Melvin Benn: UK festivals have hit their peak

Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, has claimed that the UK festival market has hit saturation point.

The country’s biggest festival organiser thinks there are now too many events outweighing demand, and has pointed to the collapse of several festivals as evidence.

But he told Virtual Festivals that there is still room for movement in the market as festivals try to outdo each other with fresh ideas and innovation.

In an exclusive interview ahead of next weekend’s Carling Weekend, Benn said: “My belief is that we are at a level of saturation. Several festivals have failed to get off the ground this year and an awful lot of them are using the weather as an excuse. Quite frankly I don’t think the weather was the excuse for festivals folding. 

“I’m told The Big Chill numbers were down significantly, I’m told that Guilfest were down significantly, I don’t know whether these are true but I do think there is a saturation level."
Asked if he thought that festivals have hit their peak in terms of popular appeal, he said: “I don’t think there will be a decline in popularity.  I do think there are a sufficient number of festivals now, but whether all the festivals that exist continue to survive, or whether new festivals and new ideas can push them out, remains to be seen. It’s always possible. I don’t think we are in a position where we are fixed.”

With Mean Fiddler now rebranded as Festival Republic in a deliberate ploy to refocus on the festival sector, Benn has announced his intentions to move into America, possibly with a Carling Weekend-style event.

The UK festival market has been growing steadily, with attendances skyrocketing by more than 20 per cent in the last two years, but Benn claims festivals need to have an original concept to survive.

It’s a claim that Guilfest boss Tony Scott disagrees with, also refuting the claim that his ticket sales fell this year. 

He told Virtual Festivals: “Our tickets were up this year and the amount of people going to festivals in general is still increasing. I think the popularity of festivals will continue to rise over the next ten years at least.

“Festivals are becoming part of our culture, it’s football in winter and festivals in the summer.”

There is no denying the fact that many festivals have folded in the last year. Fflam, Lode Star and Foundation are all recent examples, however the reasons range from festival to festival.

One new festival that survived this year was Redbourn Festival in Hertfordshire, however that didn’t pass without its problems. Headliners Feeder almost stormed off site after the day’s program overran, threatening to shorten their set, and a generator caught fire.

The festival managed to sell more than 12,000 tickets and organisers hope to bring the event back next year, however they are still working on balancing the books.

Mark Hyem, of Fester Management who ran the one-day festival, said: “There’s a hell of a lot to learn and we certainly had some teething issues. There is a lot of competition out there now, but that’s not a bad thing. If you do it right and cover all bases, know your market, don’t overstretch yourself and have a bit of good luck then you should be ok.

“But you have to be prepared to make a loss in order to grow. You need a five-year plan. If we had made a profit we would be making cartwheels.”