Access unveils the mind blowing growth in festivals, as we release our White Paper, produced with We Are The Fair and the NTIA…

When so much of modern working and leisure life depends on the virtual world of IT, real-world events retain their power to attract business participants and large consumer audiences. They are an essential part of any city’s cultural and economic life; they help bring in the 2-3 million tourists and £1-2bn tourism spend that Britain attracts each month; they have shown that highbrow shows, around literature and public debate, can win new audiences.

Events are also expanding. Take music festivals. That category has become more elastic over time – many firms now claim to run a music festival of one sort or another, while few did 30 years ago. Still, music festivals have certainly multiplied, and have come to attract larger, more diverse audiences than those of the past. Altogether, Chart 1, above, has a force that cannot be denied.

In events there is an unrepeatable confluence of people, place and performance. What’s more, performance can extend beyond the performer, to the audience: there’s often a chance to dance, to speak up and to speak out. Fashions add to the heady mix, while mobile phones capture and spread the moment.

In the past 10 years, music festivals held in green fields have had an impressive run. Putting ticket sales online has helped; more careful marketing has helped. For the same reasons, but just within the past five years, urban outdoor events have spread, sometimes across whole towns and cities.

The picture isn’t entirely rosy. Night-time clubs, though more fashionable than ever, have suffered a number of closures, especially in London. In 2017, a House of Lords Select Committee scrutiny of the Licensing Act 2003 reported hearing the view that over-zealous regulation was to blame. However, since 2017 others have pointed to the emergence of a new, competitive breed of nightlife, as special kinds of foods, games and even trampolining have become more popular among the health-conscious.

Of course, no event lasts forever. Also, events alone can’t produce urban regeneration. Yet, alongside enlightened local government policies, events can do much to build confidence, incomes and brands among cities and regions. Between now and 2030, they’re likely to prove more central to the British economy, and to British society, than many imagine.

So where then are events headed, not just in 2020, but in the decade after that?

The value of business-to-business events – conferences, exhibitions and the like – is £32.6bn, according to the Business Visits & Events Partnership, or £33.3bn, as reckoned by Eventbrite. Meanwhile the value of consumer events – outdoor attractions, festivals, cultural events, musical performances and sports fixtures – has been estimated at a more modest £5.7bn.

This White Paper is about consumer events, and especially about informal events: relatively casual consumer gatherings that are crafted rather than mass-produced, and that are only rarely held at big, fixed facilities. We focus on such events in music, especially, as well as those around sport. We touch, too, on informal events in art, design, computer games, fashion, flowers, food and those performing arts that lie beyond music.

Mass events at large, dedicated venues such as stadia will remain a key part of wealth creation and culture in 2030. But informal events – outdoor in the city or countryside, indoor in the day and particularly at night – will play a bigger role than in the past. To audiences, local authorities and local business, and to public discussion, informal events in 2030 promise to bring more maturity, more spending, more excitement and, yes, more debate.

Why? Already, some of what we see in the media or on social media is held to be fake news. By 2030, then, it’s likely that still more of everyday experience will be thought untrustworthy or even illegitimate. That, however, is only another way of saying that authenticity will be highly prized. And this demand for authenticity augurs well for informal events.

The Political Economy of Informal Events, 2030 was commissioned and published by Mash Media. Foreword by: Julian Agostini, (MD, Mash Media), Alan D Miller, (chairman, The Night Time Industries Association) Nick Morgan (CEO, We Are The Fair). It was written and edited by James Woudhuysen, visiting professor, forecasting & innovation, London South Bank University. (Advisory team: Tom Hall and Paul Colston).

The print version of report is available for £7.99, but it can be viewed for free online now.