Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Festival Network sets course to open new markets

The new company that emerged from the acquisition by Shoreline Media of George Wein's Festival Productions Inc. intends to launch new festivals in the U.S. and overseas and is also on the lookout for existing festivals to acquire.

"The goal is to unite many best-of-breed festivals under one corporate whole," said Chris Shields, CEO of The Festival Network, in an interview with Festival Preview. "The key factor that we look for is a unique location. Sophisticated programming and the entire festival experience follows from that," he said.

Shields said that Wein began the "festival era" in 1954 with the first Newport Jazz Festival. "By locating the festival in a unique location, Newport, he had something intangible in the name even before he brought in the terrific music."

Festival Productions currently produces a sizable list of major festivals, including the JVC Jazz Festivals, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Essence Festival, and Newport Folk Festival, among others. Under the deal, these will continue to be managed as a division within the new company, headed by Wein and including his existing management team.

In a separate interview (see related item), Wein told Festival Preview that he is impressed with the sincerity and vision of Chris Shields and Shoreline Media. "These people have money, they are very respectful of my legacy, and they want the legacy to grow," he said.

Shields said that loyal patrons of Festival Productions events will see very few changes. "There will be a subtle enhancement of the overall production aesthetic and feel." Besides improving the live experience, such attention to sound, lighting, and stage production will be reflected in the quality of content that is offered for sale in the festival "aftermarket," he added.

Shoreline Media was formed in 2004 by Shields and Joseph Stanislaw, formerly the founder and chief executive of Cambridge Energy Research.

Shields, 36, studied jazz theory at Berklee and began his career as a musician. He has been involved in the festival production for 10 years, including a brief stint working for Wein at Festival Productions and later running his own Nectarfest in Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard and directing Bell Atlantic Jazz Festivals in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

Shoreline Media has produced musical events for the Olympic Games, and will do so for future Olympics at least until 2012. The Olympics deal is an indicator of the company's interest in tie-ins to sporting events and other entertainment forms. Shields said that the company's main focus would be on music festivals, but noted that sports programming captures more than 60 percent of overall sponsorship dollars.

Combining many festivals under one banner provides economies of scale in production, purchasing and programming and bring advantages in appealing to sponsors, Shields said. The audience for high-end festivals is an attractive demographic for advertisers, especially during a vacation experience when they are looking for new experiences, he added.

Finding a balance
However, the company is especially sensitive to the danger of over-commercializing festivals, "which are really all about the personal experience," Shields said. He said the aim is to keep a delicate balance of "helping corporate brands be appropriately affiliated" without letting branding run amok.

While Festival Productions sold naming rights to some of its events, such as the Dunkin' Donuts Newport Folk Festival, Shields said that new festivals the company would launch "are more likely to emphasize the location of the event in their names."

While giving nothing away as to possible new events, Shields said "there are locations in the U.S. that should have festivals and don't." He also said the company would be active in international markets. As for domestic acquisitions, he said "there are very few we would consider acquiring, but there are some. Talks with several of them have already begun, and we expect to have announcements to make in the coming months."

Such deals might take the form of an acquisition with the existing ownership retained for managing the event. In rare cases, the company might seek to affiliate with an events that don't fit the company's business model, because of their non-profit status, for example.

While Shields is most focused on resort destinations, he says the location model can apply to city festivals as well, especially by finding unusual locations for the concerts. Also, while While Festival Productions' greatest strength has been in jazz, Shields said all kinds of "sophisticated music" would be offered, especially "mergings of different styles. We really appreciate where artists are stretching their limits and playing into other genres."

The Festival Network deal come together in a series of discussions between Shields and Wein beginning in the spring of 2006. As the year went along and Wein became more comfortable that the company would respect his legacy, the talks intensified and were concluded in early January.

Shields said that he is thrilled to be working with Wein again. "George is the man who brought music out of the smoky clubs to these beautiful locations. if you look at the great festivals that have lasted thorught the ages, almost all of them follow the example of George Wein and Newport. We are excited to be his partner, to grow with him and learn from him."

1 comment:

Taliba said...

For My Sister in Law's memory, Marie St. Louis, RIP, could you please check out this new Artist "Ka Cabral" at he is trying so hard to find an executive producer.
Thank you!