Is Live Entertainment an Industry?

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Live entertainment of one kind awakens people to the value and fun of all the other kinds.

For this series, we’ve reached into the vault to share a few pieces that are still relevant today.

I might be the only person who refers to “live entertainment” as an industry. Most people I deal with professionally say that they’re in the concert industry, professional sports, theater, arts or something specific like that. So I’m the oddball when I say that live entertainment, meaning all of these diverse things, is an industry that has important shared considerations across all of these.

To me, saying you’re in the concert industry, for example, is like Wolfgang Puck saying he’s in the pizza industry. It’s true that he sells it, but I think we’d all agree he’s better off defining himself being in the restaurant industry, or even possibly in the hospitality industry.

Live entertainment is an industry, and concerts, theater, sports, performing arts and all the rest are merely genres. I say this because buyers in the marketplace don’t segment themselves as neatly as some marketers think. I’ve had conversations with marketers in, for example, performing arts that are astounded at the thought of someone who goes to a baseball game being potentially interested in ballet, and vice versa.

But, of course, this is true. Very few of us are one-dimensional in that way, and I’d go further and say that if we do it very well, live entertainment of one kind awakens people to the value and fun of all the other kinds.

Now, the reason I think that this is important is that this perspective can be very clarifying. There’s a business school cliche that says that if only the railroads, 100 years ago, had realized they were in the transportation business (and not the railroad business), they’d have been the innovators in air travel. And though that’s a cliche, it’s worth thinking about how it applies. As consumers and tastes change, how flexible can you be if you’re determined that you’re in the business of delivering concerts? Or traditional staged plays?

Could it be possible, for example, that rock concerts as we knew them in the heyday of rock and pop could disappear or be replaced by something just different enough that those who believe they’re in the “concert industry” wouldn’t recognize it?

One possibility in that case is that upstarts provide this new thing to the marketplace and gradually usurp the power of the incumbents, which over time would be a perfectly healthy development in an industry, but may cause short-term pain. A far worse scenario, though, is that the whole industry of live entertainment declines because no one figures out the formula to provide that new thing, and in its absence patrons move on to something else, possibly Angry Birds.

So I suggest that everyone who makes a living getting people to attend things primarily for entertainment look at themselves as being in the “live entertainment” industry, even if they only work in one genre of it. Most of your issues are not specific to your genre, as I’ve learned by working with great people in all genres for the last 12 years.

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