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Mumbai attacks a blow to India's concert business

At a time when some international recording artists are looking to include India in their Asian touring itineraries, the recent attacks in Mumbai could hurt the country’s emerging live entertainment business

While India’s touring market remains relatively small and is hampered by inadequate infrastructure, a growing number of Western recording stars have performed there in recent years, including Beyonce 50 Cent Wyclef Jean the Rolling Stones, Shakira Aerosmith Lionel Richie and Iron Maiden

“The tragic events in Mumbai will have a huge impact on the decision of artists touring in India in general,” Agency Group CEO Neil Warnock says. “This is such a shame, as we have seen the touring business in India becoming more viable over the last several years.”

One immediate casualty of the attacks was the December 7 Live Earth India concert which organizers canceled after gunmen killed 171 people during a three-day siege at two hotels and other landmarks in Mumbai, India’s entertainment and financial capital. Live Earth India, whose lineup included Bon Jovi and Roger Waters was to be held at Mumbai’s 20,000-capacity Andheri Sports Complex.

Large concerts in India are typically held in stadiums, with the top markets being Mumbai and Bangalore. Since many shows are held outdoors, the attacks could raise the question of crowd control and safety.

“They don’t have arenas like we have, where you can control the ingress and egress,” says Randy Phillips, CEO of concert promoter AEG Live. “The question is the confidence level that you have in the (security company) you’re hiring, and whether they can do the job and secure the site.”

Warnock says he hopes the Indian government will introduce new security measures at concert venues, noting that such steps would “reassure not only the local people but also the international touring community that coming back to India can be achieved in a safe and secure way.”

India has about four primary concert promotion companies and a number of up-and-coming promoters trying to tap into the business, according to a booking agent at an international talent firm who asked to remain anonymous.

“Agents and managers will take a step back and want to work with those who have a more proven track record, which unfortunately, in my opinion, may hurt some of the younger guys who are starting to do a good job,” the agent says. “But we want to be careful who we’re working with.”

While safety is a concern, touring acts shouldn’t rule out the country, the agent says. Artist fees to perform in India are comparable to other markets in Asia, but since promoters can’t charge high ticket prices, most concerts in the country are sponsored, he says. As such, acts can see additional dollars from endorsement opportunities, albeit offset in part by high entertainment taxes.

“They’re starting to sell albums in India more than they used to, so there’s a new awareness of Western artists,” the agent says, noting that A-list acts sell between 10,000 and 30,000 tickets per show. “If you start closing your eyes to opportunities in the outside world, you’re going to cut yourself off.”

Amita Sarkar, head of the entertainment division at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi says she believes India’s touring business will recover quickly, buoyed by a growing middle class interested in new entertainment options.

“It is still an emerging sector within the overall context,” she says. “But of course, it has huge potential.”

AEG’s Phillips agrees that the Indian market holds promise.

“Time has a way of healing all wounds and changing people’s perspective on things,” he says. “As a company, we wouldn’t mind opening up a market that is potentially that big.”

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