Ahead of another packed season, Sound & Stage managed to catch up for a quick chat with Thomas Ovesen, COO of Dubai-based Done Events.
S&S: What’s your background and how did you end up in Dubai working for Done Events?
Like most of today’s concert promoters I came from a non-musical industry and only “fell” into promoting concerts when stationed in Bahrain as an Air Traffic Controller in the late ‘90s. Back then Bahrain was the entrainment hub of the region and as Dubai started to emerge as the expat — and indeed entertainment — capital of the Gulf, I also eventually made the decision to skip the civil aviation work for the life of a concert promoter and events organiser and moved to Dubai as the new millennium took off.
S&S: How have you seen the Middle East live events industry change over your years working within it?
The current industry is hardly recognisable compared to what it was when I started, and indeed what it was when the first international events were being staged in hotel ball rooms even before I got involved.
However, and despite the many changes, ours is still an industry suffering from little or no government regulation yet — with plenty of business hurdles from lack of relevant trade license and permission requirements, to government collected levies or VAT off event ticket sales.
All of which, together with the lack of purpose built venues, arenas etc., makes it extraordinarily impressive how a city like Dubai manages to shoot well above its size when it comes to the top notch shows and the many superstars who now regularly perform here. Many much bigger and well regulated markets must be green with envy!
S&S: Who would be your ‘dream’ act to bring to the region?
The cheesy reply would be “the next big thing” and I think it is fair to say that in the past I have managed to bring many such talents here. But, on the level of who would be a dream to work with, I would have to say that it would be the likes of Bruce Springsteen.
S&S: The cost of tickets for shows in the region has been criticised by some people. When tickets for chart-topping bands at Wembley stadium can be bought for under Dhs300, how do you think the price in the UAE is justified?
It is a valid point and concert ticket prices here are very high, some of the highest in the world. Firstly, artists charge a premium to play here as they have high flight, freight and travel costs to cover and, with several days spent travelling just to play one show, they tend to increase their artist fee expectations. It is also generally well known that government-backed events sometimes pay really big fees so, again, that drives up the expectation of what one should be paid. And lastly, here in Dubai, tickets are subject to a 10 per cent ticket tax or ticket fee which has to be rolled into the ticket price itself and therefore is generating increased ticket prices.
Interview continues on next page...
S&S: Would a large-scale indoor/outdoor venue have a positive effect on the Dubai scene, or is there not enough supply and demand to account for such a venue?
Absolutely — there is indeed a very solid business plan and market demand for a 12-15,000 seater indoor arena, but so far financing has not been available, or construction companies have been able to secure ROI faster from building other forms of real estate, with the result that there is no purpose built indoor arena anywhere in the UAE. Such a venue would be a game changer as event costs would come down, as would ticket prices, and more top events would be able to play here.
S&S: Done events has managed to bag one of the biggest acts at the moment — One Direction — for next year. Did you expect the show to be such a fast sell-out and why did you go with the Sevens Stadium?
We knew there was a huge demand and the choice of venue was based on where we could accommodate the large crowd expected and where we could do so in a safe and sound environment. We were appointed in the first place because the band is very concerned about the well-being and safety of their fans, so these considerations played a big role in our plans for show capacity and venue choice.
S&S: Do you think the legislation and regulation of large events is getting better within the region — particularly in terms of safety and security?
No is the short answer, mainly as such legislation is absent, basic or — if in place — not policed. We implement our own standards, so at Done Events we follow international HSE standards. But the punters cannot be assured of what to expect unless they know the individual event organiser and to what level that company produce their shows and events.
S&S: People from Dubai will often make the trip to Abu Dhabi to catch a major act — can the same be said in reverse?
Yes, that is how it used to be — it is only with the emergence of Abu Dhabi financing of concert promotions on Yas Island that the situation has reversed, and I guess it shows that if you have the right event the fans will come — even if the trek involves a lengthy drive. Having said that, I still think there are more potential concert-goers living in the greater Dubai area, hence we will continue focusing our efforts here.
S&S: Do you think there is a market for more festival-type concerts in the region?
We launched both RedFestDXB and Blended this year and there is a huge potential. However, I think culturally it will be some time until you will find a festival camping site linked with any event here in the Gulf. So for now our “festivals” are really multi-day, multi-bill events and our focus is on adding as much music and non-music excitement and quality during the opening hours, hoping the fans will return the next day having slept comfortably in their own or a hotel bed.
S&S: It’s not just concerts that Done Events deals with — what do you do on the corporate/other side?
Absolutely correct — we do at least the same volume of corporate business as live business and, had it not been for the two revenue streams, we would not have thrived over the past few years where most of the private concert promoters went under. We do roughly 20 corporate events annually, including some of the biggest Dubai marquee events.
S&S: Do you have a ‘go-to’ selection of suppliers and contractors and, if so, what keeps your relationship strong?
We pride ourselves on top notch event execution and quality regardless of whether a corporate, private or concert promotion, so we do not have the luxury of working with a company for the sake of long-term relationships. Instead, we offer our business to the suppliers that, like ourselves, keep investing in the latest relevant equipment. And it’s worth noting that, in Dubai, we rarely struggle to find the required production equipment or even knowledge from the local suppliers.
S&S: What advice would you give to anyone looking to start out in the events industry, either as an individual or as a small start-up company?
If as a concert promoter, I would say “don’t do it”. If you want to get into corporate events and have good creativity and an ability to conceptualise exciting event formats then go for it and get involved now!
S&S: Is there anything exciting coming up for Done Events in the near future?
RedFestDXB 2015 on February 12th and 13th is going to be an amazing event, as will Blended on April 30th. In addition to One Direction, you can expect a couple of really exciting concerts to be announced soon and then we will probably see you at one of the many corporate or private events we have been contracted to produce in 2015.