sign for the live entertainment industry as it gears up for the busy summer concert and festival season.

Some of the most prominent music festivals in the U.S. – Coachella, and Stagecoach – are scheduled to take place in southern California in little more than a month.

To date, no major public health institution in the United States has mandated that mass public gatherings be canceled or postponed. However, the CDC notes that such cancellations, which it describes as “nonpharmaceutical intervention,” can play a significant factor in limiting the spread of infectious diseases and may be part of its playbook.

“What is happening now in the United States may be the beginning of what is happening abroad,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a briefing on Tuesday. “We will continue to maintain—for as long as practical—an aggressive national posture of containment. That said, you might see some local communities taking specific actions to mitigate the disease.”

So how might the COVID-19 outbreak affect the concert industry in the U.S.?

The effects of the virus outbreak on the U.S. concert industry range from postponed shows, as artists step back from touring over safety concerns for their fans, crews and themselves, to widespread mandatory event cancellations as public health officials attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

Outside of the U.S., mandatory cancellations in areas affected by COVID-19 have become increasingly common. In China, where the virus found its first foothold, multiple events such as annual New Year’s celebrations as well as multiple music festivals and concerts have been postponed or canceled.

As well, in Italy, where there are now more than 3,500 confirmed cases and more than 140 deaths attributed to COVID-19, officials have closed schools and barred fans from attending multiple public events, including soccer matches from the country’s top league, which will be played without audiences.

Last weekend, France also took the dramatic step of canceling all indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people, and in some areas that are hard-hit by the virus, all public gatherings and shuttered the famed Louvre museum in response to the growing presence of the virus in the country.

In the U.S., the first major event cancellations appear to be taking place. While no formal announcement has been made, the Miami Herald this week reported that city officials in Miami, including the Mayor, had talks with organizers of the Ultra Music Festival to postpone the event for as long as a year.

While Ultra has yet to officially be put on hold, festival organizers and public officials are planning to hold a press conference on Friday to discuss the event.

As well, the city is reportedly weighing the cancellation of Calle Ocho, a Latin music festival set to take place there later this month.

Even without mandated cancellations, event organizers may face public and financial pressure to postpone or cancel events.

In Austin, where the annual South By Southwest conference is scheduled for later this month, more than 45,000 people signed an online petition calling on organizers to cancel or postpone the event.

While organizers and Austin city health officials have pledged to move forward with this year’s SXSW, it will likely draw much smaller crowds and fewer participants, as companies including Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Vevo, Intel, Amazon Studios, and Tik Tok, all announced they will not have representatives in attendance this year.

Other events, including the Google I/O developer conference, and the Game Developers Conference have been postponed or canceled.

Most major concert and event promoters have remained officially quiet on the subject of COVID-19, including Live Nation’s Michael Rapino and Joe Berchtold who, in an investor conference call last week, downplayed the impact that the virus might have on Live Nation’s concert business.

“We don’t pay an artist until they play. If we cancel a show next month in Milan we don’t pay the artist. There’s no cost incurred. And when the artist replays that show then we pay the artist. So these ones are actually the easier ones to manage,” he said.

“I mean the ones that are more challenging is when the festival gets canceled on a Saturday afternoon when 60000 people are sitting there. That’s when you have some marketing and some sunk costs where it may affect you,” he added.

Other promoters and venue operators have been more circumspect.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and remain in contact with public health officials, including the CDC. We are well prepared to work with our partners to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our guests and employees,” a rep from MSG told CelebrityAccess.

For promoters that do choose to stage events, if they didn’t invest in additional coverage that includes cancellations from infectious diseases, they are likely out of luck.

“Someone described it to me like your car being on fire and you ringing up to insure it,” Tysers’ Gary Brooks said during the standing-room-only panel.

As well, for promoters who do proceed with events, they may face litigation for negligence in the event that the virus is transmitted at the event.

A matter of perspective.

While it is easy to feel a lot of doom and gloom about the arrival of COVID-19, it is important to keep a sense of perspective, particularly in light of the intense media coverage of the virus and how it may impact our day-to-day lives.

With more than 100,000 confirmed cases around the world and 3,000 deaths, it is clear that COVID-19 is a serious public health issue. However, last year in the United States alone, there were at least 9.3 million cases of influenza resulting in at least 12,000 deaths.

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